Katedra anglistiky a amerikanistiky



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UNIVERZITA PALACKÉHO V OLOMOUCI

FILOZOFICKÁ FAKULTA

KATEDRA ANGLISTIKY A AMERIKANISTIKY

Traditional and Modernist View on Irish Mythology

(Master Thesis)
Irská mytologie z tradičního a modernistického pohledu

(Diplomová práce)

Author: Andrea Kafoňková

Anglická filologie

Vedoucí práce: Matthew Sweney, PhDr. Ph.D.

Olomouc 2013

Prohlášení:

Prohlašuji, že jsem tuto práci vypracovala samostatně a uvedla v ní předepsaným způsobem všechnu použitou literaturu.

V Olomouci dne Podpis:

Poděkování

Děkuji vedoucímu práce za cenné rady, ochotu a trpělivost.

Contents

Introduction………………………………………………………………………….……6

1. Traditional View on Irish Mythology ………………………………………….…....13

1.1. The Origins of the Sídh …………………………………………..……...…..13

1.2. Literary Recordings of the Irish Mythology in the Four Cycles and in the Tale

Types………………………………………………………………………....15

1.2.1. Characterization of the Heroic Tales ……………………...………….16

2. Traditional Image of the Figures of Irish Mythology – Roles, Characteristics,

Functions and Ambiguities…….………………………………...……...…………...22

2.1. Fairies…………………………………………………………………………...23

2.1.1. The Pooka ……………………………………………………….…….....25

2.1.2. The Banshee ……………………………………….……………………..27

2.1.3. Leprechaun …………………………..…………………………………...29

2.2. Legendary Heroes ……………………………………………..………….…....31

2.2.1. Cú Chulainn ………………………………………..…………………....31

2.2.2. Fionn mac Cumhaill ………………………………………………….....34

2.2.3. Oisín …………………………………………………………….……….36

2.3. Irish Gods …………………………...………………………….…………........37

2.3.1. Aengus Óg ………………………………..…………………….………...37

2.4. Irish Kings ………………………………………………………………………38

2.4.1. Buile Suibhne …………………..………………………………………....38

2.5. Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………....41

3. The Origins of Fiction in the Period of Irish Literary Revival …………………....…42

3.1. The Problem of the Anglo-Irish Unity in Irish Literature …………………….....43

3.2. The Irish Peasant as an Essential Part of the National Character …………….....45

4. The Use of Mythology in Flann O’ Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds.………..….…..…...49

4.1. Fionn mac Cumhaill- the Link Between Real and Imaginary Worlds…………..51

4.2. The Representation of Good and Evil in the Character of the Pooka…….……..57

4.3. The Story of Suibhne………...…………………………………………………...61

4.4. Reference to Oisín ………………………………………………………......…..65

5. James Stephens and the Leprechauns ………………………...………………………67

5.1. The Leprechauns ………….……………………………………...……………....67

5.2. Two Gods of Love …………………………….…………………………………70

Conclusion …………………………………………...………………………………….73

Shrnutí ……………………...……………………...…………………………………....76

Works Cited…..…………..…………………………...…………………………………85

Anotace………………………………………………...…………………………...……88

Introduction

There has always been a close connection between Irish tradition and Irish history. One cannot be discussed without the reference to the other. The arrival of Christianity had an impact on the oral tradition of the story-tellers. The Great Famine caused a massive decline in population and lowered the numbers of native speakers of the Irish language.1 The Penal Laws in the 18th century brought along religious persecution and had a great effect on the tradition itself, almost driving it to its extinction. The Easter Rising was the result of a long time English oppression and the Irish Civil War had an impact on the formation of a present formation of Ireland finally winning independence for the Irish nation.

It is particularly in the first half of the 20th century when Irish tradition, especially the literary one, comes to a close fusion with politics. Various opinions were emerging in those times – some of them were opposing the connection, e.g. Connor Cruise O’Brien’s description of “the ancient Irish collaboration between nationalism and art as ‘an unhealthy intersection’ ” (Kiberd, 275). Some of them were more or less supporting the idea with a counter-opinion that “art is too potent a force to be left entirely in the hands of its creators, and politics too pervasive in its effects to be left in the sole control of politicians” (Kiberd, 275).

The revival of the Irish tradition was politically shaping itself within the Nationalist movement which took as its main interest the return to the Irish Celtic past – the old Irish myths as they were preserved in the last literary records . The goal of the “Gaelic enthusiasts” concentrated mainly on the revival of the Irish language and Irish antiquities with an opinion that “the imposition of the English rule had destroyed a free, orderly and highly cultured society” (Hughes, 3).2




1 Before the Famine, the number of speakers of Irish ranked among the first hundred out of the world’s circa five thousand living languages. See Seán de Fréine, The Great Silence (Dublin: The Mercier Press Limited, 1978) 7.

2 Michael Hughes, Ireland Divided: The Roots of Modern Irish Problem (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1994) 3.

Ireland finally managed to present its resolution to separate itself from the political practices but the interrelation between both art and politics has always been understood as inseparable and dialectical.3 Dialectical in a sense of what kind of spirit it aimed to represent. “The institution of literature was not just a storehouse of lore and wisdom over centuries for a dispossessed people; it was also a kind of dynamo, gathering energies into focus and releasing more” (Kiberd, 277). The true spirit of the National Revival lay in the hearts of the many young men who joined the rebellion of 1916 “re-enacting the sacrifice of Cuchulain” (Kiberd, 278). The tendency to recall the ancient heroes of the Irish history became the main focus also in literature. It drew on the tradition of glamorizing the hero, the hypermasculinity and violence of the Ulster Cycle. All these attributes became “a version of the connection between violence and poetry, a bloody crossroads indeed” (Foster, 288). But apart from the masculine and heroic approach of the revivalists there was also a tendency of the modern Ulster heroes to represent themselves as declining aristocracy. Many of the schoolmasters and clerks tried to create a new “self-image and a proud lineage of their own” (Kiberd, 287).

In the Irish history, some of the legendary heroes of the Irish past have always been symbols of extreme strength, powerful deeds and heroic mind. These features were later absorbed by national revivalists whose hero became Cú Chulainn, the symbol of extreme power, the hero who achieved great deeds by killing many of his enemies and therefore the most suitable representative for the modern nationalist movement. Cú Chúlainn was a great inspiration especially for the rebels of 1916. The same as he once defended Ulster against all comers, the Easter Rising rebels re-enacted this task in order to defend their country against the British. From all the characteristics of Cú Chulainn they adopted the physical power as the main weapon which contributed to the violent image of the rebels. It became the main feature of the national revival and soon began to interfere in literature, mainly in poetry.

The general dissatisfaction was based on the insufficiency of a Home Rule parliament. The change which was about to come was issued in the field of literature.




3 Declan Kiberd, Irish Literature and Irish History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) 277.

“[t]he republication of many Gaelic texts which satirized parliamentary procedure […] seemed to validate those traditions which issued in physical-force nationalism” (Kiberd, 287). This new tendency was followed by a shift towards creating a new proud self-image based on aristocratic lineage of their predecessors. “Revivalists could see themselves as the lawful descendants of dispossessed noblemen” (Foster, 287). Unfortunately, the predominating concentration of the representatives of the Gaelic League and Sinn Féin on their aristocratic lineages overshadowed their true social interests.4

The inspiring literary source for the modern aristocrats was Standish O’Grady’s History of Ireland who used Cú Chulainn adoption as a resurrecting element. “[t]he author’s intention had been to employ the figure as a model to regenerate the declining pride and self-esteem of the aristocracy. That Cuchulain should have been appropriated by the lower-middle-class clerks and schoolmasters who wanted nothing more than to erase that aristocracy was just the first of many ironies” (Kiberd, 278).

Literature as well began adapting the Cú Chulainn image and the desire to connect itself with the violent tendencies. This was evident e.g. in J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World where we can notice a contrast of views in “the relation between the ancient aristocratic tale and the debilitated rural Ireland” (Kiberd, 289). Synge represented an opposite mode in the view of the Irish past. For him awaking the national heroes was only “a confession of impotence than a spur to self-respect.” 5 Anyway exploring the fusion between literature and violence plays an essential part in his play. This fusion is represented in the character of Christy Mahon who is a father-slayer and a poet in one body. For this kind of combination, Christy is admired by Pegeen Mike: “If you weren’t destroyed travelling, you’d have as much talk as streeleen, I’m thinking, as Owen Roe O’Sullivan or the poets of the Dingle Bay, and I’ve heard all times it’s the poets are your like, fine fiery fellows with great rages when their temper’s roused” (Synge, 32). But she also emphasizes



4 see Kiberd 287.

5 see Kiberd 289.

that there is a gap between a “gallous story” and a “dirty deed.” 6

J. E. Caerwyn Williams and Patrick K. Ford in The Irish Literary Tradition claim that we can generally speak of two branches of the Irish literature. It is the Anglo-Irish literature which is coming from the Galltacht.7 Then it is the Irish literature which originates in the Gaeltachts “in a primitive society (as the Gaeltacht was until fairly recently) and an impoverished one (as it still is to some extent today)” where literature is based on the genuine oral tradition (Williams and Ford, 265). What is so influential and typical of the Irish society and its literature – since we can speak of the literature of a nation as of the best tool of reflecting the image of the society – is mainly the tradition and folklore of its primitive population. And since we can speak about the primitive society in terms of the Irish nation as quite an actual problem until recently, we may assume that what makes Irish literature and culture so genuine is the folklore of the primitive society of the Gaeltachts, their story telling reflecting the ordinary life of people and their sense of tradition.

On the other hand there were numbers of arguments that Irish literature should become a part of a more general context. Foster in his Irish Literature and Irish History mentions Patrick Pearse’s idea that if Irish literature is to develop, it has to get in touch not only with its own past but has to become a part of the European issue. In other words, it has to deal with the literatures of the contemporary Europe.8

The division of Ireland between the Gaelic and Anglo-Irish was felt by many writers. Among them was also W. B. Yeats whose main attempt was to unite these two tendencies. His idea was to “bring the Anglo-Irish tradition of Swift, Berkeley, and Burke into line with the Gaelic Ireland of Ó Rathaille and Brian Merriman”

6 see Kiberd 289.

7 In relation to Irish language it is important to distinguish between the terms Gaeltacht and Galltacht for one relates to the entirely Irish-speaking areas and the other to the parts of Ireland where English has prevailed during the times as the main language of communication and Irish is used there only as a peripheral language. See Patricia Lysaght, “Traditional Beliefs and Narratives of a Contemporary Irish Tradition Bearer.” 8 Nov. 2012

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