Fintan O’Toole

[1958- ]; b. Crumlin, Dublin; son of a bus-conductor with a passion for G. B. Shaw; ed. Christian Brothers and UCD; became a journalist, first with In Dublin then as an The Irish Times columnist in “Second Opinion”; campaigned against phoney beef certificates, instigating the Beef Tribunal; won AT Cross journalist of the year award, c.1993; received Justice Award of Incorporated Law Sco., 1994; books and articles include A Mass for Jesse James, A Journey through 1980s Ireland (1990); and Black Hole, Green Card (1994); briefly acted as presenter of BBC2’s ‘The Late Show’, Autumn 1994; gen. ed. of ‘Undercurrents’ series from Cork Univ. Press.; The Ex-Isle of Erin (1997); visiting lecturer, America, 1997;
issued a life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (A Traitor’s Kiss, 1997), and The Lie of the Land: Irish Identities (1998), being a collection of his Irish Times essays; issued White Savage: William Johnston and the invention of America (2005), on the 18th c. early American from Co. Meath; has introduced Methuen play collections by Tom Murphy, Sebastian Barry, Martin MacDonagh and Dermot Bolger; served as drama [Broadway] critic for New York Daily News, 1997-2001; received Millenium Social Inclusion Award, 2000; issued Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger (2009); appt. Asst. Editor of The Irish Times; compiled “A History of Ireland in 100 Objects” as an Irish Times column - based on A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor (British Museum /BBC4);
issued Enough is Enough: How to Build a New Republic (2010), and launched “Enough is Enough” Petition in response to Irish banking scandals, Nov. 2011; counted among Britain’s top 300 intellectuals, 2011; succeeded Caroline Walsh at her sudden death as Literary Editor of The Irish Times, 2012; has taught part-time at the Drama School in Trinity College; issued Judging Shaw (2017) in the RIA imprint; winner of the Orwell Prize for Journalism, the European Press Prize Commentator Award, and the Broadsheet Columnist of the Year at the Newsbrands Ireland Journalism Awards in 2017; accepted commission to write authorised biography of Seamus Heaney, Nov. 2017; issued Judging Shaw (2017), on GBS; issued We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland since 1958 (2021), centred on the idea of ‘deliberate unknowing’ amid failure in Irish society.

See also ...

Fintan O’Toole compères Roy Foster and Colm Tóibín in dialogue at Heyman Centre of Stanford University - 9 April 2015 [online].

Daniel Finn (Dep. Ed., NLB) writing on Fintan O’Toole in The New Left Review (Nov.-Dec. 2014) - online; see also .pdf - attached.

O’Toole on Brexit: ‘The idea of Britain finding a secure place in the world as Trump’s favourite caddy is about as appealing as it is plausible.’ (The Guardian, Sun. 12 Nov. 2017 - online.)

[ top ]

  • The Politics of Magic: The Work and Time[s] of Tom Murphy (Raven Arts Press 1987), 200pp., ill. [ports.], and Do. [rev. edn.] (New Island 1995);
  • Meanwhile Back at the Ranch: The Politics of Irish Beef (Vintage 1995), 292pp.;
  • William Johnson and the Invention of America (London: Faber & Faber 2005), 408pp., ill. [8 of pls.]
  • Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger (London: Faber & Faber 2009), 240pp.
  • Enough is Enough: How to Build a New Republic (London: Faber & Faber 2010), 272pp.
  • Judging Shaw (Dublin: RIA 2017), 358pp.
  • We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland Since 1958 (Head of Zeus 2021); Do. [another edn.] (NY: Liveright [Norton] 2021), 624pp.
Essays [collected journalism]
  • A Mass for Jesse James: A Journey through 1980’s [sic] Ireland (Dublin: New Island Books 1990), 190pp.;
  • Black Hole, Green Card: The Disappearance of Ireland (Dublin: New Island Books 1994);
  • The Ex-Isle of Erin: Images of a Global Ireland (Dublin: New Island Books 1997), 235pp.;
  • The Lie of the Land: Irish Identities (Dublin: New Island Books), 190pp. and Do. (; London: Verso 1998), 172pp.;
  • After the Ball (Dublin: New Island 2003), 179pp.;
  • Cultures, Arts and Conflicts (City Arts Centre, Dublin 1999), [16]pp.
  • Critical Moments: Fintan O’Toole on Modern Irish Theatre, ed. Julia Furay & Redmond O’Hanlon (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2003), 400pp.
See also O’Toole’s classic 1982 interview with Brian Friel —
  • ‘The Man from God Knows Where’, in In Dublin, 165 (28 Oct. 1982), pp.20-23 [as attached].
  • A Fair Day: Photographs from the West of Ireland, photos by Martin Parr; text by Fintan O’Toole (Wallasey: Promenade 1984), 92pp.
  • pref. to Tom Murphy, The House [Methuen Drama] (London: Methuen 2000), viii, 113pp.
  • Introduction to Strumpet City rep. in Irish Times (30 March 2013), Weekend Review [as attached].
  • A History of Ireland in 100 Objects (Irish Times/National Museum of Ireland/RIA 2013), 250pp.
  • Macbeth and Hamlet: A Radical Guide for Leaving Cert. and University Students (1995)];
  • No More Heroes: A Radical Guide to Shakespeare (Dublin: Raven Arts 1990), 124pp.;
  • Shakespeare Is Hard But So Is Life (London: Granta 2002).
  • A Traitor’s Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (London: Granta 1997), 516pp.;
  • White Savage: William Johnson and the Invention of America (London: Faber & Faber 2005), 402pp.
Articles [highly sel.]
[See also contribs. to New York Review of Books - infra.
  • ‘The Press and the Arts: Surf-riders Merely on the Day’s Sensations’, in The Crane Bag, 8, 2 [‘Media and Popular Culture’] (1984), pp.102-03;
  • ‘Going West: The Country Versus the City in Irish Writing’, in The Crane Bag, 9, 2 [The Final Issue: Irish Ideologies] (1985), pp.111-16. [Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies, Vol. 2, 1982-85];
  • ‘Fintan O’Toole’ [auth.], in 16 on 16, ed. Dermot Bolger (Dublin: New Island Press 1988);
  • ‘The Failure of Failure’, in Letters from the New Island, ed. Dermot Bolger (Dublin: New Island Books 1991);
  • ‘Irish Theatre: The State of the Art’, in Ireland: Towards new Identities?, ed. Karl-Heinz Westarp & Michael Böss (Aarhus UP 1998), pp.165-74; rep. in Theatre Stuff: Critical Essays on Contemporary Irish Theatres, ed. Eamonn Jordan (Dublin: Carysfort Press 2000), pp.47-57.
  • ‘Island of Saints and Silicon: Literature and Social Change in Contemporary Ireland’, in Cultural Contexts and Literary Idioms in Contemporary Irish Literature, ed. Michael Kenneally [Irish Literary Studies ser. 31] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1988), pp.11-35;
  • ‘When Gaelic Ireland Is Dead and Gone’, in The Irish Times (17 May 1990), and ‘Discontinuity of Language’ Irish Times, Weekend (15 Dec. 1990) [both cited in Éamon Ó Cíosáin, Buried Alive: A Reply to The Death of the Irish Language [by Reg Hindley] (Dáil Uí Chadain 1991);
  • Programme Note for ‘Out of the Kitchen’ [being] Tom Murphy’s On the Outside and Alan Gilsenan’s On the Inside (1972) revived at Peacock 1992;
  • ‘Second Opinion’, a review of Brian Friel’s Molloy Sweeney, in The Irish Times (27 Sept. 1994) [see under Friel, as supra];
  • ‘An island lightly moored’ [on Blasket Islanders across the Atlantic], in The Irish Times, 29 March 1997, p.11 [extracts from Ex-Isle of Erin, 1997];
  • ‘Poet Beyond Borders’, review of Opened Ground by Seamus Heaney and Seamus Heaney by Helen Vendler (Harvard 1998), in New York Review of Books [11 Feb. 1999];
  • ‘Snuggling up to the British Lion: Ireland 1900-1909’ in “Eye on the 20th Century” [series], The Irish Times (30 Dec. 1999) [see extract].
  • [q. tit.,] feature review of The Politics of Irish Drama by Nicholas Grene, in The Irish Times (11 March 2000) [as attached];
  • Redmond O’Hanlon [interview], in Theatre Talk: Voices of Irish Theatre Practitioners, ed. Lilian Chambers, Ger Fitzgibbon, Eamonn Jordan, et al. (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2001), pp.377-93;
  • ‘Abbey 100 - Part 1: A Chequered History’, in The Irish Times ( 12 Jan. 2004), p.10;
  • ‘How Darwin Helped Shape Irish Writing’, in The Irish Times (21 Feb. 2009), Weekend Review, p.8 [see extract].
  • ‘Lessons in the power of the church’, in The Irish Times [New Feature] (6 June 2009), Weekend, p.3 [see extract].
  • ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a feck’, in The Irish Times (7 May 2011), Weekend Review [“Culture Shock” column], p.9 [as attached]
  • [...]
    ‘The Week that Anglophobia Went Away’, in The Irish Times (21 May 2011), Weekend Review, p.1.
  • ‘Irish writers have yet to awake from the American Dream’, in The Irish Times (Sat., 30 July 2011), Weekend Review p.1 [as attached].
  • ‘Catch Them if You Can’, in The Irish Times (Sat., 30 July 2011), Weekend Review, p.1 [available online; unavailable at 16.08.2011].
  • ‘Irish Theatre: The State of the Art’, in Theatre Stuff: Critical Essays on Contemporary Irish Theatre, ed. Eamonn Jordan (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2000), pp.47-58.
    ‘McGuinness push for park is a step too far’, in The Irish Times [Tues] (20 Sept. 2011) [as attached].
  • ‘The fantastic Flann O’Brien’, in The Irish Times (1 Oct. 2011), Weekend Review [as attached].
  • ‘Making Heavy Weather in Miami’, reiew of Back to Blood, by Tom Wolfe, in The Irish Times (10 Nov. 2012), Weekend Review [‘not a moment when you think Wolfe cares more for any of his characters [...] than [...] for a speck dirt on one of his trademark cream suits’.]
  • ‘Why Tony Award nominations couldn’t save The Testament of Mary’, in The Irish Times (4 May 2013), Weekend [Culture Shock column], p.8 [available online].
  • [...]
  • ‘Brexit is being driven by English nationalism. And it will end in self-rule’, in The Guardian (19 Jan. 2016) [see extract].
  • ‘Trial runs for fascism are in full flow’, in The Irish Times (26 June 2018) [as attached.]
  • ‘The paranoid fantasy behind Brexit’, in The Guardian (16 Nov. 2018) [as attached].
  • ‘Demand for Britishness is high but the supply is drying up’, in The Irish Times (26 March 2019) [as attached].
  • ‘Why do we fear the ghosts of dead policemen?’, in The Irish Times (Sat. 11 Jan. 2020) [as attached].
  • ‘English Nationalism is too naive to know its limits’, in The Irish Times (15 Sept. 2020) [see extract].
  • ‘Joe Biden is the US’s mourner-in-chief’, in The Irish Times (14 Nov. 2020) [as attached].
  • ‘Fintan O’Toole on John Le Carré’s final twist: Dying as an Irishman’, in The Guardian (9 Oct. 2021) [Available online; accessed 29.11.2021].
  • [...]
  • ‘West needs to think carefully about endgame in Ukraine’, in The Irish Times (8 March 2022) [see extract].
  • ‘ Every reason to fear Putin’s war on Ukraine could outlive him’, in The Irish Times (15 March 2022) [available online].
See further under num. Irish dramatist incl. Tom Kilroy, Tom Murphy, Sebastian Barry, et al.

Note: O’Toole’s successful Irish Times “History of Ireland in 100 Objects” series is
available online [copyright IT and RIA, National Museum of Ireland].

Reviews and feature-articles from The Irish Times held in RICORSO Library ...
The Troubles
Brian Friel
Irish plays
Nicholas Grene
The Catholic Church
Irish plays in USA
Sebastian Barry
Eugene O’Neill
Captain Rock
Wilde & Beckett
Myles on Wilde
Elizabeth II
Charles Darwin
Margaret Mitchell
The American Dream
Martin McGuinness
Flann O’Brien
Seamus Heaney
[ Password required ]

[ A TV interview with Fintan O’Toole was on transmitted on RTÉ2 on 23 Feb. 2007. ]

[ top ]

Reviews & articles in the New York Review of Books, 1998-2005
  • 19 Feb. 1998: ‘The End of the Troubles?’, review of Behind the Mask: The IRA and Sinn Fein by Peter Taylor.
  • 9 April 1998: ‘The End of the Troubles?: An Exchange’ [Tom Hayden & Fintan O’Toole; see extract].
  • 19 Nov. 1998: ‘Mystic Scientist’, review of Threads of Time: Recollections by Peter Brook.
  • 13 Aug. 1998: ‘The Masked Avenger’, review of Four Plays, and The Designated Mourner, both by Wallace Shawn.
  • 4 March 1999: ‘Poet Beyond Borders’, review of Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 by Seamus Heaney; Seamus Heaney by Helen Vendler.
  • 7 Oct. 1999: ‘Our Own Jacobean’, review of Various Voices: Prose, Poetry, Politics by Harold Pinter; Ashes to Ashes a play by Pinter, directed by Karel Reisz at the Gramercy Theater, New York, January 19-April 25, 1999; The Hothouse a play by Pinter, directed by Karen Kohlhaas at the Atlantic Theater, New York, February 25-March 27, 1999; The Proust Screenplay: Remembrance of Things Past by Pinter.
  • 20 Jan. 2000: ‘Game Without End’, review of The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett: Volume IV: The Shorter Plays edited by S.E. Gontarski; No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider edited by Maurice Harmon.
    5 Oct. 2000: ‘Are the Troubles Over?’, review of Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men, Women and Children Who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland Troubles Square by David McKittrick, by Seamus Kelters, by Brian Feeney, by Chris Thornton; Ireland North and South: Perspectives from Social Science edited by Anthony F. Heath, edited by Richard Breen, edited by Christopher T. Whelan; The Trouble with Guns: Republican Strategy and the Provisional IRA by Malachi O’Doherty; Northern Ireland’s Troubles: The Human Costs by Marie-Therese Fay, Mike Morrissey & Marie Smyth , and Those Are Real Bullets, Aren’t They? Bloody Sunday, Derry, 30 January 1972 by Peter Pringle & Philip Jacobson.
    11 April 2002: ‘Guns in the Family’, review of Blood-Dark Track: A Family History by Joseph O’Neill.
    27 Feb. 2003: ‘The Taming of a Terrorist’, review of A Secret History of the IRA by Ed Moloney.
  • 25 Sept. 2003: ‘Missing Person’, review of Personality by Andrew O’Hagan.
  • 3 Sept. 2004: ‘These Illusions Are Real’, review of The Collected Plays of Edward Albee, Volume 1: 1958-65 by Edward Albee; and see reply by Stanley Kauffmann rebutting quoted remarks on homosexual playwrights (21 Oct. 2004).
    17 Nov. 2005: ‘The Saving Remnant’, review of A Bit on the Side by William Trevor.
  • 8 Nov. 2007: ‘What Haunted Eugene O’Neill?’, review of Collected Shorter Plays and Eugene O’Neill’s America: Desire Under Democracy by John Patrick Diggins [see extract].
  • 13 Aug. 2009: ‘Oblomov in Dublin’, review of The Complete Novels: At Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman, The Poor Mouth, The Hard Life, The Dalkey Archive, by Flann O'Brien, with an introduction by Keith Donohue.
  • 16 Aug. 2012: ‘An Irish Genius in New York’, review of Conversations on a Homecoming, A Whistle in the Dark, Famine by Tom Murphy, directed by Garry Hynes.
  • 25 Oct. 2012: ‘Joyce: Heroic, Comic’: review of James Joyce: A New Biography, by Gordon Bowker [see extract].
  • 28 Sept. 2017: ‘Brexit’s Irish Question’ [see extract].
  • 7 June 2018: ‘Where Lost Bodies Roam: (The literature of witness is an attempt to fix the immediate past, but in Beckett the horror is not past" [available online - with password].
  • 15 Aug. 2019: ‘The Ham of Fate’, in New York Review of Books [on Boris Johnson; as attached].
  • 24 Sept. 2020: ‘Fintan O’Toole on the Democratic Ticket’ [cover notice].
  • 7 Oct. 2021: ‘America’s Lies in Afghanistan’ [with cover notice].
  • 13 Jan. 2022: ‘Boris Johnson in Retreat’ [with cover notice].

Go to: New York Review of Books [online]; Fintan O’Toole - author (No. 197) - link; contributor - link; accessed 9.04.2007; update 12.11.2012.

[ top ]

  • Michael Cronin, review of The Ex-Isle of Erin, in Graph, 3, 1 (Spring 1998), p.4-5 [see extract];
  • Barra Ó Seaghdha, ‘The World According to Fintan O’Toole’, in Magill (August 2002), pp.48-51 [see extract];
  • Conor McCarthy, ‘Modernisation without Modernism: Dermot Bolger and the “Dublin Renaissance”’, in Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000), pp.139ff. [and passim];
  • David Krause, review of Critical Moments: on Modern Irish Theatre, in Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 2004) [see extract].
  • Daniel Finn, ‘Rethinking the Crisis: Fintan O’Toole and the Irish Crisis’, in The New Left Review (Nov.-Dec. 2014) - online; see also .pdf - attached.
  • Bryan Fanning, ‘Fintan OToole’s second republic’, in Histories of the Irish Future (London: Bloomsbury 2015), pp.213-230 [Chap. 13; partially available at Google Books - online].
  • Bryan Fanning & Tom Garvin, ‘Fintan O’Toole, Meanwhile Back at the Ranch: The Politics of Irish Beef (1995)’, in Books That Define Ireland (Sallins: Merrion 2014), Chap. 28.
  • [...]
  • Kevin Higgins, “To The Man Who Defines Ireland” [satirical poem], in Culture Matters (14 Aug. 2019) - as infra.
See also sundry reviews, &c., under Commentary, infra.

[ top ]


Must see ...

Daniel Finn, ‘Rethinking the Crisis: Fintan O’Toole and the Irish Crisis’, in The New Left Review (Nov.-Dec. 2014) - online.

[...I]f mass protests have been comparatively few in Ireland, it is not for lack of spirited polemical broadsides against its ruling elites by native writers. Pre-eminent here, in terms of impact and visibility, has been Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole, the country’s leading public intellectual. Published in the immediate wake of the crash, O’Toole’s Ship of Fools (2009) was a coruscating attack on the crony culture and bubble economy fostered by Ireland’s political leaders, soon followed by Enough Is Enough (2010), another onslaught on the myths of the Republic, which proposed a comprehensive reform programme with fifty action points. Is there any writer in another EU - or OECD - country who has produced such a comprehensive indictment of the ruling establishment’s record, in such damning detail and in such sparkling prose? O’Toole’s latest works form part of a cycle dating back to the 1980s that testifies to his formidable range as a social commentator. In seeking to explain the ‘Irish exception’, it may thus be helpful to explore O’Toole’s writing in more depth: what distinguishes the critical character of his work, what causal explanation does it offer of his country’s predicament, and what light can it shed on Ireland’s post-crisis trajectory?

Behind O’Toole’s trust in wildly inappropriate agencies for reform, from the Labour Party to the European Union, lay a shaky grasp of the social constituencies that could be mobilized behind such a programme. After the Ball listed a series of marginal groups who were ‘on the outside’ of Celtic Tiger Ireland: women and children, gays and lesbians, immigrants and asylum seekers, Travellers and the disabled. The discrimination faced by these social categories was beyond dispute. But one group was notable by its absence: the working class. O’Toole might have argued that in Ireland as elsewhere, wage-earners were far from being a monochrome social layer whose experience of life was more or less identical - but the same could be said a fortiori of women or children, which did not stop him from including them on the list of those facing discrimination in Irish society. In Post Washington, Kinsella and O’Toole dismissed the whole concept as a relic of the past: ‘In our post-industrial societies it is almost meaningless to talk of a working class in nineteenth-century terms ... twenty-first-century society can be divided into three social sectors: a rich elite, an underclass and a large, if multi-layered, middle class.’ (Post Washington, p.39.)

One would gather the impression from this passage that class analysis had not moved forward since the Communist Manifesto, or made any attempt to grapple with mutations in the social terrain of advanced capitalism. [...]

See also as .pdf - attached.

Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in New Irish Fiction (London: Pluto 1997): cites O’Toole on the prioritisation of the rural in the definition of Irishness. ‘Going West: The City Versus the Country in Irish Writing’, Crane Bag, Vol. 9, No. 2 1985, cp.113; also, ‘For the last hundred years, Irish culture and in particular Irish writing has been marked by this dominance of the rural over the urban, a dominance based on a false opposition of the country to the city which has been vital to the maintenance of a conservative political culture in the country.’ (ibid., p.111; Smyth, p.61.)

Angela Bourke, reviewing The Ex-Isle of Erin: Images of Global Ireland (New Island Books 1997), comments on courageous essay on Tony (A. J. F.) O’Reilly in the tradition of his work on the Beef Tribunal; notes essays on Michael Flatley (‘smash and grab’ approach to Celticity), and sections entitled ‘The Way We Were’ and ‘The Way We Are’; disparages his attitude to Irish as a dead language.

Robert Greacen, review of The Ex-Isle of Erin: Images of Global Ireland (New Island Books 1997) in Books Ireland (Sept. 1997), p.214: title based on punning rejoinder of a sea captain to the question had be ever heard of ‘The Exile of Erin’ -‘No, but I would like to anchor on it’ - recorded in Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary; comments appreciatively on the essay ‘Tony O’Reilly and the News from Nowhere’, orig. printed in Granta; quotes, ‘Our peculiar form of hypocrisy has not been a whitened but a blackened sepulchre, proclaiming to the world a rigid intoleran[t], heartless face that belies the actual decency and humanity of the way ordinary Irish people tend to look upon people in trouble.’

[ top ]

Michael Cronin, review of The Ex-Isle of Erin, in Graph, 3, 1, Spring 1998, p.4-5: ‘[...] To dismiss O’Toole as a Workers’ Party hack, as many do privately but few publicly, may explain his prejudices but does little to explain his virtues. His essays on Tony O’Reilly and Oscar Wilde in this collection are extremely able, a matchless combination of energy and insight. His utter humourlessness is a relief in a culture that bludgeons thought with the belly laugh and the backslap. His magpie intellect throws up some artful connections, even if they begin to appear formulaic after the fifth or sixth essay. Gulliver, for all his gigantism, is, however, a figure of weakness not of strength. Looking down from on high on the thatched pieties of rural Ireland may keep the ABC1 readership happy but it is a gesture of power not an act of vision. The binary nature of many of the arguments with rhetorical Aunt Sallys drawn from the Dark Ages of pre-Lemass Ireland means that you know there will be few surprises. Despite the eclectic sophistication of the essays there is a predictability that ultimately deadens. Unlike Nuala O’Faolain, who has a genuine maverick independence, with O’Toole one is certain there will be no celebration of the GAA, no demythification of Pat Rabbitte’s technocracy, no revision of revisionism. In the world of Our Boys, there are the inevitable paeans to Francis Stuart and Paul Durcan but no sign of a Biddy Jenkinson or a Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. It is indeed the very predictability of Fintan O’Toole’s thought that makes it so deeply attractive, the comforting evangel of Irish (post)modernity and dragon-slayer of obscurantism. If the name of Corkery is forever linked to that of De Valera, O’Toole’s will be linked to that of Mary Robinson. They both in a sense have acted as dance masters, one shadowing the crossroads c6ilf, the other answering Robinson’s call to come dance with her in the chorus-line of young tigers. Fifty years hence O’Toole’s encomium to the parable of Irish modernisation may indeed be cited with the same parodic disbelief and wry knowingness that precedes the ceaseless invocation of De Valera’s St. Patrick’s Day speech in the initiation rites of contemporary Irish emancipation. [...]’ (p.5.) [For full text version, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.]

Tony Canavan, review of The Lie of the Land: Irish Identities (New Island) in Books Ireland (March 1999), pp.62-63; questions the premises and therefore the conclusions of several essays (‘Meanwhile Back at the Ranch’, with its supposition that Billy the Kid was Irish; considers that the book shows too many ideas and not enough thought.

Barra Ó Seaghdha, ‘The World According to Fintan O’Toole’, in Magill (August 2002), pp.48-51: credits O’Toole with a commitment to ‘understanding Ireland and making it a better place for all who live there’ and asserts that ‘there is no trace of superstar narcissism to his appearances in the media’ but criticises his politics (‘more a moral commentator on politics than a political commentator’), noting the dearth of analysis on Northern Ireland and a flight from nationalism that fails to take keep of the way in which Irish politics actually happens: ‘More than once, it also left commentators like Fintan O’Toole and Colm Toíbín standing in the station making futile gestures as the train of history let from another platform’ (p.51.) Quotes variously: ‘values of universalism, achievement and colectivism generally associated with modernity’ and ‘Irish politics are the great exception to all of the worldwide rules because they have managed to preserve peasant forms long after the disapearance of a peasant society’ (The Southern Question [pamphl.], Raven Arts 1987). Characterises O’Toole’s journalistic stance as that of ‘an anthropologist of the old school reporting home to his secular, urban public, as conscientiously and as objectively as possible, on life ‘‘out there’’ [in rural Ireland]. The understanding offered is essentially bipolar: rural/urban, quaint/normal, Catholic/secular, nationalist/internationalist, traditional/modernising, uncritical/critical, de Valera/Lemass, immobile/mobile, Ireland/America, past/future, unsophisticate/enlightened.’ Further, ‘His vision of rural Ireland largely excluces such phenomena as Peadar O’Donnell’s agitation for small farmers or the struggle of farm-labourers for a decent living in the tetch of the ruthless [48] big-farmer interests represented by the likes of James Dillon’ (pp.48-49); concludes that O’Toole will be remembered for his ‘passionate writing on matters of social justice’ but will also be seen as ‘hugely representative of a section of Irish society that thought it had freed itself of the national question but which was shaped by it to a degree that has yet to be realised.[ top ]

Tom Hayden, ‘“The End of the Troubles?”: An Exchange’, in New York Times Review of Books (9 April 1998) - in response to O’Toole’s review of Peter Taylor, Behind the Mask: The IRA and Sinn Féin (in NYRB, 19 Feb. 1998): ‘Having just returned from Belfast on my tenth trip since the peace talks began, I find Fintan O’Toole’s commentary on Northern Ireland [NYR, February 19] unfortunately laden with distortions and biases. I say “unfortunately” because I know and greatly admire O’Toole as one of the finest cultural critics in Ireland today. In addition, much of what he writes is insightful concerning the choices people like Gerry Adams must make. But O’Toole’s vision of the new “global Ireland” interferes with his understanding of a very old conflict still raging in the northern part of the country. / In the first place, O’Toole fails completely in his presumed task of reviewing Peter Taylor’s comprehensive work Behind the Mask: The IRA and Sinn Fein. Taylor’s book, and the accompanying television series, are widely regarded in Ireland and England as having legitimized Sinn Féin, or at least ended its demonization, at a key moment when the British government and its Unionist allies were entering negotiations with the likes of Gerry Adams.’ [...; &c.; and see Fintan O’Toole’s reply in full text, infra.)

[ top ]

Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000), writes of Raven Arts and associated writers: ‘O’Toole is the most important of these intellectuals, as a columnist with The Irish Times, contributor to the international liberal press, presenter of The Late Show on BBC 2 television, member of the editorial board of Fortnight, a cross-Border political and cultural magazine. [...] O’Toole writes as a polymath intellectual, as happy emulating the semiology of Umberto Eco or Roland Barthes as discussing education policy or party politics. He is familiar with intellectual trends such as poststructuralism or second-wave feminism or Frankfurt School Marxism, though the dominant ideological position for these intellectuals consists in their sense of having left Irish nationalism behind. [... &c.] (p.139; see also under Dermot Bolger, infra.)

David Krause, review of Critical Moments: on Modern Irish Theatre, in Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 2004) [q.p.]: ‘O’Toole has adopted a typical way of dealing with partly successful plays by balancing positive and negative comments, as he does in this representative passage from a mixed review: “Half way through Tom MacIntyre’s new play, Rise Up Lovely Sweeney (1985), you think: ‘This is either great stuff or rubbish.’ By the end you begin to feel it is both.” [...] Sometimes, however, O’Toole can be unpredictably contrary and harsh about an acting performance. For example, he singles out Siobhan McKenna as ’a great actress’ in Tom Murphy’s Bailegangaire (1985) in Galway: “Her grand style and the amazing range of her voice work here not as mere display but as a superbly disciplined and well-aimed performance.” Three years earlier, however, when she appeared in Here are Ladies (1982) at the Abbey, performing as a variety of characters in the works of Stephens, O’Casey, Yeats, Synge, Shaw, Beckett, Lennox Robinson and Joyce, O’Toole complained that everything here “is melted down into the mush and gush of the McKenna style. ... In this school of acting, nothing succeeds like excess.”’ (Quoted in Find Articles online; acccess 14.05.2010.)

John O’Farrell, review of Ship of Fools, in New Statesman (7 Jan. 2010): ‘O’Toole's great service in Ship of Fools is to have corralled a torrent of financial scandals and placed them in a series of connected narratives, the primary connections being a small group of lads: builders, developers, bankers and senior Fianna Fáil operators. They profited most from the boom and became insane with hubris as things went boomier, and they are the people who are being bailed out first. The rising tide of misery will never swamp their yachts. / They will never be perp-walked in front of the cameras. The taxpayer is in the process of bailing them out to the tune of more than €60bn, or about three years’ total tax take. Not that such people ever pay tax. International investors are amazed that most of these tarnished gentry are at liberty to write op-eds for the Serious People to read and agree that the problem is the size of the public sector. / This is a serious book, with a strong moral core. [...]’ (Available online; accessed 12.09.2014.)

[ top ]

Sean O’Hagan, review of Enough is Enough, in The Observer (321 Nov. 2010): ‘In Ship of Fools, published this time last year, the Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole laid bare the causes of – and castigated those responsible for – Ireland’s ongoing economic implosion [...] Now, as Ireland grapples with the dreadful aftermath of that implosion, O’Toole has written a different kind of polemic, not just a prescription for recovery, but a kind of manifesto for a new republic based on the founding ideals of decency, fairness and the pursuit of the common good. In his introduction, he notes: “The twin towers of southern Irish identity – Catholicism and nationalism – were already teetering before the great boom began in 1995.” The long sectarian war in Northern Ireland, together with the Republic's Europeanisation throughout the 1990s, seemed to have put paid to the dream of a united Ireland. At the same time, the storm of scandals that has rocked the Catholic church speeded the process of secularisation that began in the 1960s. “The Celtic Tiger wasn't just an economic ideology,” O’Toole writes. “It was also a substitute identity. It was a new way of being that arrived just at the point when Catholicism and nationalism were not working any more.”’

Further [O’Hagan, Observer, 21.11.2014]: At its basest, O’Toole notes, this hastily constructed and ill-defined identity was recklessly consumer-driven and manifested itself “in an arrogance towards the rest of the world” and “a wilful refusal of all ties of history and tradition”. At its best, it denoted a break with the old, insular, parochial Ireland where the parish priest was as powerful – and as unaccountable – as the local politician. It also spoke, albeit too loudly and brashly, of a new spirit of European Irishness defined by “optimism, confidence, a new openness and ease, an absence of fear”. / All of that confidence has ebbed away. Ireland today seems a vulnerable and anxious place, its uncertain future tied to borrowing and bailouts, the sheer size of which set the head reeling. Suddenly, too, the spectre of the old, pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland looms large, a place defined not by hope and optimism but by high unemployment, poverty and mass emigration. Blessedly, Fintan O'Toole is not a doom-monger but a voice of restraint, reason and rigorous analysis. In a very real way, he is writing against the rising sense of anxiety and fear in Ireland today. If Ship of Fools was an often angry obituary for the excesses and short-sightedness of the Celtic Tiger years, it was also underscored by a tentative optimism for a future in which Ireland might learn the hard way from its recent mistakes and excesses. Enough is Enough lays out the ways in which that might happen, the chief one being, as the book's subtitle suggests, a reinvestment in the notion of what it means to be a republic. [...] ’ (Available online; accessed 12.09.2014.)

[ See also Anthony Roche, review of Judging Shaw (RIA 2018) by Fintan O’Toole, in Dublin Review of Books, 96 (Jan. 2018) online and quotation, infra ]

Not so keen ...

Writing earlier this week, the Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole was in despair at the prospect of Boris Johnson becoming Tory leader. “Who better [than Boris] to speak for a reckless and decadent ruling class for whom everything is desperate but nothing is serious?” he asked.
  O’Toole, author of the stylish but staggeringly idiotic Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain – which uses the domination-and-submission theme of Fifty Shades of Grey as a prism through which to view Britain – also happens to be the favourite Irish commentator of the Guardian and New York Times, and of Dublin ...

Ruth Dudley Edwards, ‘How Boris could unlock the backstop and confound Dublin’s Anglophobic elite’, in The Telegraph (21 June 2019) - available online; accessed 21.09.2019 [via Facebook - as attached].

[ top ]

Kevin Higgins, “To The Man Who Defines Ireland

‘When telling us, as a nation, to cop on to ourselves
you spit the words Provo
or workers’ paradise like a lady
trying to rid her mouth of sour milk.

But your voice is church bells and sunshine
pouring down on Kingstown Harbour, circa 1913
when you put your tongue across the syllables
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.

The greatest thing to come out of Crumlin
since the curried chips
that made a young Phil Lynott
question his lifestyle choices.

You are as politically and philosophically serious
as a Second Division footballer’s fashion sense,
circa 1977; or a stockbroker last seen exiting
a high-end house of great repute
wearing a thirteen-gallon hat;
or a guy in a white linen jacket
who’ll end up wandering O’Connell Street
shouting against Home Rule.

And without you, we’d not be ourselves.
For you are our national anticonvulsant
without which we’d be in danger
of actually doing something.


Text-block: ‘When telling us, as a nation, to cop on to ourselves / you spit the words Provo / or workers’ paradise like a lady / trying to rid her mouth of sour milk.// But your voice is church bells and sunshine / pouring down on Kingstown Harbour, circa 1913 / when you put your tongue across the syllables / Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. // The greatest thing to come out of Crumlin / since the curried chips / that made a young Phil Lynott / question his lifestyle choices. // You are as politically and philosophically serious / as a Second Division footballer’s fashion sense, / circa 1977; or a stockbroker last seen exiting / a high-end house of great repute / wearing a thirteen-gallon hat; / or a guy in a white linen jacket / who’ll end up wandering O’Connell Street / shouting against Home Rule. // And without you, we’d not be ourselves. / For you are our national anticonvulsant / without which we’d be in danger / of actually doing something.


—Available at Culture Matters (14 Aug. 2019) - available online; posted by the author on Facebook 15-07-2020.
[Note: the butt of the satire is identified as O’Toole by the attached photo at Culture Matters - online.]

[ top ]

Reviews and feature-articles from The Irish Times held in RICORSO Library ... ...
The Northern Troubles
‘Favorite Irish plays’
‘Irish plays in USA’
‘The Catholic Church’
Captain Rock
Elizabeth II Visits Ireland
Peter Taylor
Brian Friel
Nicholas Grene
Sebastian Barry
Eugene O’Neill
[ Password required ]

Wild(e) stuff!: In his programme note for Tom Murphy, The Blue Macushla (1980), O’Toole remarked that Ireland has passed from traditional to post-modern without passing through modernism (cited in Anthony Roche, Contemporary Irish Drama, Gill & Macmillan, 1995, p.129).

Culchie culture: ‘For the last hundred years [...] Irish writing has been marked by [a] dominance of the rural over the urban, a dominance based on a false opposition of the country to the city which has been vital to the maintenance of a conservative political culture in the country.’ (‘Going West: The Country versus the City in Irish Writing’, in Crane Bag, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1985, pp.111-16; quoted in Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000, p.152.)

Northern Question: ‘[N]ot only has the Northern Question not been answered, it has not, officially, been asked.’ The Southern Question, Dublin 1987, p.8); ‘socially and economically, the Republic of Ireland is more divided, has alientated more of its population, even to the extremes of exile, and is a worse failure as a political entity than almost any other in Europe.’ (ibid., p.20; both cited by Eoin Bourke, ‘Poetic Outrage: Aspects of Social Criticism in Modern Irish Poetry’, in Donald E. Morse, et al., eds., A Small Nation’s Contribution to the World, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1993, pp.88-106, p.89.)

Hero(d)ic: ‘If Pearse is Christ, give us Barabbas’. (in Dermot Bolger ed., 16 on 16, New Island 1988; cited in Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, p.70.)

[ top ]

Section 31/ Id est: Fintan O’Toole wrote that Section 31 [banning IRA transmission on RTÉ] allowed physical force republicanism to function as the ‘id’ of the body politic (Irish Times, 20 April 1989; quoted in Edna Longley, The Living Stream, 1994, p.181.)

Irish Identity: ‘[T]he only fixed Irish identity and the only useful Irish tradition is the tradition of not having a fixed identity’ (p.14); ‘Ireland is a diaspora, and as such is both a real place and a remembered place, both the far west of Europe and the home back east of the Irish-American. Ireland is something that happens elsewhere’ (p.27); ‘present-day Irishness ... a bizarre accumulation of heterodox imaginings’ (Black Hole, Green Card, 1994, p.53.)

Christian Brothers: ‘Blessed Among Brothers’ (Irish Times, Weekend feature, 5 Oct. 1996): ‘The pupils the church most wanted to attract away from the State national schools were not the destitute but “the sons of the better class of Roman Catholic population”. The alternative they offered them was, for a rising lower middle-class, an irresistible combination of two attractions. One was the assertion through rigid Catholicism of a narrow but secure Irish identity. The other was a fiercely pragmatic determination that no intellectual or ideological qualms would stand in the way of modest but assured social advancement. The Brothers’ promise was that their pupils would be ambitious enough to get better jobs that their parent, yet conservative enough to retrain their parents’ values./The cost of keeping that promise was paid in violence and repressed sexuality.’ Quotes de Valera, ‘Ireland owes more than it will probably ever realise to the Christian Brothers. I am an individual who owes practically everything to the Christian Brothers’; also Todd Andrews: ‘Without the groundwork of the Christian Brothers’ schooling, probably there would have been no 1916 Rising, and certain that the subsequent fight for independence would not have been successfully carried through. The leadership of the IRA came largely from those who got their education from the Brothers, and got it free.’

IRA campaign: ‘The End of the Troubles?’ review-article on Peter Taylor, Behind the Mask: The IRA and Sinn Fein, and Before the Dawn: An Autobio graphy by Gerry Adams, in NY Review of Books (February 19, 1998): ‘The IRA’s campaign has not been a war of national liberation, waged on behalf of the majority against an oppressive minority or a foreign power. Its enemies have not been illegitimate regimes but two liberal democracies - the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland - and the majority Protestant population in Northern Ireland itself. The end-of-empire ritual of an old flag lowered at midnight and a new one raised at dawn will not be played out in Belfast, whatever the outcome of the talks. Sinn Fein’s leader, Gerry Adams, may have made the transition from terrorist to politician, but he and his comrades are not about to take over the state. The question on which the future of Northern Ireland depends is whether, without the reward of power, an undefeated paramilitary army can be persuaded to trade the epic certainties of violence for the unglamorous ambiguities of peaceful politics. One of the most resilient and fearsome of terrorist groups, which has withstood all the efforts of the British army and the local Northern Irish security apparatus to destroy it, is being asked to settle for something far short of its goals. And for this incorporation into a liberal democracy of an armed conspiracy to overthrow it, postwar history offers no precedent.’ Further, ‘Though Irish nationalists tend to regard the partition of the island by the Westminster parliament in 1920 as a heinous British crime, it was in reality an inevitable product of Irish political, economic, and religious divisions. For the industrial North, integrated into the economy of the British Empire, it would have been madness to follow the largely agricultural South into political independence and economic autarky. That Protestants would also be trading their position as part of a British religious majority for that of a minority in a largely Catholic Ireland gave this economic rationale a visceral emotional force. The alternative to partition was, and remains, a bloody civil war.’ [&c.]

Snuggling up to the British Lion: Ireland 1900-1909’ in “Eye on the 20th Century” [series], The Irish Times (30 Dec. 1999): ‘powerful forces jostled for cultural and political supremacy in Ireland at the start of the century [...] the country’s place within the British empire seemed increasingly comfortable’.

Play for Ireland: The fractured playground of Irish identity has proved a fertile pitch for generations of our playwrights, reflects Fintan O’Toole [...]: ‘Is there such a thing as an Irish play? It is never easy, without lapsing into clichés and caricatures, to talk at all of either the nation or its moods in the singular. But it is even more difficult to talk of the reflections of those moods in a form as ephemeral and shifting as the theatre. Plays change from production to production. Productions change from night to night. What remains as a continuum - the text - is not the building itself, merely the architect’s drawings. And even that tends to be much less stable than it seems. To take an admittedly extreme example from the Irish Times Internet poll, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is not the same play in French (its original language) as in English “and even the English text exists in versions with important variations.”’ (The Irish Times, [12] Feb. 2000; see full version, see infra.]

[ top ]

Politics of Irish Drama: review of Nicholas Grene, The Politics of Irish Drama (Cambridge UP), 312pp., in The Irish Times (11 March 2000) [Weekend]. Thinking back in old age on his early nationalist potboiler [sic] Cathleen Ni Houlihan, W. B. Yeats famously asked “yDid that pay of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?c which, in these less romantic times, Paul Muldoon replied with the rhetorical question, “If Willie Yeats had saved his pencil lead / Would certain men have stayed in bed?” The self-important delusions of writ; who believe that they shape political ends merely by imagining them invites a kind of comic deflation. And yet, Yeats’s question was not entirely a product self-delusion. Modern Irish history has indeed been influenced both by the images of Ireland invented by poets and playwrights and by the failure of reality to live up to those ages. Cathleen Ni Houlihan may not have sent Patrick Pearse into the GPO in 1916. Pearse himself wrote plays and imagined the Rising as a dramatic ritual, part religious sacrifice, part street theatre. And in the year of the Rising he wrote, as Nicholas Grene reminds us, that if he had seen Cathleen Ni Houlihan as a boy, he “should have taken it not as an allegory but as a representation of a thing that might happen any day my house”. The line between Irish theatre and Irish history is not so clear after all. [...; see full version, see infra.]

W. B. Yeats - It was that discovery of Ireland that allowed Yeats to make his fey fantasies and overheated myths connect with politics, with folklore, with something beyond the books he was reading. [...] Yeats did a lot for Ireland, but when you see how easily he might have amoutned to nothing more than a minor pre-Raphaelite, you realise the favour worked both ways.’ (In The Irish Times, 28 April 2012, Weekend Review, p.9; for longer extract, see under Yeats > Commentary - as attached.)

Holy Wars?: Review of Marcus Tanner, Ireland’s Holy Wars: The Struggle for a Nation’s Soul 1500-2000 (Yale UP 2001), in The New Republic, 16 & 26 Aug. 2002, pp.42-45: ‘Tanner’s book is astute, well-written and formidably researched [...] It presents a coherent and extremely valuable account of the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism in Ireland from 1500 to the present day. it is hard t thin of a better advocate for the view that religion is the cause of the Troubles - that, as Tanner puts it, “it was Ireland’s religious struggles that forged the [41] political and national identities of the Irish people [...] courageously honest [...] so honest, indeed, that it provides more than enough evidence to call Tanner’s thesis into doubt. Notes that Tanner refers to Derry as an “the Protestant Kosovo”’ (pp.41-42.) ‘The broad shape of modern Irish history certainly forces religion to the forefront. From the sixteenth century to the early twentieth century, the irihs ruling class was Protestant and imperials [...] Those over whom it ruled were for the most part Catholics. Indeed, Ireland stands as one of the few European countries in which the religion of the masses was not simply determined by [that] of their masters. The Catholic population stubbornly resisted the Protestant reformation. The state church, the Episcopalian Church of Ireland, treated the Gelic-speaking masses as a subject people rather than a flock to be protected and served. As a consequence Catholicism became by and large the religion of those whose politics would [...] be called nationalist; and Protestantism was the religion of those who were loyal to Britain. / This is what happened; [...] An interesting set of question can be promoted by a little counterfactual speculation. What if Henry VIII had remained happy with Catheriine of Aragon and true to his papal title of Defender of the Faith. What if the English Reformation had failed, or had been reversed by the Stuart dynast? With England and Ireland both loyal to the pope, wuld there have been no opppression, [..[, no haughty land-owning aristocracy and resentful, dirt-poor peasantry, no eventual nationalist revolution? The answer to these questions is, surely, no. Take away the religious factor and you still have enough economic, political, and nationa divisions to fuel a great deal of nastiness and a few wars.’ (p.42.) Identifies Tanner as a journalist who has worked in Bosnia and calls the title ‘particularly misleading’ at ‘a time like this’: ‘the real force at work in Irish history are not faith and heresy but power and greed. In this time inflamed by jihad and sacralised violence, the complicated history of Ireland is for all its blood and hatred, a source of sober hope.’ [End.]

Bad Booker news is for good national literary traditions’ (The Irish Times, Culture Shock [column] (12 Sept. 2009, Weekend): [on the failure of Irish novelists to make the Booker short list]: ‘In Ireland, of course, the sense of living in two places at the same time, indeed of being two people at the same time, is an aspect not just of the history of emigration, but of out experience of extreme economic globalisation. I imagine the same would be true, in one form or anoter, for readers of Brooklyn [by Colm Toibin] in parts of Italy or Poland or Portugal. / For mainstream English readers, however, that doubleness does not really exist. It can be consumed as a half-familiar, half-exotic aspect of Englishness throg, say, Monica Ali’s Brick Lane or Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. But it does not saturate the mainstream collective consciousness in the way it does in the US, Ireland and other countries. And this is just fine: there are English novelists (Anita Brookner, for example) that I find entirely incomprehensible. / It’s nice to live in a world where we can share each other’s stories. It’s also a relief sometimes to find that we can’t quite do that. In literature at least, mutual incomprehension is not necessarily an ignoble condition.’ (p.9; for the last phrase, cf. Brian Friel’s Translations: Hugh, ‘Confusion is not an ignoble condition’, in Selelected Plays, p.446.)

[ top ]

How Darwin Helped Shape Irish Writing’, in The Irish Times (21 Feb. 2009), Weekend Review, p.8: ‘[...] The loss of faith triggered by Darwin was, in the Irish context, as much political as religious. Protestantism was a political identity, almost inextricable from Unionism. What happens when that Protestantism is destroyed, and a whole package of ethnic allegiances is thereby undermined? A new identity has to be invented. In the course of doing so, the young writers invented a new Ireland.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

Lessons in the Power of the Church’, in The Irish Times [New Feature] (6 June 2009), Weekend, p.3 - charges the Catholic Church with consciously sacrificing the welfare of the Irish child in defence of its own social and institutional power. The essay quotes from Donald Akenson, A Mirror to Kathleen’s Face (1975), which recounts that 1,346 religious vocations were reported among 5,428 school-leaving children between 1956 and 1960. Also quotes Fr. Denis Fahey who wrote in the Irish Ecclesiastical Review for 1923, remarking that the education system of other countries had been led astray by modern theories and that ‘we must return to the saner education ideal of the Middle Ages.’ (For full text, see RICORSO Library, Criticism, Reviews, infra.)

The Week that Anglophobia Went Away’, in The Irish Times (21 May 2011), Weekend Review, p.1. The gesture of equality that the queen made at the Garden of Remembrance may not change anything in reality, but it does clear away a whole heap of long-accumulated psychoses. It had obvious meaning for Irish culture. If the British monarch can behave with such genuine courtesy, the manic swings between cringing inferiority and hysterical self-assertion that have characterised Irish attitudes to England can surely stop. / But the true power of the gesture lies in the fact that it was not just a symbolic moment in Irish history. It was also a meaningful moment in post-imperial British history, a stage in Britain’s own process of coming to terms with the idea that Britain is an ordinary country with no claims to superiority. If the slow death of the British empire can be said to have begun in Dublin in 1916, it can now be said to have reached its conclusion in Dublin in 2011. / The end of empire that was so powerfully symbolised by the British monarch’s gesture of respect to those who rebelled against it should also be the end of the habit of defining Irishness as anti-Britishness. And that means an end to a peculiar Irish neurosis. Anglophobia in Ireland has gone hand in hand with a desperate need to ape the English. Think of Charles Haughey wrapping the green flag round himself while desperately trying to act the squire. Think of the self-made Irish businessmen who wet themselves at the prospect of getting anywhere near the royal box at Ascot. Think of the psychotic urge for some kind of revenge that made Irish property developers pay way over the odds for landmark buildings in London during the boom years. Think of the childish pleasure the Irish developers took in buying the artificial “island of England” off the coast of Dubai. [...]’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a feck’ [on Margaret Mitchell], in The Irish Times (7 May 2011), Weekend Review [“Culture Shock” column], p.9: ‘[...] Mitchell’s great-granfather Philip Fitzgerald was the kind of Irishman that we like to forget. He was an Irish Catholic emigrant from Tipperary. He and his family left Ireland shortly after the 1798 Rising, and they can be seen as Catholic refugees from oppression. But he was also a rich member of the Southern slave-owning class, with a plantation of almost 1,000 hectares in Jonesboro, near Atlanta, and 35 slaves. Fitzgerald epitomised a strain of Irish Catholic history that is uncomfortably ambiguous: oppressed in one context, oppressor in another. [...] It is not accidental that the title of Gone with the Wind derives, via Ernest Dowson’s Cynara, from James Clarence Mangan: “Solomon! Where is thy throne? It is gone in the wind.” Mitchell was steeped in romantic 19th-century Irish literature. According to Mitchell’s biographer Darden Asbury Pyron, her mother, May Belle, “especially delighted in Irish balladeers like Thomas Moore. Considering herself thoroughly Irish, May Belle repeated how she shared ‘the story of Robert Emmet, of Tara, of the Bards’ with her schoolmates ... She could not control her enthusiasm over ‘my Father’s and my Grandfather’s country – the country of a Burke, a Curran, and of an Emmett’.” / Shortly after the publication of Gone with the Wind, Mitchell wrote to Michael McWhite of the Irish legation in Washington DC, thanking him for a copy of Mangan’s poems. She confessed to never having read them but went on to say something more significant: “I knew Dark Rosaleen, The Lament of Fitzgerald, The Ode to the Maguire, and others. The truth is I heard these poems orally and never had a copy of Mangan’s work in my hands.” / Mangan and Moore were more than literary influences for Mitchell: they were stitched into family lore. What they provided for her novel are the romance of defeat. Oppressed but defiant Ireland becomes the oppressed but defiant lost cause of the South. The dirty struggle for slavery is dignified with the nobility of Irish romanticism. / The political usefulness of Irishness for Mitchell is even more significant for the creation of Gone with the Wind than this literary heritage. Irishness is a way of distancing the novel’s image of the South from the guilt of slavery. The Irish are not oppressors: they are the oppressed. They are not feudal aristocrats but hard-working frontier folk. Tara has not been granted to an effete English grandee – it has been carved out of nothing: “Tara’s bloom was not the work of a planter aristocrat, but of the plodding tireless ‘small farmer’ who loved his land.”’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

Joyce: Heroic, Comic’: review of James Joyce: A New Biography, by Gordon Bowker, in The New York Review of Books (25 Oct. 2012): [...]

Joyce the man, on the other hand, fits perfectly into a pre-existing narrative, contained within a few words of Isaiah 53:3: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Those lines, of course, were taken in retrospect to apply to Jesus. In our secular age, they may be read as foreshadowing the apotheosis of Joyce, who was crucified by the philistines before ascending into the heaven of eternal worship.

Joyce himself helped to create this narrative. His great booster, Ezra Pound, called him “James Jayzuz,” and linked him with the dead Irish nationalists Patrick Pearse and Terence MacSwiney as having “the same mania for martyrdom”: “it is the Christian attitude; they want to drive an idea into people by getting crucified…. I think Joyce has got this quirk for being the noble victim.” Bernard Shaw sent Pound a postcard of José de Ribera’s painting The Dead Christ, asking, of Joyce: “Isn’t it like him?” Joyce referred to himself - mostly in jest - as “Melancholy Jesus” and “Crooked Jesus” - names his great supporters and publishers, Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier, used in their private conversations about him. In Finnegans Wake, Joyce refers to a semi-authorized biography by Herbert Gorman, which Joyce himself did much to shape, as “the Martyrology of Gorman” - typically a pun: the same title also refers to a twelfth-century calendar of saints. Richard Ellmann, in his own monumental biography, notes that “without saying so to Gorman directly, [Joyce] made clear that he was to be treated as a saint with an unusually protracted martyrdom.”

If he was not being crucified, Joyce was being burned at the stake. Giordano Bruno of Nola, burned for heresy, was one of his touchstones. His very early essay “The Day of the Rabblement” begins with a reference to Bruno. Near the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man , Stephen Daedalus discusses him with one of his university teachers, Reverend Charles Ghezzi: “He said Bruno was a terrible heretic. I said he was terribly burned.” While Joyce did not actually meet the same fate, he liked to think that he shared it through the persecution of his books. In 1919, when copies of the Little Review containing an extract from Ulysses were seized and burned by the US Post Office, Joyce told his patron Harriet Weaver that “this is the second time that I have had the pleasure of being burned while on earth.”

What’s interesting is that the first time, in his mind, was when the proofs of his first prose book, Dubliners, were burned by the publisher, George Roberts, who lost his nerve over fears of libel. In fact, this burning was part of Joyce’s self-made myth of martyrdom. As Gordon Bowker astutely notes in his new biography, “the book was not burnt but guillotined and the sheets used for packing; however, for Joyce, a burning was far more dramatic.”

See full review at New York Review of Books - at date [online].

[ top ]

Brexit [...] driven by English nationalism [...] will end in self-rule’, in The Guardian (19 Jan. 2016): ‘It is a question the English used to ask about their subject peoples: are they ready for self-government? But it is now one that has to be asked about the English themselves. It’s not facetious: England seems to be stumbling towards a national independence it has scarcely even discussed, let alone prepared for. It is on the brink of one of history’s strangest nationalist revolutions. / When you strip away the rhetoric, Brexit is an English nationalist movement. If the Leave side wins the referendum, it will almost certainly be without a majority in either Scotland or Northern Ireland and perhaps without winning Wales either. The passion that animates it is English self-assertion. And the inexorable logic of Brexit is the logic of English nationalism: the birth of a new nation state bounded by the Channel and the Tweed. [...] The first thing about the idea of England as a nation state that governs itself and only itself is that it is radically new. The Brexit campaign is fuelled by a mythology of England proudly “standing alone”, as it did against the Spanish armada and Adolf Hitler. But when did England really stand alone? The answer, roughly speaking, is for 300 of the past 1,200 years. England has been a political entity for only two relatively short periods. The first was between the early 10th century, when the first English national kingdom was created by Athelstan, and 1016 when it was conquered by Cnut the Dane. The second was between 1453, when English kings effectively gave up their attempts to rule France, and 1603, when James VI and I united the thrones of England and Scotland. [...] When it comes down to it, nationalism is about the line between Them and Us. The Brexiters seem pretty clear about Them – Brussels bureaucrats and immigrants. It’s just the Us bit that they haven’t quite worked out yet. Being ready for self-government demands a much better sense of the self you want to govern. [... &c.]’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

Brexit’s Irish Question’, in The New York Review of Books (28 Sept. 2017): ‘The simplest way to understand how radically Irish identity has changed is to consider the country’s new prime minister, Leo Varadkar. He is thirty-eight and in many ways a typical politician of the European center-right. He is also part Indian - his father Ashok is originally from Mumbai. And he is gay. When Varadkar was born in 1979, over 93 percent of the population of the Republic of Ireland was born there and most of the rest were born in Northern Ireland or in Britain (often as children of Irish emigrants). Ethnic minorities were scarcely visible - just one percent of the population was born in what the official figures charmingly described as “Elsewhere.” Now Varadkar leads an Ireland in which over 17 percent of the population was born Elsewhere. The ultraglobalized Irish economy sucks in migrants from all over the world, notably Poland, Romania, the Baltic states, and Nigeria.’

Further (NYRB, 28 Sept. 2017): ‘The problem with this English nationalism is not that it exists. It has a very long history (one has only to read Shakespeare) and indeed England can be seen as one of the first movers in the formation of the modern nation-state. The English have as much right to a collective political identity as the Irish or the Scots (and indeed as the Germans or the French) have. But for centuries, English nationalism has been buried in two larger constructs: the United Kingdom and the British Empire. These interments were entirely voluntary. The gradual construction of the UK, with the inclusion first of Scotland and then of Ireland, gave England stability and control in its own part of the world and allowed it to dominate much of the rest of the world through the empire. Britishness didn’t threaten Englishness; it amplified it. [...] English nationalism is also naive. Wrapped up for so long in the protective blankets of Britishness and empire, it has not had to test itself in the real conditions of twenty-first-century life for a middle-sized global economy. Unlike Irish nationalism, it has not been forced to rethink itself and imagine how it might work in a world where collective identities have to be complex, ambiguous, fluid, and contingent. It does not know how to articulate itself without falling back on nostalgic notions of Britishness that no longer function. And since it is not sure what it is, it is not good at adding those crucial words “or both” and becoming comfortable with an identity that is European as well as English. It gives the most simplistic nationalist definition of “us” - we’re not them.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

[Note that O'Toole contributed an article to the Guardian on the same topic as ‘If only Brexit had been run like Ireland’s referendum’ in the wake of the Abortion Referendum of 25 May 2018 - as attached.]

Brextinction: ‘[...] For all of this is the afterlife of dead things. One of them is Brexit itself. When did Brextinction occur? On 24 June 2016. The project was driven by decades of camped-up mendacity about the tyranny of the EU, and sold in the referendum as a fantasy of national liberation. It simply could not survive contact with reality. It died the moment it became real. You cannot free yourself from imaginary oppression. Even if May were a political genius - and let us concede that she is not - Brexit was always going to come down to a choice between two evils: the heroic but catastrophic failure of crashing out; or the unheroic but less damaging failure of swapping first-class for second-class EU membership. These are the real afterlives of a departed reverie. / If the choice between shooting oneself in the head or in the foot is the answer to Britain’s long-term problems, surely the wrong question is being asked. It is becoming ever clearer that Brexit is not about its ostensible subject: Britain’s relationship with the EU. The very word Brexit contains a literally unspoken truth. It does not include or even allude to Europe. It is British exit that is the point, not what it is exiting from. The tautologous slogan Leave Means Leave is similarly (if unintentionally) honest: the meaning is in the leaving, not in what is being left or how. / Paradoxically, this drama of departure has really served only to displace a crisis of belonging. Brexit plays out a conflict between Them and Us, but it is surely obvious after this week that the problem is not with Them on the continent. It’s with the British Us, the unravelling of an imagined community. The visible collapse of the Westminster polity this week may be a result of Brexit, but Brexit itself is the result of the invisible subsidence of the political order over recent decades.’ (‘It was never about Europe. Brexit is Britain’s reckoning with itself. [...] Brexit is really just the vehicle that has delivered a fraught state to a place where it can no longer pretend to be a settled and functioning democracy. Brexit’s work is done – everyone can now see that the Westminster dodo is dead. It is time to move on from the pretence that the problem with British democracy is the EU and to recognise that it is with itself. After Brextinction there must be a whole new political ecosystem. Drop the dead dodo, end the mad race for a meaningless prize, and start talking about who you want to be.’, in The Guardian, 18 Jan. 2019; available online; accessed 18 Jan. 2019.)

[ top ]

George Bernard Shaw: ‘John Bull’s Other Island is superbly prescient of the nature of the Irish society that will emerge after independence: the contempt of the new farming class for the landless Patsy Farrell; the commanding authority of the Catholic church over mere politicians; the emergence of a new Catholic ruling class; the rise of a “greedy and oppressive” Catholic bourgeoisie; the commodification of the Irish landscape; the consigning of the unwanted parts of the population to emigration or institutionalisation.’ (Judging Shaw: George Bernard Shaw - A Life, Dublin: RIA 2017; quoted in review by Anthony Roche, in Dublin Review of Books, Jan. 2018 - online.) Note: Roche remarks that O’Toole ‘delivers on it [the play] with characteristic brilliance and insight’.

[ See also review of same by Terry Eagleton - in RICORSO Criticism > Reviews - Eagleton - as attached. ]

Samuel Beckett - ‘Where Lost Bodies Roam’, review of Beckett’s Political Imagination by Emilie Morin, in London Review of Books (7 June 2018): ‘Beckett was always politically aware. In Dublin in the 1930s, he associated (in spite of his impeccably Protestant and Unionist family background) with the members of the small leftist fringe of Irish republicanism - Charlie Gilmore, Peadar O’Donnell, and Ernie O’Malley. One of the more startling revelations from the splendid Cambridge edition of Beckett’s letters was his deeply serious attempt to move to Moscow in 1936 to study cinematography with Sergei Eisenstein. He did succeed in traveling to Hitler’s Germany, where he lived between September 1936 and April 1937, and his up-close study of Nazi propaganda is a strong influence on his later work. And of course, he chose to return from the safety of Dublin to Nazi-occupied Paris, where he became an important member of the underground cell Gloria SMH. In 1977 Richard Stern asked Beckett whether he had ever been political. The reply - “No, but I joined the Resistance” - is one of his typical self-canceling sentences, in which the second part utterly negates the first. / Beyond these biographical facts, though, Morin demonstrates how Beckett’s writing was engaged from early on with questions of colonialism, power, and race. [...] Why, given all of this immersion in oppression, propaganda, totalitarianism, colonialism, and racism, is Beckett’s artistic work not more explicitly engaged? Why does someone who knew so much and cared so deeply about history and politics create a body of work in which they are approached so obliquely? There are some obvious answers - one biographical, the other aesthetic - but they are not entirely adequate. / The biographical one is that Beckett was always a displaced person. He was a Protestant in a self-consciously and at times aggressively Catholic Irish state. Subsequently he was an alien in France. He is so strongly associated with Paris that it is hard to remember that he always held and renewed what he called his “green Eire passport,” and joined the other migrants and strangers in the lines at immigration services to renew his residency permits. As a mature writer, Beckett never lived in the country of his citizenship and was never a citizen of the country he lived in. He did not feel entitled to criticize the governments of either Ireland or France directly. He also knew - especially during the fraught years of the Algerian war when the French government was cracking down on dissent - that he could be deported at any time. / The aesthetic reason is that Beckett was no good at writing history plays or political satires and had no interest in realistic fiction. He did try: there are intriguing vestiges of an abandoned satirical history of Ireland called Trueborn Jackeen, and he attempted, while in Nazi Germany, a historical drama about Samuel Johnson. But he had grown up as a writer directly in the shadow of his friend and idol James Joyce, who had done pretty much everything that could be done with the novel of social and psychological omniscience. To escape Joyce’s magisterial grandeur, Beckett had to find his own voice in ignorance and inadequacy - qualities that do not lend themselves to political and historical statement.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

Trails runs for Fascism - ‘Trial runs for fascism are in full flow’, in The Irish Times (26 June 2018): ‘[...] To grasp what is going on in the world right now, we need to reflect on two things. One is that we are in a phase of trial runs. The other is that what is being trialled is fascism – a word that should be used carefully but not shirked when it is so clearly on the horizon. Forget “post-fascist” - what we are living with is pre-fascism. / It is easy to dismiss Donald Trump as an ignoramus, not least because he is. But he has an acute understanding of one thing: test marketing. He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories that you can later confirm or deny depending on how they go down. And he recreated himself in reality TV where the storylines can be adjusted according to the ratings. Put something out there, pull it back, adjust, go again. / Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it. / One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections - we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority - it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

English Nationalism: Three aspects of this dangerous innocence are at play in the determination of the toxic troika - Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove - to tear up the withdrawal agreement the UK signed with the EU only nine months ago. / The first is that the Brexiteers can’t acknowledge that theirs is a post-imperial nationalism, so they have to frame it as an anti-colonial nationalism. An honest account of the re-emergence of the idea of England as a political entity would say that this is a last stage of the end of empire. England was folded into empire and now that empire is gone, England returns. / The big reason why English nationalism cannot articulate itself is that it cannot admit to its own most obvious consequence: the break-up of the UK. For reasons we will come back to, however, this can’t be said. So what we get instead is a double displacement. England is emerging, not from its own empire, but from an imaginary empire of the EU. And (with a certain comic magnificence) the nearest example of this process to hand is Ireland’s struggle for independence from the UK. Hence the Brexiteer Sir Bernard Jenkin explaining on BBC’s Newsnight last week why it was okay to renege on the withdrawal treaty: ‘The deal leaving the EU is a one-off exceptional treaty - it’s like an independent country leaving an empire. [England-as-Ireland:] This bizarre mental construct of England-as-Ireland leads to the adoption, in the minds of English nationalists, of the Michael Collins model - sign the damn treaty and then you can change it afterwards. The withdrawal treaty, like the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921, is not a terminus but a springboard. / Secondly, the big reason why English nationalism cannot articulate itself is that it cannot admit to its own most obvious consequence: the break-up of the UK. Toryism is supposed to be conservative and unionist, but it has become (in objective effect) radically anti-union. It is pushing through the most extreme possible version of a Brexit that both Scotland and Northern Ireland rejected. / But since this cannot be admitted, the blame for the consequences must be displaced. These people, of course, have a lot of practice at shifting the blame for their own failings on to their favourite scapegoat: the EU. Thus, it is not English nationalism that is wrecking the union. It is those damned foreigners. Hence Gove’s case for resiling from the withdrawal agreement: ‘the EU [is] disrupting and putting at threat the integrity of the United Kingdom’. (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

The Ukraine Crisis (2022): ‘The West has been here before in this century. The al-Qaeda attack on the United States in 2001 was very different from Putin’s old-style war on Ukraine. But it had the same quality of impossibility, the same raw vileness. It, too, deranged our senses and overwhelmed our capacity to reflect. And the results of this derangement were disastrous for the world. They included a 20-year war in Afghanistan that ended with the Taliban back in charge, and a flagrantly illegal invasion of Iraq dressed up in a campaign of disinformation that Putin surely studied and learned from. The current crisis of democracy in the West cannot be disentangled from the deep cynicism about authority seeded by that abandonment of democratic values and the rule of law. At that time, if you tried to say that the invasion of Iraq was going to be a disaster, you were shouted down and accused of being an apologist for Osama bin Laden with no feelings for the dead of 9/11. Just as now, if you ask for any reflection on how Europe might best respond to this equally atrocious terrorism, you are an apologist for Putin with no feelings for the heroic Ukrainians. But this is precisely why a deep breath is needed. Is Ukraine really going to be brought into Nato and the EU? Should those blocs then go to war against a nuclear power? What endgame does the West imagine – total victory over Russia, another “forever war”, or a negotiated settlement? If the latter, what does it look like?’ (The Irish Times, 8 March 2022 - available online; accessed 08.03.2022 [paragraph marks removed].)

[ top ]

An Taisce: ‘Minister for Environment Dick Rochae has labelled it “fascist” and critics routinely attack it as a secret society run by “Dublin 4 snobs” who prevent rural people building family homes on their land. / Environmental group An Taisce, it is fair to say, is not the post popular organisation in certain parts of Ireland. / This month, it copperfastened a reputation as the country’s most controversial voluntary body with its objection, since withdrawn, to a planning application by Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole to quadruple the size of his holiday home at Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare. / In describing the development proposed by O’Toole - a long-time defender of the organisation - as “criminal, the Clare branch of An Taisce manages to shoot the environmental movement in both feet, to the undisguised glee of its critics. / The controversy, which ended with an apology to the journalist and the withdrawal of the objection on the instruction of the Dublin head office, has once again placed An Taisce in the full glare of hostile publicity, with opponents querying its privileged role in the planning process at its level of accountability. [...].’ (The Irish Times, 22 July 2006, p.3.)

White Savage (2005): Sir William Johnston (1715-74), nephew of Admiral Sir Peter Warren (c.1704-52); both striking examples of Irish Catholics whose families had suffered during the 17th century wars and who switched loyalties during the 18th century, to become rich by fighting on behalf of the British Empire, especially in America. [Note supplied by Elizabeth Malcolm on Diaspora Irish Studies List, 26.03.2009.]

White Savage (2005): new biography of William Johnson, who forged American alliance with the Iroquois; left his Gaelic, Catholic family in Ireland in early manhood; arrived then-British New York, 1738; became a Protestant; moved to Mohawk River and eventually acquired land there; served as principal British intermediary with the Iroquois Confederacy; commanded British, colonial, and Iroquois forces helping to defeat the French in 1755; created the first groups of “rangers” who fought like Indians and led the way to the Patriots’ victories in the Revolution; lived as a “white savage”; fluent in Mohawk; had two wives, one European, one Mohawk; and pioneered the use of Indians as partners. (Publisher’s blurb; see Worldcat [online]; accessed 14.05.2010.)

Carnage?: An adverse review of God of Carnage by Yazmina Reza (orig. in French), staged at the Gate Theatre appeared in The Irish Times under the heading as ‘One of the crassest pieces of theatre I have ever seen’ (12 Feb. 2011), and earned a riposte from Ardal O’Hanlon, one of the cast, who accuses him of being morally tone deaf in taking the play as ‘a lovely package with lots of laughs’ and writes that the play is ‘a savage satire on the vacuous middle-classes’ (IT, 15 Feb. 2011; see further under O’Hanlon, supra.)

[ top ]