Controversy offers high drama: in it people speak lines as colourful and passionate as any heard on stage. While the Irish are no more combative than any other race, language and debate have always been central to the public narrative of their lives, offering individuals a vicarious involvement in a collective destiny. In the years before the 1916 Rising, controversy in Ireland was 'popular', wrote George Moore, especially 'when accompanied with the breaking of chairs'. The witty and illuminating book offers accounts of five cultural controversies of the twentieth century: the 39 Hugh Lane paintings contested by Dublin and London; Father O'Hickey's fight for the Irish language; Lady Gregory and Bernard Shaw's defence of the Abbey Theatre against Dublin Castle; the 1913 'Save the Dublin Kiddies' campaign, and the long-running debate about Roger Casement's diaries.
In its original treatment of the rich material Yeats called 'intemperate speech', reflected in private letters, archival sources, cartoons, ballads and editorials, The Irish Art of Controversy suggests new ways of thinking about modern Ireland and shows how contention functioned centrally in the construction of Irish national identity.
LUCY McDIARMID is Professor of English at Villanova University, Pennsylvania, and is Visiting Professor of Irish Literature at Northwestern University, Chicago. Former President of the American Conference for Irish Studies, she is author of Saving Civilization: Yeats, Eliot and Auden Between the Wars (1984), and co-editor with Maureen Waters of Lady Gregory: Selected Writing (1995).