From Bushy Park to Elsinore: Noëlle Ffrench Davies

Mary Turley-McGrath

In January 1924, a young Irish woman arrived in Denmark to take up her position as a lecturer in the International People’s College in Elsinore. Born into a wealthy farming background in Co. Roscommon, she could have opted for a leisurely life. However, her dynamic spirit and determined personality set her on a diverse and exciting path. She had an ambition: to learn about the Danish Folk High-School system and to establish a similar one in Ireland.

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Research Pioneers 13: Kathryn Laing

Kathryn Laing has a career-long research expertise in women’s writing and Irish women’s writing in particular. Her wide-ranging publications focus on the works of Hannah Lynch, Rebecca West, Virginia Woolf, and Edna O’Brien. Together with Faith Binckes, she’s co-written the study Hannah Lynch, 1859-1904: Irish writer, Cosmopolitan, New Woman (2019), and, with Sinéad Mooney co-edited Irish Women Writers at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: Alternative Histories, New Narratives (2020). You can read the introduction to that volume here.

Her service to the field most recently bore fruit in the co-founding of the Irish Women Writers Network 1880-1920 that has the ambitious aims of bringing together scholars with common research interests, providing a virtual platform that offers research and teaching resources, and making the latest research findings accessible to students in the form of a new network-associated series of full-length works issued through EER publishing.

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Away with the Fairies: Irish Folklore and Fin-De-Siècle Motherhood in Katharine Tynan’s Ballads and Lyrics (1891)

Sadbh Kellett, University of St. Andrews 

The Irish writer Katharine Tynan was remarkable in her personal and literary embodiment of the ‘New Woman’. An educated member of Dublin’s Catholic middle-class, Tynan’s formidable literary career resulted in her financial independence, which she maintained alongside her nationalist political activism, all the while playing the part of dedicated wife and mother. As Aurelia L.S. Annat suggests:

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Rockmahon, Blackrock Co. Cork: Family home of Novelist and Short Story writer Ethel Colburn Mayne (1865-1941)

Elke D’hoker, University of Leuven

This is Rockmahon[i], one of the original nineteenth-century properties along Castle Road in Blackrock, Cork. Built around 1820, the house is adjacent to the river Lee. It faces north towards the docks and the Tivoli hills and east towards Blackrock Castle. From 1894 to 1905, Rockmahon was the home of the writer Ethel Colburn Mayne, whose literary career took off in 1895 when a story of hers was accepted in The Yellow Book. Although Mayne is little known today, she went on to build an impressive and versatile career as a novelist, short fiction writer, biographer, reviewer and translator.  

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Chambers’s Journal and Irish Women Writers at the Fin de Siècle: The Case of Magdalen Rock

Alexis Easley, University of St. Thomas

From its founding in 1832, Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal strove to reach a national audience. This meant employing a corps of writers who could speak to both national and regional concerns. As David Masson noted in 1851, the Chambers brothers employed ‘Englishmen and Englishwomen, Irishmen and Irishwomen, as well as countrymen and countrywomen of their own, writers of the highest celebrity as well as aspirants whom they have helped to encourage’ (186). As I have shown elsewhere, this list of ‘aspirants’ included a large number of women writers between 1839 and 1855. The firm’s ledgers from this period reveal the identities of 136 women who contributed some 1,048 essays, stories, and poems to the journal. A disproportionately large number of these women – about 21% – were Irish.

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Hope and Hunger in a Stricken Land: Jane Wilde and the Great Hunger

Christine Kinealy, Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University

This is an extract from Professor Christine Kinealy’s article ‘Hope and Hunger in a Stricken Land: the Wilde Family and the Great Hunger’ in Reading Ireland, issue 12, edited by Adrienne Leavy.

Speranza (Jane Elgee) and William Wilde, affluent members of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, were both champions of the poor during the Great Hunger. Following their marriage in 1851, they achieved a celebrity status in their native country and an enviable life-style. William, a brilliant eye and ear doctor, was named as Oculist-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria and, in 1864, was knighted for his services to the Empire, particularly for his work on various Irish censuses. Jane and William, who resided in the prestigious Merrion Square, attended many vice regal functions at Dublin Castle, the symbol of British rule in Ireland. Yet this privileged couple, in multiple ways, advocated for the Irish poor and they provided some of the most searing criticisms of the British government’s response to the Famine. Their second son, Oscar, would later use his own skills to challenge British rule in Ireland.   

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The Unravelling of Old Certainties: Elizabeth Bowen and the Search for Stability in Times of Flux

Orlaith Darling, Trinity College Dublin

In the U.S. post-script to The Demon Lover and Other Stories (1945), Elizabeth Bowen expresses the human yearning for security-in-placement:

The search for indestructible landmarks in a destructible world led many down strange paths […] The violent destruction of solid things, the explosion of the illusion that prestige, power and permanence attached to bulk and weight, left us all, equally, heavy and disembodied.[1]

Revisiting this quotation, I am struck by its relevance to the times we inhabit. While Bowen wrote the above amid the devastation of the London Blitz, the same sentiment applies to the dystopian shape of our pandemic-wracked globe. Indeed, for many of us, as for Bowen, the home has become a singular place of refuge – confined to our four walls, the importance of the home as a locus of safety (from disease or destruction) has never been more apparent than now.

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Memory, Landscape and Loss in Irish Emigrant Women’s Memoirs

Dr Sarah O’Brien, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick

In October, a woman uploaded a photo to her social media account. Taken that morning, it showed her at the edge of a hospital bed, head held in her hands. Her body, partly exposed by a drooping towel, was doubled over in grief. She had just suffered, or was in the process of suffering, a miscarriage.  

Behind her, a female medic stood at a computer monitor, facing away from the camera. Against the contorted shock on the face of the patient, the medic’s gaze seemed composed, mysteriously impassive.  Clinical indifference was not in question here. Rather, what the image captured was the disorientating paradox of miscarriage: its devastation and its ubiquity.  

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Dr Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado (Queen’s University Belfast)

Elizabeth Bowen (7 June 1899 – 22 February 1973)

Elizabeth Bowen had a thing for haunted houses. They appear frequently in her oeuvre, and especially in her short stories. One such tale, the comically grotesque ‘Her Table Spread,’ from her fourth short story collection The Cat Jumps (1934), is set in a mysterious, unnamed ‘Castle,’ whose mistress hosts a dinner party which takes an extraordinarily strange turn.[i] Valeria Cuffe is an Anglo-Irish heiress in need of a husband and child to secure the future of her Castle and her line, and in this Gothic story Bowen explores the dark fantasy of Anglo-Irish ‘rule’. It is much-anthologised; for not only is it one of her best pieces of short fiction, it is also one of her handful of ‘Irish stories’. Of the eighty or so stories that Bowen published, less than a dozen are set in Ireland. Although the majority of critics have described ‘Her Table Spread’ as a haunted house tale, they have only discussed the spooky Castle in question as a generic symbol for the Anglo-Irish Big House. While the Castle does function on this level in the story, I would posit that its symbolism is far more layered and complex than critics have theorised previously. 

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Research Pioneers 12: Tina O’Toole

Tina O’Toole has been recognised as a leading scholar in Irish women’s studies since her first full-length published work, the Dictionary of Munster Women Writers, emerged in 2005 and added important names to the growing list of Irish women writers who had long been overlooked and/or understudied. O’Toole continued her excavation of under-represented Irish authors in her monograph The Irish New Woman (2013), and brought together a range of commentators on the confluence of women, writing and conflict in her co-edited volume Women Writing War: Ireland 1880-1922 (2016). Alongside a lengthy catalogue of her other published works, these texts combine to consistently question the masculine bias of Irish historiography in general and the Irish literary canon more specifically. Throughout her career, O’Toole has continued to make important feminist interventions in and correctives to the assumed landscape of Irish literature. In doing so, she has challenged perceived ideas about Irish gendered and sexual identities and has engaged in the process of introducing or reintroducing marginalised voices to national debates about these issues.

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