Edna Longley

Expressing Ireland

The Penguin Book of Irish Short Stories

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Some Irish Loving

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The Penguin Book of Irish Verse, Second edition

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The excellent Penguin Book of Irish Short Stories begins with a legend of the Fianna told by Lady Gregory, and ends with Gillman Noonan’s ‘Dear Parents, I’m working for the EEC!’ Benedict Kiely’s editorial cunning thus encapsulates Irish progress; though the hero of the latter story feels that materialism and bureaucracy have made him ‘a hollow man’. This is a mood representative of current self criticism in the Republic: Brendan Kennelly’s ‘Note to the Second Edition’ of The Penguin Book of Irish Verse invokes the shade of Patrick Kavanagh to save the country from, among other demons, ‘bumptious self-conscious modernism’. Hugh Leonard who, in becoming a successful playwright, rose above the wrong side of the blanket and of the tracks, reacts less gloomily in his autobiography when he sees a wider reflection of his own upward mobility:

Not long ago I was asked to open a fashion show in the stadium. There was an audience of six hundred, and among them I recognised faces I had not seen in a third of a century. Then they had belonged to urchins like myself; now they were light-years away from the dinginess and the scrimping: they drove cars, played bridge and had been to Spain in August.

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