Did you know that St. Patrick’s Day, which is on March 17, is celebrated differently in the United States and Ireland? Irish-Americans initially celebrated the holiday as a show of solidarity and strength of the Irish in a foreign land; the celebrations have evolved to include parades, shamrocks, green outfits, green beer, and corned beef and cabbage. In Ireland, it’s a religious holiday and, in the past, the pubs would close; today, there are parades and shamrocks for tourists, but you’d be hard-pressed to find corned beef and cabbage anywhere. In honor of this holiday, we’ve compiled a list of four talented authors from the Emerald Isle.
1 James Joyce (1882–1941)
Who can forget Ulysses? Hailed as one of the most groundbreaking novels of the twentieth century, it made Joyce famous for his stream-of-consciousness style as well as for the book’s explicit content. Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1882 and was the eldest of ten children. He had a complex relationship with his homeland and lived in Paris before settling in Italy. He died in Zurich, Switzerland in 1941. Joyce’s other published works include Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which was recognized by poet Ezra Pound when he put the book into a magazine serial. An excerpt from Ulysses reads: “Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”
A sample of his stream-of-consciousness style in the same work:
It soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding, sustained, to come, don’t spin it out too long long breath he breath long life, soaring high, high resplendent, aflame, crowned, high in the effulgence symbolistic, high, of the ethereal bosom, high, of the high vast irradiation everywhere all soaring all around about the all, the endlessnessnessness…
2 Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)
Also a Dubliner, Wilde was famous not only for writing The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray but also for being arrested and imprisoned for being gay. Wilde was educated at Oxford and toured the US and the UK giving lectures. He was married and had two children when he was arrested for having an affair with a young man. He was imprisoned for two years and, after being released, died from cerebral meningitis at forty-six years old. His two best-known works are among the greatest accomplishments of the late Victorian period. Following are two excerpts from The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is about a man whose image in a portrait ages while he himself remains forever youthful so he can commit to a life of sin:
I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.
When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.
3 Leland Bardwell (1928– )
Bardwell, “a poet, dramatist, short-story writer, and novelist,” was born in India, but moved to Ireland at the age of two. She is a prominent author in Irish literature. Her novels The House and There We Have Been cover the topics of Protestantism, history, and relationships. Bardwell’s writing is honest and refreshing, and she perfectly captures life in a small Irish town in Mother to a Stranger. In the novel, the town’s inhabitants convene at the pub for community news:
“Not many sick this weather?” Matt queried. “Francie McCarthy’s mother has the shingles.” “That’s a terrible dose.” “She must be a quare age.” “Eighty-three.” “Is she gone into the general?” “Is Francie upset?” Nan asked. “Ah, you know Francie.”
4 Emma Donoghue (1969– )
Donoghue, the third on our list to have been born in Dublin, is famous for Frog Music and Room, which was made into a movie for which Brie Larson won an Oscar. She is the youngest of eight children. Donoghue earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge and has earned a living as a writer since she was twenty-three, stating, “[I] have been lucky enough to never have an ‘honest job’ since I was sacked after a single summer month as a chambermaid.” She currently lives in Canada. Here is an excerpt from Room, narrated by five-year-old Jack, who lives in captivity with his mother:
“In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time…I don’t know how persons with jobs do the jobs and all the living as well…I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter all over the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there’s only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.”
Get ready for this St. Patrick’s Day by familiarizing yourself with these great Irish authors and others, including the people who didn’t make our list, such as Anne Enright, Bram Stoker, and Frank McCourt. However you’re celebrating this year, have a happy St. Patrick’s Day!