Off the Shelf: FIVE IRISH WOMEN
By Emer Nolan. Review by Terry Kenneally
Manchester University Press ISBN 978 1 5261 3674 9 2019 222 pp.
This book is comprised of five portraits of Irish women from various fields- literature, journalism, music, and politics- who have achieved outstanding reputations since around 1960: Edna O’Brien, Sinead O’Connor, Bernadette McAliskey, Nuala O’Faolain and Anne Enright. This is not offered as a representative sample of accomplished Irish women, but neither is it a merely random selection. For they are, all of them, quite exceptional in their achievements: all are or have been famous abroad as well in Ireland, several could claim at some point of their lives to have been among the most recognizable Irish.
- Edna O’Brien: writing sex and nation
Edna O’Brien, who born in Clare in 1930 and won widespread attention with her best-selling first novel “The Country Girls” (1960), is far from being the first Irish women writer, although rural Catholic women writers were certainly rare before her. Many more Irish women writers have emerged over the last sixty or so years.
Many of these have appeared who are generally highly sensitive to feminist perspectives and who themselves have been read with serious attention to issues of gender and sexuality.
Anne Enright is this generations best known example. But O’Brien’s career- the sheer fact of it- makes her an exceptional figure in Irish cultural history. She is the first iconic Irish Women Author.
- Sinead O’Connor: the story of a voice.
Sinead O’Connor is surely Ireland’s best-known woman artist. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, her startling appearance and the extraordinary vocal performances on her first two albums brought her huge fame as an international rock star. From the beginning, she combined an ambiguous sexual appeal, a distinctive clarity of voice and an aura of intense personal anguish. Although she became an early icon of the Celtic Tiger era, her attitude towards Ireland, Catholicism and the music business were at odds with many aspects of the upbeat commercialized “Irishness” so prevalent in the popular culture of the time.
- Bernadette McAliskey: speechifying
At a few key points in modern Irish history, women have won particularly memorable electoral victories. In 1918, Constance Markievicz became the first woman elected to the House of Commons in an especially famous victory. Mary Robinson was elected President of the Republic of Ireland in 1990. Another significant moment was the arrival at Westminster in April 1969 of a twenty-one-year-old student, Bernadette Devlin, to take up her seat as the new MP for Mid Ulster.
Her furious and eloquent maiden speech on conditions in Northern Ireland and on the emerging campaign for civil rights was delivered just hours later. Devlin made an extraordinary impact in Ireland and internationally, especially in the United states.
- Nuala O’Faolain: an emotional episode in public life.
The death of Nuala O’Faolain in May 2008 at the age of sixty-eight was headline news in Ireland. The Guardian and the New York times, among other international papers, published tributes and obituaries. This was startling because it was only in the last decade of her life that O’Faolain became famous as a best-selling author as well as an Irish public figure of a most unusual kind; held in great affection and widely admired for revealing her belief that her own life story was part of the general exposure of a repressive society to which she herself had almost unselfishconsciesly belonged. Her confessional book Are You Somebody was a runaway best seller in the U.S.
- Anne Enright: taking the Green Road
Anne Enright, one of Ireland’s most celebrated writers, the first Irish female winner of the Man Booker Prize(2007) for her novel The Gathering, and from 2015 to 2018 the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction sponsored by the Arts Council, cannot be usefully addressed or described as a confessional artist in the style of Edna O’Brien or Sinead O’Connor. But in what might fairly be described as her mature fiction so far- The Gathering (2007), The Forgotten Waltz (2011), and the Green Road (2015), she deals with the transformation of that Irish middle-class world by the Celtic Tiger boom, as well as with the topics more familiar from earlier traditions in twentieth-century Irish fiction, including the dysfunctional Irish family, child sexual and institutional abuse, emigration, rural Ireland and historical memory.
“Nolan’s book is fascinating and essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand and appreciate changing attitudes toward culture, nationalism, religion, feminism and the media in Ireland during the past sixty years,” said Lyn Innes, Emeritus Professor, University of Kent, Canterbury. This is TOP SHELF READ.
*Terrence J Kenneally is an attorney and owner of Terrence J. Kenneally & Assoc. in Rocky River, Ohio. He represents insureds and insurance companies throughout the state of Ohio in the area of insurance defense. Terrence received his Masters from John Carroll University in Irish Studies and teaches Irish literature and history at Holy Name High School. He is also President of Holy Name.