A Row of Shaws

Terry Eagleton

  • Judging Shaw by Fintan O’Toole
    Royal Irish Academy, 381 pp, £28.00, October 2017, ISBN 978 1 908997 15 9

It is no surprise that Irish studies has become something of a heavy industry in academia. Ireland is a small nation – ‘an afterthought of Europe’, as James Joyce put it – and marginality is much in vogue at the moment. Yet it is also home to a magnificent body of literature, much of it written with wonderful convenience in the world’s premier language, and so easily accessible from Tokyo to Bogotá. Being colonised by the British has its advantages. Postcolonialism is also much in fashion in universities, and most of Ireland ticks that box too. The war which recently afflicted the six counties still under British rule (the ‘sick counties’, Flann O’Brien called them) also brought the world’s attention to bear on the island as a whole. Devastated in the 19th century by a famine in which British bungling and indifference played a considerable part, a sizeable segment of the Irish population was scattered to the four corners of the earth, another reason Irishness is an international phenomenon. There is also the fact that the Irish were put on earth for other people to feel romantic about. We are all Irish in the eyes of God.

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