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Session V: Irish Culture: Print, Music, Language, and Film
Summary: For over a century and half, Irish writers and historians have viewed the diaspora of Irish people to the New World largely through the prism of Irish American historiography. The presence of the Irish in Canada, which predates the influx of Great Famine emigrants to the United States, has been largely ignored by mainstream historical and anthropological research.
Nowhere is this lacuna more evident than in the vast reserves of Irish cultural history that remain to be explored in the French Canadian province of Québec. From the "Wild Geese" soldiers of the Irish Brigade who arrived in the eighteenth century to the destitute victims of famine who arrived a century afterwards, from emigrants fleeing the inertia of Ireland in the 1950s to an eclectic array of contemporary musicians playing Irish traditional music in the province today, Québec bears a unique imprint of Irish cultural diaspora.
Adopting a nuanced epistemological approach, this paper focuses on the untapped history of Irish traditional music in Québec since the middle decades of the nineteenth century and the manner in which it has contributed to the indigenous soundscape of the province, inspiring celebrated Francophone performers, cementing professional careers, and forging artistic and cross-cultural links between various music communities on both sides of the North Atlantic.
Summary: Following on Pádraig Ó Siadhail's contribution to the 2006 Irish Studies Symposium Direction and Directionlessness in Irish Studies, I argue in this presentation for greater attention to language in Irish-Canadian Studies.
Some general problems that bilingualism presents for Irish and Canadian studies are outlined, and the case is made for attention to language via four texts: Risteárd Ó Foghludha's 1933 translation of Maria Chapdelaine into Irish, Pádhraic Óg Ó Conaire's 1936 novel Éan Cuideáin (which tells the story of a young man who returns from Montreal to Ros na gCloch with his Québécoise wife), and Jacques Ferron's short novel Le Salut de l'Irlande (published as a serial in 1966-7 and then re-written as a ripped-from-the-headlines novel a few months after the October Crisis), which is a kind of companion piece to Brian Moore's equally journalistic "October Crisis" novel The Revolution Script (1971). These are works that offer the opportunity to re-evaluate key aspects of the Canada-Ireland-Quebec comparative triangle, and are also all works where language is an indispensible tool, in each case for very different reasons.
French, Irish and English are equally important here, and should (following Ó Siadhail) be part of any plan for a renewed Irish-Canadian Studies.
Summary: The Irish language expression, idir dhá dtír, literally "between two countries", was used not just to refer to emigration in general but also to the pattern of seasonal migration by agricultural workers, such as the tatie hokers (potato gatherers), who spent part of the year labouring abroad, frequently in Scotland, before returning home to Ireland.
For this commentator, an Irish citizen and Canadian Permanent Resident, who has spent most of the last 21 years working in Canada but with regular trips back to Ireland including extended sabbatical leave there, the expression represents not just the physical experience of living in and moving between two different countries, but the cultural and linguistic tensions that arise, in particular due to the obvious contradiction of teaching Irish, writing in Irish and raising children through the language while being largely removed from Ireland.
Detached from the reality of the new Ireland that has emerged in the last 20 years, while refusing to be drawn into the Canadian mainstream, one can end up not just being enriched by one's experiences but also trapped in a "No Man's Land," belonging to neither country.
This paper explores issues of identity, allegiance and displacement that arise from feeling rooted in one's native country's culture while residing in another country.
In many ways ours is a simple diet, but—as all the world knows—it has nourished a complex and remarkable assortment of poets and playwrights, politicians and pugilists, actors and orators, philosophers and wits.
Monica Sheridan, My Irish Cookbook, 1966
So writes the Julia Child of her place and time, Monica Sheridan, winner of the Irish TV Personality of the Year award in 1963 for her RTÉ program, Monica's Kitchen. Until recently, however, it is the Great Famine, not great gastronomy, that has dominated scholarly engagement with Ireland and food. Over the past decade or so, an ever-expanding historiography and discourse on food culture internationally, the predominance of the Irish food industry, which—by 2006 was reported to be the country's largest indigenous industry—not to mention the centrality of food as a travel incentive as can be witnessed on the Tourism Ireland website, offer cogent reasons to explore Ireland's complex food culture.
What is immediately clear is that any focus of attention on current Irish food and foodways must be understood in the context of longer-standing cultural evolution—both in terms of what people cooked and ate in that country historically, and as a function of wider political and social behaviours. Indeed, the two or so decades immediately following the Second World War can be singled out as a particularly rich period for investigation, for a number of reasons.
One is a notable pattern regarding the introduction of new foods, new food technologies, and attendant lifestyle changes as key features in the households of such countries as The Netherlands, the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. In Ireland, this includes rural electrification and availability of indoor plumbing, incursions of foods prepared outside the home, and transformations in kitchen design—and thus of what might be called the domestic foodscape—as a result.
Another is the long-standing recognition of this period as one of hardship, especially for women, demonstrated by Ireland's extraordinarily high emigration rates. As some researchers have suggested, however, it is important to temper and add nuance to such overarching assertions; considering how Irish families interacted with the home as an intimate built environment in which food preparation and consumption played a central role, can be an extremely productive way to do so.
Room can thus be made for Maura Laverty's declaration in 1960 that "cooking is the poetry of housework," or for Annie Dunne, Sebastian Barry's character from the 2002 novel of the same name (set in the 1950s), who considers home-baked bread as "that source of pride and difference, like the very waters of your own well, sweeter and better than all the other wells of the parishes."
Working at the scale of individual households, then, this research—still in its early stages—contributes additional perspectives to existing scholarship on Irish identity, nationalism, and everyday life during this period.
National Archives of Ireland [www.nationalarchives.ie]