When Mike Joyce suggested the issue I was worried we’d be inundated with the same old writing about Ireland that appears regularly in the same old publications and places where the editorial board “think” they know what’s Irish. I made it clear I wasn’t interested in the status quo in terms of writing about and from Ireland. Let’s face it; we Irish writers are burdened with the weight of history, the list of notable writers enough to stop our pens forever. We live in the shadows of giants: Joyce, Beckett, Synge, Yeats, Kavanagh, Lady Gregory, Edna O’Brien, and on and on (more of this later). This issue is an attempt to lift the weight of the past, and present you with writing that is innovative, challenging, and damned fine work.
I know an Irish-themed issue conjures images of rainbows, leprechauns, and famine-stricken souls boarding the emigration boats to Ellis Island. Forget those clichéd and typical subjects for a magazine devoted to Ireland and its writing. What we’re presenting you with is panoply of fresh, innovative writing from not just Irish writers, but writers from many countries, and their stories and poems that are in direct conversation with the Ireland of the present moment.
There are stories here from some of the best young, and not-so-young, Irish writers out there. I’m delighted to see the strong showing from women writers, hopefully strong enough to satisfy the VIDA count! You’re going to be amazed by the talent on show in this special issue. I’m not going to single out any writer by name, but several of the writers in this issue are producing some of the finest fiction and poetry you’ll read anywhere. Several of the fiction offerings are going to push the boundaries of “traditional narrative fiction” and make you sit up and scratch your head in wonder.
We at Literary Orphans are justifiably proud of the genesis and progress of the site, and I can say sincerely that this issue is taking us to a new level altogether. The bar is set high for this issue, and many fine writers did not make the cut. Those writers we do feature span the spectrum from those with several novels and collections to their names, to several who are seeing their name in print for the first time.
Ireland is changing, post-Celtic Tiger, post-Troubles, and the writing in the Irish Issue highlights some of those changes. The social fabric of the country is different now to when I was a young lad growing up in Dublin. I went to school surrounded by vanilla faces, our only differences being religious, social, or economic. Today, the country is as diverse a place as you’ll find anywhere in the world. The stories and poems in this issue celebrate this New Ireland, the Ireland of the gritty television hit, “Love/Hate,” and Kevin Barry’s marvelously inventive novel, City of Bohane.
Too, this is an Ireland currently rebuilding itself after corrupt bankers and politicians savaged the financial heart of the country. We’re a resilient lot, though, and in adversity we find humor, hope, and a welcome seat at our favorite bar. Some things never change. Only two weeks ago the Irish National Anthem, “Amhrán na bhFiann,” was played at a banquet in Windsor Castle, in the packed St. George’s Hall. This was the same song the rebels in the GPO sang during the Easter Rising of 1916. The irony might have been lost on some, but I was transfixed by the moment. This was the first official state visit by an Irish head of state to the UK mainland. Moments as historic as this visit illustrate the redemptive, healing attitude of many Irish people to the past, and to paraphrase President Higgins—who spoke of Ireland living in England’s “scáth” (the Gaelic word scáth means shadow, and also has the dual meaning of shelter)—Irish writers and writers writing of and about Ireland also live in both the shadow and the shelter of the past. So, even though this issue seeks to distance itself from the shadow of Ireland’s literary history, it also seeks shelter amidst the shades of previous generations of Irish writers and artists.
Enjoy the words, images, and ideas contained in this issue, on this Easter Sunday 2014; on the ninety-eight anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916. From the shadow and shelter of the past shall spring the promise and potential of the future.
Slán agus Beannacht!
Editor, Special Irish Issue.