Post-gay-marriage referendum we are all getting used to the strange and wonderful feeling of living in a nation which, instead of repressing diversity, celebrates it and honours it and indeed parades it through our streets. The monotone droning of the Corpus Christi procession has been replaced by the panoply of song and costume on the march of pride. Readers of Irish short fiction will be aware of a strong move towards stylistic diversity in recent years, of a burgeoning generation of writers who are making the rapidly changing and in certain ways entirely transformed Ireland of the present the ground and inspiration of their fiction-making.
There are, have been, and will be innumerable ‘Irelands’, far too may for one kind of vision, one kind of fiction, one anthology, no matter how wide-ranging, to encompass. What Young Irelanders celebrates and highlights is the emergence in Ireland in recent years of a young and versatile literature open to multiple experiences and points-of-view, to techniques, experiences, and accents previously little heard of or long repressed and excluded — without claiming privileged institutional or cultural status for any.
Perhaps there are no more interesting or various ‘Irelands’ for literature to feed on today than there have been at any other time in our history. Certainly, Ireland was at least as intellectually cosmopolitan and internationalised in the 1790s, that wonderful revolutionary decade, as it is today, to mention only one example. However, I believe there are more talented writers, in short fiction especially, coming from a far wider range of places and perspectives, with more things to say and more ways of saying, than ever before.
Although there is no simple or direct relationship between the progress of a nation and the kind of fiction its writers produce, there is obviously some connection. Ireland in its twentieth- century incarnation was really a nation of a defeated and downtrodden majority, a post-colonial people whose Utopian hopes had been dashed and whose pride had to be swallowed and kept down, with painful difficulty, for a very long time. It is no coincidence that we became in this period the best in the world at producing the fiction of grief and of mourning, whether it is the damnation of the dead and the undead that animates the angry, vengeance-seeking grief of Liam O’Flaherty, or the instinct to sanctify the fallen, the downtrodden and the doomed that moves us so often in the work of Des Hogan, John McGahern, Mary Costello, Claire Keegan, Edna O’Brien and William Trevor, to name but a few.
The near unanimity of this variously shaded style of melancholy naturalism, despite the vast talents of its finest exponents, also quite clearly testifies to the monoculturalism that afflicted the Republic of Ireland in the twentieth century, and tempts one to describe Irish fiction in this period as a provincial or regional literature rather than a truly national one. A national literature that we can all feel part of, like that of the French, the Mexicans, or of the Egyptians, accommodates and encourages far more styles and approaches than Irish fiction has so far been generally able to, aside from the obvious exceptions. The most influential book in Irish twentieth-century fiction, it’s ur-book and intertext-in-chief, is Joyce’s Dubliners, a melancholy naturalist classic for all times and all places. But Joyce, and after him Flann O’Brien and Beckett, wrote several other canonical works of fiction, whose influence on Irish fiction writers, in all but the rarest of cases, has yet to come to pass.
Which is not to suggest that departing from the melancholy naturalist mode has no tradition in recent Irish fiction. In the works of writers from Aidan Higgins to Sean O Reilly to Philip O Ceallaigh it does – writers often referred to, with a kind of respect it is true, as ‘overlooked’ or ‘outsiders’ . However, stylistically diverse writers like these have tended to appear singly, at the rate of one or two a decade, and to remain relatively under-appreciated. Kevin Barry proved with 2007‘s There are Little Kingdoms that one could be stylistically innovative and widely read. It’s probably not possible to overestimate the freeing effect of Kevin Barry’s work on the presently flowering generation of Irish short story writers.
Nowadays, I think we can begin to speak seriously of a poly-vocal generation of Irish short story writers, one which may end up redefining what it means to be a story-writer in Ireland.The diversity, alongside the success, of Irish short fiction in recent years gives grounds for being optimistic about the arrival of truly pluralistic and inclusive Irish literature in the near future, one in which no particular style or method is elevated to scriptural or exclusively state-subsidized status. There is unquestionably a new wave of young fictioneers emerging from our world-class small press and journal scene who are worth reading and supporting and who, between them, are building a sustainable audience for alternatives to the melancholy naturalist mode.
Some, but my no means all, of this new wave are represented in this Young Irelanders anthology, an anthology that makes no claims to totality or grand authority whatsoever. If you had to fit in every Irish short fiction writer whose work interests me the anthology would have been three or four times bigger. I approached the writers based on my knowledge and admiration for their work, on the need for diversity and contemporaneity in the anthology. I had worked with some more intensely than others – through my role as guest and contributing editor at The Stinging Fly, or on my experimental fiction course in the Irish Writers centre, which runs from October to April and attracts a very committed kind of writer. Besides this, I, of course, read contemporary Irish fiction widely, and I went after the writers like Kevin Curran and Alan McGonagle who really seemed vital and courageously distinct to me in what they were writing about and how they were writing it. To be honest, I was actually taken aback by how people stepped up to the mark for this collection. I knew it would be good but I wasn’t expecting it to be this good.
Think of it as primer, a mix-tape that will open your eyes and your soul to a new and continually evolving scene that is out there waiting to be discovered in literary magazines, small press collections, and in off-piste literary events of all sorts. You’ll find your own favourites, I’m sure.
(c) Dave Lordan
Young Irelanders is an exciting anthology of short stories that will open your eyes and soul to a new and continually evolving Irish literary scene, featuring a selection of Ireland’s most gifted and daring contemporary short-fiction writers:
Sheila Armstrong, Claire-Louise Bennett, Colin Barrett, Kevin Curran, Rob Doyle, Oisín Fagan, Mia Gallagher, Alan McMonagle, Roisín O’Donnell, Cathy Sweeney, Eimear Ryan, Sydney Weinberg.
Young Irelanders reinvigorates the traditional Irish short story with a palpable sense of adventure. From Kevin Curran’s heart-wrenching portrayal of bullying and suicide, to Roisin O’Donnell’s beautifully poignant narrative of a Brazilian girl’s journey to Ireland for love, to Rob Doyle’s searing tale of infidelity, the characters in these tales are searching for love, for courage, for release, and for glory.
Surging with an energy and vigour synonymous with this new generation of Irish writers, the stories are in turn profound, shocking, lyrical and dark, while remaining endlessly and exuberantly inventive.
In bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!
About the Editor
Dave Lordan is a well-known writer, editor, educator and literary commentator. His latest publications are Lost Tribe of The Wicklow Mountains (Poetry, Salmon, 2014), First Book of Frags (short fiction, wurmpress 2013), and, as editor, the Young Irelanders anthology of new Irish Fiction (New Island, 2015). Known for his ground-breaking work in creative writing education, as well as in multidisciplinary collaboration, check out Dave’s latest poetry-film, My Mother Speaks to me of Suicide, and excerpts from his collaboration with renowned sound artist Bernard Clarke All Remaining Passengers. He is the facilitating editor of Irelands leading Alt.literature website, bogmanscannon.com Contact him at: dl