Session 73: Ystafell 12
No more heroes: reflections on masculinity in contemporary Irish literature

Chair: Máire Ní Annracháin

Changed but not beyond recognition: fresh growth from old tropes of masculinity in contemporary Irish poetry

Máire Ní Annracháin
An Coláiste Ollscoile, Baile Átha Cliath (UCD)

Representations of masculinity have changed dramatically in Irish literature in the modern and post-modern world. This paper will examine some of the strategies for rethinking masculinity in a world in which traditional faith in heroes has been lost. One such approach, frequently encountered, particularly among women writers, is a mocking tone designed to puncture self-importance, but this is not the only strategy. Men and women explore ways of shifting the balance of power between humans and the natural world, of reconfiguring of power and wealth, and of demonstrating a willingness to embrace gender fluidity and uncertainty.

One of the salient feature of post-Revival literature over the past century has been an acute awareness among writers of the importance of imaginative tradition they have inherited or within which they choose to work. Their energetic engagement with that tradition is  sometimes expressed in ironic terms, but sometimes too in tentative, less astringent, tones of exploration and openness.

This paper will consider poems  by Colm Breathnach, Michael Davitt, Dòmhnall MacAmhlaigh and Seán Ó Curraoin, all of whom have produced fresh and engaging poems of masculinity, and all of whom  have found the Irish heroic tradition to be a rich and malleable source for contemporary re-imaginings. 

‘Easpa gaisce ár linne le buillí beaga á cúiteamh’ – Toxic masculinity and the loss of the heroic ideal in Beatha Dhónaill Dhuibh by Séamus Barra Ó Súilleabháin

Stiofán Ó Briain
An Coláiste Ollscoile, Baile Átha Cliath (UCD)

The foundational understandings of society and culture of previous generations have undergone radical change in the past two centuries. The pace of this change has increased rapidly in the last two decades and now these foundational assumptions are being re-assessed and re-imagined. Out of this reassessment comes conflict, and this conflict raises new issues and figures. One of these issues is the concept of masculinity, which has shifted radically from the heroic warrior ideal of the past.

This paper will assess the presentation of masculinity in the poetry of the young Irish-language poet Séamus Barra Ó Súilleabháin, focusing on his first collection Beatha Dhónaill Dhuibh (The Life of Black Dónall). It will focus on the concept of toxic masculinity, as depicted by the collection’s titular character, Dónall Dubh. The traits associated with toxic masculinity in Dónall Dubh will be explored and this dark figure will be analysed in the context of recent scholarship on gender and masculinity.

The paper will argue that the aggression, violence, and misogyny of Dónall Dubh can be viewed as symptoms of the marginalisation and alienation of the individual in a modern capitalist society. It will explore how the perceived loss of the heroic masculine ideal contributes to this male alienation and it will examine the response of the poet to the cause and effect of this toxic masculinity.

Gendered and genderless voices: the conflicted masculine voice in the literature of Máirtín Ó Cadhain

Dean Farrell
An Coláiste Ollscoile, Baile Átha Cliath (UCD)

This paper is an examination of different aspects of masculinities in the work of the iconic twentieth-century writer Máirtín Ó Cadhain with significant reference to Cré na Cille. The notion of the hero was once a presented as a masculine ideal in Irish language literature but is deconstructed in Ó Cadhain’s work revealing attitudes favouring gender neutrality or fluidity. In this paper a fresh insight to Cré na Cille is given by exposing masculinity in the text. This paper shows that is perceived and understood by the characters as heroic but is exposed in reality to be hegemonic. Ó Cadhain’s male characters belittle the women in their lives and gossip about them; they criticise the women harshly for having a tendency to gossip which is ironic. They boast about their political status and wealth. Their moral code is greatly distanced from that of the chivalrous hero and we see that they value brutality over compassion. Ó Cadhain’s work can be viewed as actively questioning these complex masculinities i.e. antiheroic or hegemonic masculinities by making use of modernist features such as genderless voices as seen with Stoc na Cille, and the chorus of songs throughout his texts.