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Cliffs of Moher

Silk Road’s assistant fiction editor, Amber Patton, studied in Ireland for a year. She came back with a mountain of stories and insights for us all. Here’s what she has to share about the history of Irish literature, and some of her favorite Irish Authors.

When I had the chance to study in Ireland for a year, I jumped at the opportunity to immerse myself a whole new world of literature. During my year abroad I took five literature courses at the University of Limerick, including a full semester on William B. Yeats. I had no idea how much I would learn about Ireland’s history in the process.

At the start of the 20th century, during “The Gaelic Revival,” Ireland blossomed with writers, artists and musicians. Irish authors began writing works in their native language and soon Ireland found a new identity through voice and writing.  For the duration of my Contemporary Irish Literature course I read, in-depth, on James Joyce’s narrative technique, the stream of consciousness, in his work Ulysses. I discovered  a common style among some Irish authors, which some might view as insensitive and blunt, but instead it’s quite clever. They like to weave humor into harsh and depressing passages in order to lighten the mood. While I cried at accounts of murder, betrayal, and suicide, I also laughed unconsciously at the back-handed jokes and sly come backs. I found their work heart-breakingly funny.

As more Irish history emerged, I realized  this style developed over the years of struggle in the Irish community and was likely a coping mechanism for horrible situations. No matter how hard or difficult these stories are to digest, they reflect an important part of Irish history and culture. After months of reading creative works, I’d soon discover that writing became an outlet the Irish need for exposing the truth. A truth that was silenced for over 72 years.

After gaining succession from Great Britain in 1922, and just as the Irish people began to thrive in the arts, the Irish Free State Committee established the “Censorship of Publication Act” in 1926. A ban was placed on books that contained too much crime, sexual passages, and indecent scenes. Over five thousand books were banned from Ireland. American author Aldous Huxely’s novel Brave New World and J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye were both banned from Ireland  because of this act. The censorship also affected many Irish authors as well. The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien was banned for its content. Famous Irish author George Bernard Shaw fought for most of his career to get his books published in Ireland and was only successful with a few. The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God was eventually published in 1934. Even James Joyce’s work was burned in the late 1940’s in Ireland.

The Censorship of Publication Act forced many Irish authors to go abroad to write their stunning masterpieces. If a citizen was found possessing a prohibited publication they were fined €63 or six months imprisonment. Oscar Wilde, born in Dublin, spent most of his years in France, writing and publishing his works. Though he was Irish born, and made regular commentary on the class system impacting Irish citizens, his voice remained silent for his fellow countrymen for years. As the years past, the Committee made changes and revisions to the act, which began to encompass magazines.

In 1939, during World War II, the Irish State enforced The Emergency Powers Act, which censored newspapers and periodicals. It wasn’t until 1998, seventy-two years after the act was first created, that the book ban was partially lifted.  This allowed previously banned books to be published and welcomed in Ireland. When the act was revised, Ireland exploded with contemporary literature. After years of suppression by the government, the Roman Catholic Church, and England, Ireland’s writing community responded by publishing raw memoirs, fiction, and non-fiction.

As a student in Ireland I had the opportunity to study modern authors like Anne Enright, whose memoir-based fiction The Gathering is a creative retelling of the uncontrolled child-abuse happening in Ireland during the 20th century. As I read and analyzed this piece of fiction I was enthralled and heart-broken that this story was based on real accounts of Irish history. I wonder what it would have been like if Enright had tried to publish this book during the high point of Censorship of Publication Act. It would have most definitely have been banned for its implied violence and sexual innuendos. Also, I don’t believe the Irish community would have been ready to hear the horrors happening to children at the time. Today, even with new rules and regulations, there is still censorship in Ireland, mostly pertaining to magazines.

If you haven’t read a lot of Irish Literature, I highly recommend it. While I was there I studied a wide variety of authors including, Joseph O’Connor, Mogue Doyle, and Christopher Nolan. As I read these novels, I realized just how important it is to have a voice and to be able to write. If we had had a book ban in the United States during the 20th century, what would we have done? How many authors would have been silenced? I appreciate that Americans have not had our writing banned, nor faced a decline of great literature.

My time in Ireland also improved my own writing and changed the way I view literature. I have a new outlook on the importance of non-fiction stories and how impactful they can be to an audience. I’ve taken on new techniques like using humor in my own creative non-fiction pieces and I appreciate my heritage and culture. There is still so much Ireland has to offer us, they are a country full of rich history and literature that is worth digging into.

If you are interested in finding more contemporary Irish literature, check out these websites for further reading:
Top 10 Contemporary books and their Reviews

Contemporary Fiction

Top Ten 20th Century Authors

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