A Literary Celtic Tiger

by Emily Howell

I have always been a fan of Irish Literature, both the classic and contemporary. Especially as fall closes in, I find myself ending each day curled up on the couch reading the words of Joyce, Yeats, O’Brien, Heaney, O’Faolain, Becket and Wilde. Reading Irish authors always leaves me itching for something more, so I was thrilled when I came across Justine Jordan’s article, “A new Irish literary boom: the post-crash stars of fiction”, in The Guardian on Saturday.

In the article Jordan interviews multiple up-and-coming writings, including Claire Kilroy, whose book The Devil I Know was published in 2012. Kilroy says she believes the Celtic Tiger’s downfall has coincided with a boost in new fiction. New writer and inaugural laureate for Irish Fiction, Anne Enright agrees. “It was hard to write in Ireland during the Tiger times – there was a sense of ‘get with the program, you’re off message’,” she says. Now though, things are changing. Enright calls it resurgence to that glorious old-fashioned mindset that’s been ever present in Ireland: “if you can’t get a job, you might as well write.”

Enright attributes this new surge largely to “the agility of the small presses and their ability to pick up talent and run with it.” Literary magazines like Stinging Fly, Tramp Press, Gorse andBanshee are publishing new work left and right. Writers and literary magazines have also been successful due to the continued support and funding from the Irish Arts Council.

Jordan suggests much of the success, though, is due to the change in focus. As Berlin based writer Julian Gough puts it, “Irish literature had gotten smug and self-congratulatory during the boom; lots of novels about how terrible Ireland’s past was, with all it’s sexual repression and poverty…not a trace of the wild experimentalism of Becket, Joyce and Flann O’Brien. Now, there is a movement toward writing about anything and everything – writers are reconnecting with the wild experimentalism of old.

Irish writer, Kevin Barry, who’s novel City of Bohane won the 2013 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, isn’t as quick to herald an approaching golden age as some saying it would be smug and premature. However, he also says, “maybe a proper radicalism is at last starting to re-emerge in Irish writing.” According to Barry, “we should always remember that being innovative and wild and not afraid to go completely fucking nuts on the page is what built it’s (Irish literature’s) reputation in the first half of the 20th century.”

I for one am excited about the possibility of a new golden age of Irish literature. The sheer number of notable Irish writers has always astounded me considering the island’s measly 4.5 million inhabitants. It’s a country that, in the past, seemed to effortlessly spit out ‘greats’ one after another – I think it’s about time for a few more to be added to the list.

* check out Jordan’s article for a list of new and notable Irish writers

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