In this week’s Irish Literature class, we examined the life and work of Seamus Heaney. Arguably Ireland’s most prolific contemporary poet, Heaney addressed a range of topical themes, these include:
- Irish Identity
- The Turbulence of the Northern Irish Troubles
Expertly interweaving these themes into his body of work; Heaney maintained a balance between his desire to write poetry of enlightenment, and his sense of obligation to represent the feelings of his community during a time of political turmoil.
This need to reflect upon the violence of The Troubles can be seen in poems such as ‘Funeral Rights’, which deals directly with the conflict in Northern Ireland. The Irish Times covers this in an interesting piece by Conor McClosky entitled ‘How Writers Sought to Make Sense of the Troubles’: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/how-writers-sought-to-make-sense-of-the-troubles-1.2889316. In the piece McClosky discusses how Heaney made sense of the effects of The Troubles through connecting key events to the past.
The attitudes of his nationalist, Catholic community can also be felt more generally in pieces such as ‘Broagh’. Here, Heaney reflects upon the feeling of belonging as being connected to physical places. In the poem, he notes that the place-name ‘Broagh’ is intrinsically Irish; belonging to Broagh is belonging to Ireland – something which can be felt in the fact that outsiders can’t pronounce the name. The poem takes on a more ethereal, transcendent quality then his other, more political work. Yet even though it feels less politically motivated, you can still see the effect the turbulence of the political and social sphere in Northern Ireland at the time had on Heaney and his writing.
Heaney’s expressions of what it was to be Irish in a time and place where Irish identity was in question are incredibly important. All of his work can be looked at as being influenced by his environment, providing readers with nuanced expressions of Catholic life in Northern Ireland during a time of incredible turbulence.
I recently did a presentation on Dorothy Macardle’s Dark Enchantment for my Irish Literature class. To be honest, I chose the novel because it sounded cool and mysterious. When I finished the novel, I was worried I chose wrong. Not only was it not the seductive story of my imagination, but it was actually virtually impossible to find academic sources which discussed the novel directly. This was because the book had been out of print until 2019, when it was picked up by Tramp Press in their Recovered Voices Series.
While I was frustrated at the complication this fact added to my assignment, I was more interested in the work Tramp Press were doing to revive voices lost in the Irish canon. I had heard of the publishing house before but wasn’t aware of this particular project. I’m glad I chose this awkward novel, because it allowed me to come across the work that Tramp are doing. Marcardle was a voice that was lost to time. She was removed from the literary canon because of her gender and experimental take on storytelling. These features do not make her irrelevant in Irish literature, but rather a refreshing contrast to the more popular, mostly male, authors highlighted in the 20th Century Irish period.
You can read more about the work Tramp press do on their website: https://www.tramppress.com/about/. The guardian did a piece on the women who run the company, and their stance on sexism in the publishing industry: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/28/sexists-need-not-apply-publisher-refuses-to-look-at-manuscripts-addressed-to-dear-sirs. I commend the work these women are doing in diversifying the Irish canon, and look forward to seeing what they come out with in the future.
Choosing your university dissertation topic may seem like a daunting task. It is. The project is pitched to students as the culminating piece of work of their university careers. It takes months to complete, and is often used as a talking point in your first job interviews. Therefore it’s pretty important that you choose a decent subject matter. Since I’m currently in this situation, I’ve decided it would be a good idea to compile a list of tips I’ve gotten from friends on how to choose a topic. Hopefully this is something that could help some of you, too!
- Look Back On Past Modules
Have a look through the topics you’ve covered in your previous classes. There may have been something your lecturer touched on that grabs your attention. If you find something you’re interested in, you might be able to contact that same lecturer for more information on the subject.
- What Would You Be Excited To Take A Class On?
This is probably the most useful piece of advice I’ve received. Is there anything that you’ve been interested in that you haven’t had the opportunity to study yet? This is also a good way of filtering any ideas you’ve had so far – if you’re not into the idea of sitting through a lecture on the topic you certainly won’t want to spend a year researching it.
- Think About Your Non-Academic Interests
This might be handy for those of you who are tired the types of modules you’ve had to take so far. Think about what you like doing outside of college – be that sports, watching movies, reading comics, going out – anything. You’d be surprised what you can link back to your field of study, especially if you’re doing something like Arts of Social Sciences.
- Don’t Panic (Unless You Have To)
You’ll likely have a little time to think about what you’d like to do before you settle on something definite. Use this time to explore different options! Unless you’re down to the last day to choose your topic, I’d advise really mulling it over before you officially set your title. Remember: you’ll be spending up to a year researching and writing this dissertation. Make sure it’s on something that will hold your interest, and keep it manageable!
Featured image from JESHOOTS-com: https://pixabay.com/photos/laptop-woman-education-study-young-3087585/