London Metropolitan University Research Institutes

Irish in Britain Seminar 2012

Irish in Britain Seminar Series 2012

Tuesdays 8 - 29 May

Irish migration to Britain has increased significantly in the last three years. The way in which this and the experiences of previous generations of Irish migrants have been reflected and mediated through literature and culture is a growing dimension of Irish Studies. This year’s seminar series aims to examine the way in which writers, film-makers and bloggers have negotiated the complex diasporic networks and identities that have characterized Irish migration to Britain since the Second World War.

29 May, Dr Louise Sheridan, University of Northampton
"Beyond Nation, Beyond Nostalgia: Representations of Women's Migration in Edna O'Brien's The Light of Evening (2006) and Kate O' Riordan's The Memory Stones (2003)".

Discussing Irish migration since the Great Famine, Breda Gray suggests that the ‘repetitious (re)telling of the story of the “miserable epic of the Atlantic crossing” gives it an iconic cultural status. The Famine emigrants become the “authentic” Irish emigrants, the traumatic origin of Irish emigration’. Similarly, Enda Delaney observes that in Ireland the ‘collective memory of the twentieth-century Irish diaspora centres on economic malaise, despondency and poignant stories of young rural migrants displaced from their local worlds.’ The association of twentieth-century Irish migration with exile, loss and displacement, and a traditional image of the Irish migrant as a young single man prevail in Irish diasporic discourses, especially as reflected in recent literary accounts such as Timothy O’Grady and Steve Pyke’s I Could Read the Sky (1997). The diaspora experiences of Irish women who often did not perceive themselves as involuntary emigrants are occluded from this meta-narrative by their limited representation.
This paper discusses representations of women's migration in Edna O'Brien's The Light of Evening (2006) and Kate O'Riordan's The Memory Stones (2003) to explore the ways in which these writers subvert traditional ideas of the twentieth-century Irish migrant as a nostalgic exile who mourned the loss of the homeland. I will also consider the ways in which the female protagonists in these novels reject traditional roles of the Irish woman, and in so doing, reject the expectations of the nation.

Louise Sheridan is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Limerick. Her PhD, completed at the University of Northampton, looked at representations of migration, hybridity and diaspora in literary and oral representations by Irish diasporans in England. She also holds an MRes on Irish and Newfoundland Women's Writing.

The Irish Studies Centre has provided a forum for teaching, learning and research since 1986. The Irish in Britain Seminar Series offers an opportunity for students, researchers and scholars to debate and disseminate the latest research on Ireland, migration and the diaspora.

Seminars will take place on Tuesday evenings at 6.30 – 8.00 p.m.  
Room T120, London Metropolitan University,
Tower Building, 166-220 Holloway Road,
N7 8DB

Attendance is free but places are limited so it is essential to register in advance at

ALL WELCOME – Refreshments provided
For further information contact Tony Murray:


8 May:   Dr. Ellen McWilliams, Bath Spa University
             John McGahern and Edna O’Brien’s Irish Women Migrants

This paper will examine the work of Edna O’Brien and John McGahern in relation to a larger pattern in contemporary Irish fiction, in which Irish writers have demonstrated a sustained interest in recovering the story of the Irish woman emigrant, a narrative that until relatively recently was absent or underrepresented in both historical accounts and literary representations of Irish emigration. In spite of the fact that the theme of ‘exile’ has near cult status in Irish literature, it seems to be a cultural preoccupation that too often overlooked the experience of the woman migrant; it appointed her to roles that served only to define the losses suffered by her male counterpart and, in particular, the male artist in his journey into the world.

McGahern and O’Brien offer two different models for recovering this history. McGahern’s work, particularly his novel Amongst Women (1990), shows an historically sensitive concern with the vanishing Irish woman emigrant of the 1950s, while O’Brien’s more recent writing, especially her 2006 novel, The Light of Evening, remodels the familiar paradigm of the Irish artist in exile in ways most meaningful to the Irish woman writer. Drawing on archival material from the John McGahern Papers at the Hardiman Library, NUI Galway, and the O’Brien Papers at the James Joyce Library at University College Dublin, I will make a case study of how these authors contribute to the larger recovery of the story of the woman migrant in contemporary Irish fiction.

Ellen McWilliams teaches in the Department of English Literature and Cultural Studies at Bath Spa University and has research interests in contemporary women’s fiction and twentieth-century Irish writing. She is the author of Margaret Atwood and the Female Bildungsroman (Ashgate, 2009). Her second book, Women and Exile in Contemporary Irish Fiction, is forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan

15 May: Dr Claire Lynch, Brunel University
            Blogtrotters: Unearthing the Irish in Britain Online

According to Roy Foster “From about 1990 the traditional mantra for self-sufficiency, ‘Ourselves Alone’, had mutated into ‘Ourselves Online’”.  This upgrade of Ireland’s cultural software, from political isolationism to cyber elitism was expressed throughout the Irish diaspora and across cyberspace. While the term “Ourselves Online” retains the lonely echo of the original translation of Sinn Féin, now conjuring isolated eyes, bright screens, dark rooms; the collective intent of “Ourselves” also predicts a Cyber Ireland with technology for all, a radical colonization of the World Wide Web.

Such idealism is particularly prevalent among bloggers. As John Collins of The Irish Times observed, internet users can now “take much more control of the web experience” to the extent that “anyone who can use a word processor can become a self-publisher”.  These forms of self-publication are evolutions of the earlier print genres of the diary, the political treatise and the confession. They permit identity experimentation, group identification and communication with sympathetic others. Little wonder then, that the “Irish flavoured blog”  has taken hold.

This paper will outline the significance of blogging as an expression of identity among the Irish in Britain, followed by reference to two case studies  —the British Queen’s visit to Ireland in May 2011 and the “How Irish Are You?” census campaign— both of which unearthed the Irish in Britain, once buried in the blogosphere.

Claire Lynch studied for a DPhil at the University of Oxford and is now a Lecturer at Brunel University in London, specialising in autobiography and contemporary British and Irish literature.
Claire is a council member and web editor for the British Association of Irish Studies (BAIS) and founding co-Editor and now Advisory Board Member of H-Memory. Her publications include Irish Autobiography: Stories of Self in the Narrative of a Nation (2009), “Borstal Boys and Cockney Chinas” in Irish Writing London (2012) and “Who Do You Think You Are? Intimate pasts made public” in Biography (2011). Her latest book, Cyber Ireland: Text, Image, Culture will be published by Palgrave next year.

22 May:  Prof. Lance Pettitt, St. Mary’s University College, Twickenham
             Belgravia's Belfast Bohemian: The Cinema of Brian Desmond Hurst

Hurst was born in east Belfast in 1895 and was a linen-worker until he volunteered for the British Army in 1914. Surviving Galipolli, he studied art in Toronto, spent time in avant-garde Paris and ended up working for John Ford in silent pictures until 1932. His own career as a director/producer spanned four decades, over twenty features and notable highlights in Dangerous Moonlight (1941), Theirs is the Glory (1946) and his best-known, Scrooge (1951). He lived an extravagant,
long life (d. 1986), straddling cosmopolitan social circles in an enclave of déclassé bohemia in mid-century London. This paper explores Hurst's exilic engagement with British cinema and his adoptive position as a creative migrant within a changing social and cultural landscape.

Lance Pettitt is Professor of Screen Media at St Mary's University College, London, and Director of its Centre for Irish Studies. He is the author of Irish Media and Popular Culture (Routledge, 2013), Screening Ireland (MUP, rev.2nd ed. 2014), co-editor (with Beatriz Kopschitz) of The Uncle Jack (Humanitas 2011) and is preparing the next book in the 'Ireland on Screen' series, The Woman Who Married Clark Gable (Humanitas 2013).





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