This St. Patrick’s Day, Discover Hidden Irish Literary Gems

Monday, March 1, 2010

With shamrocks hung on doors and parade plans in the works, March is full of all things St. Patrick’s Day. Along with the festivities comes a curiosity about the culture they represent. A good way to get acquainted with the Irish is to pick up a novel by one of the island nation’s gifted authors.

The wealth of Irish literature stems from the country’s impressive historical legacy of folklore and storytelling, says Richard Haslam, Ph.D., a native of Belfast, Ireland, and associate professor of English at Saint Joseph's University.

As he remarked previously for The Indianapolis Star, “The Irish admire verbal dexterity. They like people who can tell a good story or sing a good song. If you’re a child who has that gift, it’s going to be encouraged and nurtured.”

But while most are familiar with Irish literature all-stars such as Joyce and Yeats, Haslam says there are many talented Irish authors who go unnoticed outside of Ireland.

One such author, Haslam says, is Mary Beckett. Her 1987 novel, Give Them Stones, tells the story of a working-class woman. By following her life, readers also track social and political pressures that led to the eruption of the Northern Irish Troubles in the late 1960s, says Haslam. The only problem is that Beckett’s book, like those of many other Irish authors, is out of print in the United States.

Haslam says Beckett’s novel deserves a reprint. The same availability problem arises for nineteenth-century Irish authors who, Haslam thinks, are also worth reading.  “They are often overlooked because their books are not in print or are only available in expensive scholarly editions,” he says.

However, with the advent of digital books, several titles recommended by Haslam – which are listed below – are available on Google Books, or can be acquired the old-fashioned way: by visiting a library.

Haslam’s reading list:

William Carleton’s The Black Prophet (1847) – published during The Great Hunger, dealing with an earlier famine. Charles Lever’s Lord Kilgobbin (1872) – an urbane study of political and class conflict. John Banim’s The Fetches (1825) – a supernatural thriller. Gerald Griffin’s Tracy's Ambition (1830) – an amusingly ironic portrait of a land agent; The Collegians (1829) – a tale of social ambition and murder.

Media Contact

Haslam is an expert in Irish literature and criticism in English from the eighteenth century to the present, as well as Irish cinema, narratology and literary theory. He can be reached for comment at 610- 660-1897,, or by calling the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222.

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