The Great War in Irish Poetry explores the impact of the First World War on the work of W. B. Yeats, Robert Graves, and Louis MacNeice in the period 1914-45, and on three contemporary Northern Irish poets, Derek Mahon, Seamus Heaney, and Michael Longley. Its concern is to place their work, and memory of the Great War, in the context of Irish politics and culture in the twentieth century. The historical background to Irish involvement in the Great War is explained, as are the ways in which issues raised in 1912-20 still reverberate in the politics of remembrance in Northern Ireland, particularly through such events as the Home Rule cause, the loss of the Titanic, the Battle of the Somme, the Easter Rising. While the Great War is perceived as central to English culture, and its literature holds a privileged position in the English literary canon, the centrality of the Great War to Irish writing has seldom been recognised. This book shows first, that despite complications in Irish domestic politics which led to the repression of memory of the Great War, Irish poets have been drawn throughout the century to the events and images of 1914-18.
This engagement is particularly true of those writing in the 'troubled' Northern Ireland of the last thirty years. The second main concern is the extent to which recognition of the importance of the Great War in Irish writing has itself become a casualty of competing versions of the literary canon.
Fran Brearton is lecturer in English at Queen's University, Belfast.