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But I, being poor

“But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”  Yeats

Culture Shock: A history of Irish drama in 10 foods

Brendan Behan said every time there was a crisis at the Abbey, someone put on a pan of rashers. But are there any rashers in Irish plays?

This being Irish Times Food Month, I thought of Brendan Behan’s barbed comment on the limits of domestic drama in Ireland. He said the Abbey was the best-fed theatre company in the world because, every time there was a crisis in the kind of plays it put on, someone put on a pan of rashers. But are there any rashers in Irish plays? The search led me to construct a history of Irish drama in 10 foods.

1: Algernon’s cucumber sandwiches (1895)
In Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, the first intimation of Algy’s double life is his hypocrisy over the cucumber sandwiches he has told Lane, his butler, to make for Lady Bracknell. He forbids Jack from eating them: “They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta.” But he immediately eats one himself. By the time Lady Bracknell arrives Algy has scoffed the lot. Lane covers up the crime by saying there were no cucumbers to be had in the market, “not even for ready money”.

2: Lady Gregory’s pot of broth (1902)
The Pot of Broth, one of the first peasant plays, attributed to WB Yeats but mostly written by Gregory, centres on the eponymous pot. A wily and very hungry tramp has to persuade some peasants, who are preparing their best food for a priest, that he has a magic stone that will create soup. The play is a low farce, but we can never quite forget that it is about a starving man.

3: Pegeen Mike’s soda bread (1907)
Soda bread features heavily in Synge’s plays as a symbol of domestic warmth and safety. In The Playboy of the Western World Christy Mahon arrives cold and hungry. When Pegeen gives him some of her bread to eat, it is a first token of burgeoning love.

4: Nona’s lobster (1922)
In Yeats’s experimental The Player Queen, one actor, Nona, brings on a boiled lobster and a bottle of wine and leaves them in the middle of the floor. Another, Decima, keeps trying to reach them. She is not allowed to eat the lobster until she has played her part in the drama. The lobster itself is quite a star – its sheer strangeness on stage underlines the play’s oddity.

5: Captain Boyle’s sausage (1924)
In Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock the collapse of the marriage between Juno and Captain Boyle is presaged by a tussle over a sausage. She buys it for him in the belief that he is finally about to do a day’s work. He refuses to eat it: “I want no breakfast, I tell you; it ud choke me after all that’s been said.” After she leaves he blusters to his crony Joxer: “Sassige! Well let her keep her sassige.” After more bluster he, of course, cooks and eats the sausage. His empty verbosity is established and Juno’s earlier accusation that the captain will do more work with a knife and fork than with a shovel is vindicated.

6: Vladimir’s carrot (1952)
In Waiting for Godot Estragon squeals: “I’m hungry.” Vladimir offers him a carrot. Estragon is unimpressed: “Is that all there is?” Vladimir rummages in his pockets and finds only turnips. Estragon is even more unimpressed. When Vladimir finds a carrot at last, Estragon wipes it on his sleeve and eats it. “How’s the carrot?” Vladimir asks. “It’s a carrot,” says Estragon – which just about sums up existentialism. And that’s before we even start on Krapp’s banana.

7: Blackened potatoes (1968)
Perhaps the bleakest scene in Irish theatre is the one in Tom Murphy’s Famine in which John Connor digs up a potato with his bare hands and finds it rotten. In Garry Hynes’s recent Druid production it was a moment of hell.

8: Rose’s frochans (1990)
Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa draws on the rituals associated with that ancient festival. One was the collecting of frochans (bilberries) on the hills. When the mentally disabled Rose returns to the house, having been off with the disreputable Danny Bradley, she “takes a fistful of berries and thrusts the fistful into her mouth. Then she wipes her mouth with her sleeve and the back of her hand. As she chews she looks at her stained fingers.” It is a brilliant image of sexuality and wildness and disturbance.

9: Mag’s Complan (1996)
Martin McDonagh’s plays are laden with mostly cheap food: crisps, biscuits, sweets. In The Lonesome West, Coleman and Valene go to funerals just for the sausage rolls and vol-au-vents. (“You can’t say the Catholic Church doesn’t know how to make a nice vol-au-vent.”) But the key food is the Complan, in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, with which Mag and her trapped daughter, Maureen, torment each other. When Maureen makes Mag drink lumpy Complan, it is a portent of greater violence to come.

10: Ariel’s birthday cake (2002)
In Marina Carr’s Ariel, the girl’s birthday cake becomes the focus for the sexual drama of her parent’s embattled marriage. (“Hate cake,” says the politician husband. “So does the kids.”) Who would have thought cake could become so sinister?

So cucumber sandwiches and lobsters, berries and carrots – but not a rasher.


Eimear McBride wins £10,000 Goldsmiths prize for literature

Eimear McBride, who has won the Goldsmiths prize for literature for her novel A Girl is a Half-Forme

McBride said there was "a long time when I thought I would never have this book published, and I felt quite depressed about the state of publishing as a result. To have a prize like this is a really wonderful thing to encourage writers to be adventurous … to encourage publishers to be adventurous … and readers to be adventurous".

The book is a stream-of-consciousness account of an abused young girl who goes off the rails. Reviewing it in the Guardian, Booker prize-winning writer Anne Enright described McBride as "that old fashioned thing, a genius, in that she writes truth-spilling, uncompromising and brilliant prose that can be, on occasion, quite hard to read."

Tim Parnell, head of English and comparative literature at Goldsmiths College and chair of the judges, said A Girl is a Half-formed Thing was a "boldly original and utterly compelling" novel. It was "just the kind of book the Goldsmiths prize was created to celebrate … Serious discussion of the art of fiction is too often confined to the pages of learned journals and we hope that the prize and the events surrounding it will stimulate a much wider debate about the novel."
The prize was set up by Goldsmiths' College with the New Statesman magazine to reward fiction "that breaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel form".
McBride completed the first manuscript for her novel nine years ago, in the space of just six months, but was rejected by publishers. She later submitted a revised manuscript that was signed up by independent publisher Galley Beggar Press, run by the Guardian's Sam Jordison.
A total of 123 novels were entered for the award, before the pile was reduced down to a shortlist of six: Harvest, by Jim Crace (Faber & Faber), Exodus,  by Lars Iyer (Melville House), Red or Dead, by David Peace (Faber & Faber), Artful, by Ali Smith (Penguin) and Tapestry, by Philip Terry (Reality Street).
Parnel praised all of the shortlisted books as "strikingly original", and said that "all of them refuse the ready comforts of convention. Making full use of the resources and possibilities of the novel form, each writer has found the distinct idiom that their story demands."
The inaugural Goldsmiths prize judges, along with Parnell, were novelist, playwright and critic Gabriel Josipovici, Jonathan Derbyshire, managing editor of Prospect Magazine, and Nicola Barker, a Granta Best Young British Novelist 2005.

Dublin Book Festival kicks off

Louise Kelly – 14 November 2013

Literary lovers and ambitious authors welcome the return of Dublin’s largest book festival this week.

Budding writers and students – as well as general book lovers – can expect to have all their literary needs met over the course of the 2013 Dublin Book Festival (DBF), which runs until Sunday 17 November.

Launching tonight, the adult event itinerary is jam packed with walking tours, workshops, readings and discussions from professional writers and journalists.

Meanwhile, the DBF children’s and schools’ programme features 18 events covering everything from storytelling, treasure hunts and book binding workshops.

With the majority of events free of charge, the festival hopes to “capture the diversity and vibrancy of Irish literature and Irish publishing”.

Running since June 2005, the annual public festival supports and develops Irish publishing through programming, showcasing authors and editors and selling related books.

The majority of events will be held in Smock Alley Theatre located on Exchange Street Lower in Temple Bar.

Other venues include the National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street, The Gutter Bookshop on Cow’s Lane, Temple Bar, the Irish Writers’ Centre on Parnell Square, Pearse St. Library and other Libraries in Dublin.

Tonight’s programme has internationally acclaimed playwright, poet and novelist Frank McGuinness on the bill ‘In Conversation with Sean Rocks’, RTE Radio 1 presenter.

Among the many other sessions taking place over the next week includes the ‘Making Us Laugh’ presentation on Sunday afternoon with hilarious trio, Paul Howard (author of the Ross O’Carroll-Kelly series) Pauline McLynn (Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle) and Damian Corless (comedy writer for shows such as Stew).

Sailing To Byzantium by William Butler Yeats


That is no country for old men.  The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.


An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.


O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.


Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Three Irish authors feature on Impac longlist

Three Irish authors have been nominated for the International Impac Dublin Literary Award.  The longlist, published today, consists of 152 titles proposed by libraries all over the world. The judges will now select 10 books for the shortlist from which the eventual winner will be chosen and announced next June.

Irish fiction had a lower representation than last year, when a record eight authors were named on the initial longlist.

This year only three writers made the cut.

Tipperary writer Donal Ryan was nominated for his debut novel The Spinning Heart along with former Impac winner Colm Tóibín for The Testament of Mary, and David Park for The Light of Amsterdam.


By John Sgammato on August 10, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Amazon Verified Purchase
I can't stop laughing about this book, and I set it down half an hour ago. It's a scream!
For example, when the section on arranging an introduction (with an unattached young lady) opens with "Procure a few feet of stout manila rope or clotheseline..." you know this isn't Emily Post...
I'm still laughing just recalling it. It's worth it simply for the meanings of flowers in courtship.
I'll never sleep tonight; my wife will be quite distressed, and I'll be on the couch. That's OK, I'll keep reading this foolish book, Goid knows I need a laugh.

By Elizabeth Thayer-rhodes on July 30, 2012
Format: Paperback
The reprinted version offers very funny photos not orignally include din the books first production, very funny, very clever. This is a classic of course.
By Therese Z on June 2, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
one of the great writers of the thirties. along with perelman. thurber. h allen smith. robert benchley. they deserve to be remembered.

By Book Lady 55 on January 12, 2012
Format: Paperback
Very funny although the author probably didn't intend it that way, the recent addition of VERY funny pictures by the new editor just adds to the joy of. 

Ireland to consider ending censorship of books

by Amy Conchie

Ireland’s Republican party, Fianna Fáil, has introduced a motion to disband the Irish Censorship of Publications Board which, if successful, would end just under a century of literary censorship.

The Censorship Board began life in 1926 as the Committee on Evil Literature before someone boring got control and renamed it. The Censorship Board bans books for indecency, obscenity, blasphemy, and works that promote “unnatural” birth control and abortion.

Ireland’s book censorship is famously one of the strictest in the Western world, and has targeted thousands of authors including John Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Once books are banned they cannot be published or sold except on the second-hand market; this lasts for twelve years and the ban can be extended upon expiry. James Joyce’s Ulysses was never formally banned, however the threat of a ban meant that Irish publishers and booksellers refused to carry it for many years, until its reputation had already been established and defended abroad.

The reasoning behind abolishing the board was given by party spokesperson Niall Collins: “The fact that no new board members have been appointed since 2011 is a testament to the fact that the board has outlived its use, as the internet completely by-passes it.” Outright censorship by the board has declined since the 90’s, with only eight titles referred to the board since the year 2000, nearly all self-help books about sex.

More than 250 magazine publications remain under a permanent ban, many of which are now-defunct. These include dozens of true crime publications such as American Detective, which were originally targeted for glorifying crime.

The Irish tourism industry’s capitalization on authors such as Joyce, Flann O’Brien, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett has been only one of many glaring contradictions between the culture of contemporary Ireland and its institutional hold-overs from the period of religious fervor following independence. In a more overt clash of old-and-new, a law passed in 2009 that included provisions to enforce the government’s anti-blasphemy stance to the tune of up to €25,000. Our old friend Richard Dawkins was for once justified in his criticism of the law as “backward and uncivilized.”