- Feb 2018
Search alphabetically by song title
This website provides important context for the exploration of a research question I am addressing in my M.A. thesis preparation.
The portrayal of female personages in revivalist literature sets them in signally passive roles. This is most clearly at issue in the work of that period’s two foremost dramatists. In W.B. Yeats’ Cathleen Ni Houlihane, the female protagonist does not pursue her own course of action, but rather serves to inspire male heroism (P.J. Mathews discusses the play’s portrayal of female passivity at length in a piece, see http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/literature-and-1916). In The Only Jealously of Emer and The Countess Cathleen the value of women to society is achieved through acts of self-sacrifice for the benefit of significant male others (Christina Wilson has argued similar points in great detail: http://chrestomathy.cofc.edu/documents/vol5/wilson.pdf).
In John Millington Synge’s Riders to the Sea, we encounter a blending of the taste for passive female characters with a revival fascination with the rural west. Old Maurya’s reticence and stern faith in God, following the drowning of her five sons, established her as the moral centre of her native Aran community. Her monologue in the play’s ending concentrates our attention on the community’s willingness to surrender to tragic fate, which is always threatened by the danger of the sea (the play is available to read online at this link: http://www.one-act-plays.com/dramas/riders_to_the_sea.html).
What is interesting to me is that images of a massive female subject, favoured by Abbey playwrights who sought to stress the cultural specificity of Ireland, differ strongly with some prominent portrayals of the female subject in vernacular literature in Irish. In my annotation of this archive, I will provide examples of some genres of folk song – composed by females, and traditionally sung by female singers – that contradict ideas of a female subject as passive sufferer of fate. Annotations will include translations to English.
After highlighting these features of oral literature in Irish, I will have laid down substantial grounding for a discussion of the ideological motivations of revivalist authors’ depiction of female subjects. It is interesting that certain tropes of a national identity, which these authors consciously sought to create, can be seen as divergent with realities of the social group which was most fundamental to that identity. This observation encourages consideration of European intellectual currents which might have influenced revivalist writers, romantic nationalism in particular.