Irish Considerations Panel
‘Yeat’s plasma, nobody else’s’: Female Coterie Culture and the Irish Academy of Letters.
Deirdre Brady (University of Limerick)
There is compelling new evidence to suggest that the establishment of Yeat’s influential Irish Academy of Letters in 1932, divided the literary scene into a distinctive gendered sphere, and was a crucial catalyst for the setting up of the radical literary club, The Women Writer’s Club. Abbey playwrights such as Dorothy Macardle and Teresa Deevy were prominent members of this female-only club, alongside Yeat’s friend and muse, Maud Gonne, and his one-time lover Ethel Mannin. Well-known international writers Kate O’Brien and Elizabeth Bowen were also invited to join the Women Writers’ Club, yet, astonishingly, Yeats failed to nominate them as Academicians to his prestigious Academy. The author Stephen Gwynn drew attention to this in his influential study of Irish literature, Irish Literature and Drama in the English Language: A Short History (1936), when he wrote “ it would be wrong to regard the Academy’s choices as sufficient representation”. The criteria for membership was widely debated amongst the intelligentsia of the period, and initially courted much controversy. This paper teases out the rifts and fissures generated by the setting up of the Irish Academy of Letters, and in particular interrogates Yeat’s oblique relationships with Irish literary women. It examines the fallout from the division of the literary field, and the recuperation of this relationship through coterie culture. These diverse literary groups had separate didactic aims. Yet their legacy is seen in their collaborative campaigns against censorship, and their shared aim of promoting the Irish Book; as well as their united efforts to provide a vital forum for writers and a platform for Irish cultural expression.
Yeats’s Magic Nationalism
Daas Fedya (Manouba University)
Central to Yeats’s idea of the past is his lifelong captivation with the idea of the occult, folklore and myth, an idea that enables him to transcend the limitations of the colonial present. In this paper, I argue that Yeats through equating the Irish heritage with mythology, in his early poetry, manages to develop a peculiar notion of magic nationalism that links the mythical world with national pride. In particular, this paper looks at the multi-layered functions of mythology drawing upon the techniques of magic realism and dismissing the prejudice that Yeats’s interest in the occult is a mere crankiness and non-nationalistic. First and foremost, foregrounding Celtic folklore and legends aims at uniting the Irish people despite different political, religious and social affiliations by positing mythology as a common Irish religion. Connecting repressed desire and a call for agency, the realm of myth in Yeats’s verse is the projection of an Irish nexus of the unconscious and nationalism. Mythology helps also promote Yeats’s project of deanglicization that through endowing the English verse with an Irish spirit undermines the English language from within transforming it into a mere vehicle to carry the culture of the other. Renewing contact with the ghosts, fairies and traditions of mythic Ireland challenges the dominance of English cultural supremacy, reaffirms the power of indigenous voices and arms the Irish with resistant narratives that construct their collective memory.
The Mage and the Adept: The ‘fractious’ Friendship between Yeats and AE.
Deirdre Kelly (University of Limerick)
This paper will explore W.B. Yeats’s and AE’s contested friendship both from visual perspectives and oral testimonies not fully explored. These latter will focus on unpublished correspondence between AE and the Irish American patron to both AE and Yeats, John Quinn (John Quinn Collection, New York Public Library). Their contention has been included in studies by Peter Kuch (1986), and R.F. Foster (1997) and their letters published in various edited versions such as Allan Wade’s, Letters of Yeats (1954) and Alan Denson’s, Letters from AE (1961). However, their relationship has never been examined from the specific position of AE’s personal letters to a third party, Quinn, a key figure and commentator in both their lives. This exploration will cover such issues as their dispute over The National Theatre Society, their patronage to younger writers and their final reconciliation before AE’s death in 1935.
George (AE) Russell first met Yeats in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1884. Their friendship centred on their interest in Ireland’s pre-Christian ‘golden age’ and its potential to return a sense of national pride and consciousness. While initially working together in their quest for spiritual awareness following theosophical philosophy, they chose differing paths as they became more prominent within Irish cultural life as a whole. Yeats chose the active course of the mage or magician to explore his spiritual philosophy while AE, the passive adept, remained committed to mastering theosophical doctrine and ideology.
Cathleen Ni Houlihan and the Disability Aesthetics of Irish National Culture
Marion Quirici (University at Buffalo)
The transformation of the Old Woman at the end of Lady Augusta Gregory and William Butler Yeats’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) entails a restoration not only of youth, but also of ability. Because the Old Woman, or Cathleen Ni Houlihan, symbolizes Ireland itself, the “walk of a queen” denotes national self-sufficiency as well as personal autonomy. This paper uses a disability studies methodology to situate Cathleen Ni Houlihan in the context of colonial caricatures and political representations of Ireland as disabled and unfit for freedom. I explicate the early nationalist response to Cathleen Ni Houlihan as an intense identification with a narrative of cure or rehabilitation. The uniquely fraught connotations of disability and nationality in turn-of-the-century Ireland gave the play an especial dramatic power and tragic significance. The Old Woman’s transformation from debility to capacity offers a revolutionary symbol of rejuvenation and rehabilitation. But the play itself complicates the narrative of cure even as it presents it: Cathleen’s rehabilitation is achieved through Michael’s willingness to face disablement or death on her behalf. The symbol of a fit and able Ireland is sustained through the violence of rebellion, and its concomitant war injuries, traumas, and scars. In reading the tension between various signifiers of disability in the text—symbolic and literal, physical and mental—I argue that Cathleen Ni Houlihan’s complex engagement with stereotypes of Irish disability allows the play to function as a stimulus for national feeling while remaining, as a literary object, ambivalent.
 This title is coined from a by Sean O’Faolain’s in his autobiography Viva Moi! An Autobiography. O’Faolain makes the point that the Academy was overseen primarily by Yeats and that George Bernard Shaw only lent his name to the organization. O’Faolain, Sean. Vive Moi!: An Autobiography, (1993) London: Sinclair-Stephenson. Print.