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This article is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

A Road to Poetry: Eavan Boland Maps the Body Politic David C. Ward
In June 1968, my father and I took a weekend trip to Ireland to see the place from which one or more Wards had left for America during the nineteenth century. As with most genealogies, details were somewhat inexact. We had the locale – Cong, County Mayo – and even the address of a distant kinsman who still lived in or near the house that had been left. It wasn’t quite clear, however, when that descendant had left; probably not during the first famine of the 1840s but sometime later in the century. My father was probably the great-grandson of that man, as best I can estimate. Raised the son of a physician – himself lace-curtain Irish in Dorchester, a suburb of Boston; a man of some influence in the community – my father was about as deracinated as you could get for a mid-century Boston Irishman: Harvard, English professor, married a WASP descended from Puritans, sceptical of the shibboleths and rituals of Boston’s tribal nationalism. Nonetheless, the pull of the ‘auld sod’ was still strong enough that a trip, if not a pilgrimage, was thought necessary; we would be ironic tourists. But if there was no race memory or sentimentality in my father he was, nonetheless, aware of the ostracism that the Irish had suffered even in Boston. If Ireland was not a homeland, it had been once a home for Wards. Where we were from seemed a question worth exploring. Besides, for an English professor tutoring his son, there was always Yeats.

We were living in London that year, on sabbatical, and the ...


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