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This article is taken from PN Review 184, Volume 35 Number 2, November - December 2008.

Islands Apart Eavan Boland

I live in Dublin and California. In both places, on both sets of shelves, I keep the same book. It was published in Ireland in the twenties. Like anyone with a similar passion, I've given up asking people if they have read it - or asking those who have read it if they remember it.

The book is called The Hidden Ireland. It's about a townland in Ireland called Sliabh Luachra, a mountainy, rushy district on the Cork-Kerry border. In the eighteenth century it was the home of native-speaking Irish poets such as Aodhagán Ó Rathaille and Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin. The book tracks their struggle in a dark time.

The author was Daniel Corkery. He was a fierce, contrarian writer from Cork, born in 1878. He regarded Yeats and Lady Gregory with an equal and angry suspicion. He rejected the Irish Revival. 'Though we may think of this literature as a homogeneous thing,' he wrote plaintively, 'we cannot think of it as an indigenous thing.'

The Hidden Ireland is an unrepentant elegy for that 'indigenous thing'. He mourns and celebrates those hard-pressed, Irish-speaking poets of the eighteenth century. He looks back to their dying language, to the lost Gaelic order and writes with a scalding bitterness about that loss.

When I was a teenager, trying to hear other voices, I heard his. Now, when I go back to Ireland and see the new prosperity ...


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