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Visiting Research Fellow Mary Burke on 'Bohemian Ireland'

January 11, 2023 - In November 2022 Professor Mary Burke held a Trinity Long Room Hub Visiting Research Fellowship, to begin work on a book project entitled Bohemian Ireland, in collaboration with Prof Chris Morash from Trinity's School of English. Mary’s research considers the writings of Ireland’s post-war expatriate milieu, which embraced cultural traditions and communities often discounted in the mainstream Ireland of that period. We spoke with Mary about her experience as a Visiting Research Fellow in the Hub, and how it will shape her work going forward.  

 

What drew you to your current research project? 

Like many scholars, new projects tend to cross-pollinate from recently completed work. When I arrived in Dublin in November of 2022, I had recently completed my new book, Race, Politics, and Irish-America: A Gothic History. In addition, in the period in which I was applying for the Trinity Long Room Hub fellowship, Tramp Press was publishing a reissue I had pitched them some timer earlier for their Recovered Voices series. This was The Horse of Selene, a late modernist lost classic by Juanita Casey, a British-born Romany-Traveller who lived and wrote in Ireland in the post-war decades. I researched Casey’s Irish Traveller heritage and her years in Ireland in great detail for the Afterword, and it was clear that both contributed to the novel’s style and themes. Casey’s minority identity, in combination with my exploration of Black American writers of Irish heritage for my new book, led me to ask what diversity might have looked like in the predominantly white and culturally homogenous Ireland of decades past. That question was the seed of the Bohemian Ireland project.  

Why do you believe it’s important to research Ireland’s post-war expatriate scene?

   

The rural and coastal expatriate bohemian scene of post-war Ireland was a dispersed, creative, and colourful community that contributed to the country’s vibrancy, and intersected with Traveller, farming, artistic, horsey, and ‘foodie’ circles. Its embrace of traditions that mainstream Ireland of that period considered dated, unprofitable, or ‘disreputable’ has received little attention, though it produced some of the century’s finest writing about Ireland, from J.P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man (my sole Dublin-centric text) and Casey’s The Horse of Selene, to Heinrich Böll’s Irish Journal, Henry Glassie’s Passing the Time in Ballymenon¸ and the street theatre of John Arden and Margaretta D’Arcy. The tolerant underbelly of post-war Ireland deserves to be documented in this century when one considers how much so-called ‘alternative’ communities contributed to the revitalization of mainstream Irish life in terms of awareness of land stewardship, multiculturalism, and traditional foods.

For instance, a prescient 1972 Casey poem that I came across during my time at the Hub weaponizes Ireland’s own cultural heritage – it riffs on Yeats - to attack the country’s neglect of its natural resources: ‘I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,/Where dying otters rot and gasping fish are laid,/They're sprayed the nine bean-rows, and killed off the honeybee./And nothing lives at all in the silent glade.’ In my time in Dublin I discovered that Casey was involved in some massive controversies that played out in the Irish media in the early 1970s over government agriculture and fisheries policy that she believed was escalating environmental destruction.  

Likewise, British ‘Angry Young Man’-generation dramatist John Arden, and his wife, Margaretta D’Arcy, moved to a derelict thatched cottage in Galway in 1967, and at the Hub I began to dig into their interventions on the question of local anti-Traveller violence in those years.    

What has your experience been like working in the Trinity Long Room Hub?  

It goes without saying that it was extraordinary to be based a few steps from TCD Library and all its wonderful resources, as well as having the NLI and the RIA around the corner, but being able to partake of the Hub’s boundless event and talk offerings was another major gift. I found myself attending fantastic events many days and evenings, such as a presentation by Fagel Collection Visiting Research Fellow Emily Monty, the celebration of poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, the launch of The Letters, Writings, and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (OUP), and a ‘Behind the Headlines’ series panel on climate catastrophe featuring Neasa Hardiman, Conor Brennan, Cathriona Russell, and Yairen Jerez Columbié. Early-career researchers are the lifeblood of the Hub’s lively research environment. Hearing Conor Brennan, Tereza Mytakou, Ursula Quill, Zoe Gosling, Yingjun Wei, Patrick Duffy, Scotty McQueen, and Orlaith Darling discuss their work was fascinating, not least because, in Orlaith’s case, I was aware of her research before I came to Dublin.  

In addition, the Hub’s location allowed me to easily access relevant cultural events nearby. For instance, MoLI and the German Embassy co-sponsored a Heinrich Böll celebration during my month in Dublin, which I was thrilled to attend. I came to Dublin thinking I would work solely on Heinrich Böll but was delighted to discover TCD holdings related to his wife, Annmarie, about whom I had known little. It turns out that she translated J.M. Synge, Brendan Behan, and Flann O’Brien into German, so she may turn out to be the crucial Böll in terms of the post-war German imaginary of rural Ireland!  

Did you feel the Hub was a collaborative space, and if so, was this helpful to you as a researcher? 

I found the Hub to be an incredibly collaborative and inspiring space. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing presentations by early career researchers doing really interesting work in Linguistics, Germanic Studies, History, and English. Indeed, when I gave the customary short presentation on my fellowship project, I received some really astute comments from some of the early-career researchers at the Hub that will shape how it proceeds. It was a luxury and a privilege to share space with such engaged and intellectually generous scholars. I am so thankful to Prof. Chris Morash & Prof. Eve Patten for supporting my application, and to the Hub staff, Caitriona Curtis, Eva, Emily, and Robert, for their support throughout my stay. 

Mary Burke is Professor of English at the University of Connecticut. Her book, Race, Politics, and Irish-America: A Gothic History, was published by Oxford UP in 2022/2023 (UK/US). Her first book with OUP was a cultural history of Irish Travellers, and she collaborated with Tramp Press on the 2022 edition of Traveller-Romany novelist Juanita Casey’s The Horse of Selene. Professor Burke has had recent cover images and/or lead articles in a number of significant journals, including the James Joyce Quarterly, and her work has featured  in NPR, the Irish Times, RTÉ, and Faber. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin and Queen's University Belfast, she has served on the Fulbright National Screening Committee for Ireland and is a former University of Notre Dame NEH Irish Institute Fellow and MLA Irish Literature Committee chair.  

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