Network Publication: Irish Women Writers at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: Alternative Histories, New Narratives

Edited by Kathryn Laing and Sinéad Mooney

Introduction: “A Palpable Energy”

Kathryn Laing and Sinéad Mooney

Silenced female voices, the gendered gaps and absences in archives and literary histories, and silence as theme and technique, all feature in many of the essays included in this collection. Addressing these occlusions and retrieving these voices is the chief thread that connects this project to numerous predecessors, not least the groundbreaking publication in 2002 of volumes IV and V of the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, dedicated to women’s writing and traditions in response to their underrepresentation in the original three volumes. However, Irish Women Writers at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: Alternative Histories, New Narratives, while still addressing itself to issues of representation, retrieval and reconsideration of the silenced, ironically finds itself participating in a rich and multi-voiced critical conversation.

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Recovering Irish Women Writers: Lady Virginia Sandars, a Contemporary of Wilde, Hardy and Kipling

Dr Paul O’Brien (MIC, Limerick)

Lady Virginia Sandars (17 March 1828 – 26 January 1922)

Lady Virginia Frances Zerlina Taylour was the youngest daughter of Thomas Taylour, the 2nd Marquess of Headfort and Olivia Stevenson. A member of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy, Virginia lived in the large, eleven-bay Robert Adam designed, Headfort House in County Meath. Her father, Thomas Taylour, 2nd Marquess of Headfort, was connected through marriage to the Earl of Dunraven and the Earl of Spencer. The vast Taylour estate amounted to 20,000 acres in Cavan and Meath. Taylour represented Kells in the Irish parliament from 1776 to 1790, subsequently sitting as MP for Longford until 1794 and Meath until 1795.

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Research Pioneers 8: David Clare, Fiona McDonagh and Justine Nakase

David Clare, Fiona McDonagh and Justine Nakase are in the final stages of a project that promises to be a milestone in scholarship on women’s contribution to Irish theatre. They are co-editing the weighty two-volume collection The Golden Thread: Irish Women Playwrights (1716-2016), forthcoming with Liverpool University Press. This project evolved from their ‘Irish Women Playwrights and Theatremakers Conference’ at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, in June 2017. Together the editors combine expertise in Irish drama and theatre from the eighteenth century to the present.

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Reflections on the lockdown

We asked members to share their experiences of life in lockdown. In these strange times, we wonder, how quarantine is impacting our lives as scholars, students, and academics. Working from home is now the reality for so many globally. New work and research practices had to be put in place quickly, as the pandemic took hold, changing day to day. Universities and institutions changed to online provision, and libraries have been quick to update and extend online access. New professional development classes on virtual learning environments and communication tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams were rolled out. These measures all necessary to make sure all our citizens are protected.

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Research Pioneers 7: Margaret Kelleher

Margaret Kelleher’s first monograph on The Feminization of Famine and her co-edited volume on Gender Perspectives in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, both published in 1997, had gender questions at the very heart of her research. Her seminal work interrogated questions of tradition and canonicity in such influential articles as ‘Charlotte Riddell’s A Struggle for Fame: The Field of Women’s Literary Production’ (2000), ‘Writing Irish Women’s Literary History’ (2001) and ‘“The Field Day Anthology” and Irish Women’s Literary Studies’ (2003). We took the opportunity to ask her about the historiography of Irish women’s literary history and new opportunities for researchers in the digital age.

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Research pioneers 6: Gerardine Meaney

The publication in 2002 of The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing: Women’s Writing and Traditions volumes 4 and 5 was a watershed moment in Irish literary history. Gerardine Meaney was among the principal co-editors of this endeavour, which evolved in response to the failure of the initial three volumes of The Field Day Anthology to dedicate due attention to women’s contribution to Irish literature. Gerardine Meaney is also one of two Irish women to be awarded an ERC Advanced Grant in 2020, the first two women in Ireland, in any discipline, to gain such an award. In addition, she has shaped the field with her monographs on Gender, Ireland and Cultural Change (Routledge, 2010), the co-authored Reading the Irish Woman: Cultural Encounter and Exchange, 1714-1960 (Liverpool University Press, 2013), and extensive list of journal articles and chapters on a range of Irish women writers – including Katherine Cecil Thurston and Emily Lawless – stretching back more than three decades.

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Research Pioneers 5: Lucy Collins

Lucy CollinsPoetry by Women in Ireland: A Critical Anthology 1870-1970, published by Liverpool University Press in 2012, has made a crucial intervention in the field of Irish women’s literary history. As one reviewer described it, it reveals ‘a hitherto hidden history of poetry’ and ‘contradict[s] the received narrative of Irish poetry’. Anthologies form a vital part of recovery work that opens up new avenues for research and reinvigorates teaching practice. We’ve taken the opportunity to ask Collins to reflect on the opportunities and challenges of such critical editing.

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Research Pioneers 4: Heidi Hansson

Heidi Hansson’s edited collection New Contexts: Re-Framing Nineteenth-Century Irish Women’s Writing (2007) has been praised by reviewers for its call for the field of literary studies to be augmented and for ‘addressing women’s literature as a “distinct tradition”’. Together with her monograph Emily Lawless 1845-1913: Writing the Interspace, published in the same year, Hansson’s work has been described as ‘the basis for a productive and timely reassessment’ of Irish women’s literature. Here, we ask Hansson, Professor in the Department of Language Studies at Sweden’s Umeå University, about the origins of her interest in Irish literature and what we can learn from studying literary texts from a transcultural perspective.

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Roots of the Present: Memories of My Grandmother Mary Manning

By Lucien Senna

Lucien Senna in front of Glendalough House

I remember it vividly, as though it was this past summer. I was only seven years old and it was one of three joyous summers I spent in a house rented by my grandmother Molly Manning. It was a pink Georgian house in Sandycove, overlooking the sea, where my mother, sister, brother and me stayed to be near my grandmother’s house on Herbert Road.  Only one particular summer’s day stands out as disturbing. I still have a faded colour photo of it. I am standing in a light pink dress with ruffled short sleeves. My hair is a wild crown of frizzy brown curls and I’m posed hesitantly in front of an imposing grey “castle.” The year was 1976. The “castle” was Glendalough House. It was early August. An avid reader of fairytales, I was eagerly looking forward to this day. Upon arrival, my grandmother’s brother-in-law, “Uncle Bobby” Childers, who married her late sister Christobel, urged me to explore the grounds of his house while the adults sat down to talk. I was living a bygone dream.

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Between Two Worlds: Examining “Merry England” as an Outlet for Irish Women Writers

Mary McCartney, University of St. Thomas

In 1885, Katharine Tynan sent a letter to Alice Meynell thanking her for reviewing Tynan’s book Louise de la Vallière and Other Poems in the monthly periodical Merry England (1883–1895). Tynan writes, “It is a beautiful review, and I am glad to have been reviewed by you. […] I value your belief that I am a poet as much” (qtd. in Atkinson 29). Tynan was an Irish nationalist writer who had close ties to W. B. Yeats and was involved in the early years of the Irish Literary Revival. Meynell was a British writer, publisher, and suffragist who co-founded Merry England with her husband Wilfrid in 1883. Most existing scholarship about Merry England is dedicated to the periodical’s contributions to the Catholic Literary Revival, such as Elizabeth Gray’s article “Catholicism and Ideal Womanhood in Fin-de-Siècle Women’s Poetry.”  To date, the periodical’s function as a platform for Irish women writers has been largely overlooked. Yet Merry England played an important role in the careers of Irish women writers working in London or submitting work to London publications.

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