St. Patrick’s Day the Irish Way

Sinéad Keegan is an Irish-born writer in the final year of her MFA at Kingston and is currently writing her first novel. Her short stories and poetry and have been published in several magazines and she blogs regularly at http://www.sineadkeegan.blogspot.com. She is also the editor of No Dead White Men.

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On this St. Patrick’s Day, before you don your silly shamrock headgear, dig out your “Kiss me, I’m Irish” t-shirt and go drink yourself sick on green beer, spare a thought for a true Irish tradition: the seanachie.

A seanachie (shan-a-KEE, sort of, Irish pronunciation is problematic in English) is a traditional Irish storyteller. In ancient Ireland, they travelled around the country staying with families and, in return for hospitality, they would share stories. It was a way to keep the old myths alive, to teach history and also to share the news of the day. Naturally, with newspapers, television and the internet, the days of the traveling seanachie have mainly passed in Ireland, but tradition of storytelling and being a storyteller is still strong throughout the country and with Irish people across the globe. Instead of traveling down the narrow country roads to different families every night, today seanachies can be found in the local pubs and at every family gathering. When Irish people meet, the first question we ask is, “What’s the story?” Why say what happened when you can tell the story of what happened?

Many of our storytellers have achieved worldwide acclaim, like William Butler Yeats, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw and other heavy hitters. But these literary giants are not all Ireland has produced. There are currently some amazing writers coming out of the country, making waves across the literary world and their work is well worth a look. Here is my incredibly biased and far from comprehensive, taster list of five contemporary Irish writers who work across the literary spectrum:

RoomEmma Donoghue – Emma stormed the literary scene in 2010 with Room, which, among its too numerous to list accolades, was shortlisted for the Orange and Man Booker Prizes, won Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year and the W.H. Smiths Paperback of the Year Awards. Room is the story of a mother and son held captive and is told by the five-year-old boy. This ‘overnight success’ is actually Emma’s seventh novel. This prolific writer has also published several short story collections, literary history articles and anthologies in addition to writing for the screen, stage and radio.

 

Artemis FowlEoin Colfer – Eoin is the author of the incredibly successful Artemis Fowl series for young adults. Artemis is a hyper-intelligent teen with a troubled family who tries to outwit the characters of Irish fairy stories. In an interesting twist on the usual young adult formula, Artemis is the bad guy. This series, beginning with the eponymous Artemis Fowl, is intriguing for readers of all ages. In 2008 another of his many novels, The Airman, joined the New York Times bestseller list. With successes like these and even the sixth book of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, And Another Thing, to his name, Eoin Colfer is a literary name for our times.

 

Dervla Murphy - GazaDervla Murphy – Dervla’s first book, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle (1965), established her as a fearless traveler and extraordinary writer. For more than fifty years she has travelled the world, struggling to get away from the paved road. Her latest book, A Month by the Sea: Encounters in Gaza, took her into the homes and lives of people in Palestine. Dervla hasn’t let anything slow her down, not travel mishaps, resistance from immigration authorities or getting older. She’s now in her eighties and shows no signs of slowing down, which is great news for fans of her work.

 

Blackwater LightshipColm Toibin – A novelist, essayist, memoirist, travel writer, journalist and playwright, there is very little to which Colm hasn’t turned his accomplished hand. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker for The Blackwater Lightship and The Master, his awards are numerous and include the Encore Award, Ferro-Grumley Prize, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Prix du Meilleur Livre. His work has a quiet power, an extraordinary sense of place and gives his readers new ways in which to view the world.

 

 

The GatheringAnne Enright – Anne’s fourth novel, The Gathering, won the Man Booker Prize in 2007 and her other books and short stories have been widely praised. She has also won the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year and the Encore Award. Her picture of Ireland is uncompromising and nuanced, accommodating both the country’s deep history and its modern contradictions.

 

 

So perhaps on this St. Patrick’s day, we can all enjoy a good Irish read beside our pint of Guinness, glass of Bailey’s or measure of Jameson’s. Ireland, its people and its history is so much deeper than this international stereotype of drinking. One look at any of these writers shows this in abundance.

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