I suppose in writing this reflection on my blog, I am supposed to accept that this is the end of my academic blog. Not necessarily the end of my life as an academic, but to use a book metaphor, this chapter is about to close on this part of my life. Who knew a blog could get so deep? I suppose in the very beginning, when I first heard that we would have to keep and maintain an academic blog, I was quite excited for it. I had wild visions of it extending my career as a journalist, people sitting down at their laptops on a daily basis to discover my latest literary adventure, in which I felt that I could somehow inspire others to read, even if it was just this blog.
I was very wrong. On the first day of this MA, I was immediately thrust into a room full of amazing people who were obviously far better at academia than I was. It was like being thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool and nobody had inflated my armbands. It was bad, and the worst part? It took me quite a long time to feel comfortable with these people, comfortable enough to trust my own mind and my own thoughts. I was nervous, and as a result my academic life suffered greatly, hence this blog is so bare. It’s quite daunting to be told that we are supposed to critique and network with each other, never mind the fact that you are essentially exposing yourself on the internet for everyone to see either how smart or how stupid you actually are. And so I didn’t blog. I’m not even going to sit here and lie about it. I didn’t blog because in my mind I could not escape the nagging thought that someone somewhere was going to judge me for what I had written. And even worse, it could’ve been someone that I knew, someone from my class. And I am not a person who gets nervous easily- I am a confident public speaker, I’ve jumped out of a plane! But as soon as I think people will judge me for my mind and what I have to say about a topic, I freeze. I suppose the main reason for this is because I’ve never actually been told that I’m a smart person, and being surrounded by people who know that they are smart- it’s a problem. I could probably walk down a runway in a bikini any day of the week, but ask me what I think about something and I know myself that I won’t say what I actually what to say.
Maybe I could blame society for my lack of blog posts? (That’s sarcasm; I get like that when I’m nervous) After all, society is what is making me nervous about blogging, something that I know that I would naturally be great at! (Don’t you think so?) So let’s take a look at what I did manage to blog about this year…
School of English Seminars
My fantastic School of English hosted talks on a biweekly basis, in which both my own lecturers and guest lecturers showcased their own research in the course of an hour. All MA students were obliged to attend, if only to show support for the research that was occurring in our department. In the bio on my blog I describe research seminars as:
The School of English in University College Cork, where I am completing my Masters, hosts Seminars on a biweekly basis. They are research seminars, designed and hosted in order to demonstrate in what ways English lecturers and their colleagues in our department demonstrate their interests outside of the academic. From research papers to Viking expeditions, these lecturers have covered a wide spectrum of material in my first semester! These seminars also hold specific interest to me and my classmates, as many are Irish-literature themed, specifically dealing with Irish authors and their content. Needless to say, I have been quite inspired by a few of these seminars! I hope you can bear with me as I try to do them justice in an online context!
I must say I did enjoy these seminars quite a bit, if only because it showed me how broad my lecturers were going with their individual research. In the very first seminar I was introduced to the works of Sean Ó Faolain, an author who I had only ever heard of in passing. (I haven’t read any of his works since either- he is on my reading bucket list!) I actually had this blog post saved on my WordPress account (unpublished- of course) so I do hope that this post demonstrates my earlier stages of my MA. My notes were muddled and I’m not sure what some of these sentences mean, but it does have an air of truth as it remains unedited! So PLEASE forgive it!
Partition and Pluralism in Sean Ó Faolain’s Critical Writings
I’ll be honest, before attending this seminar I didn’t really understand the importance of Sean Ó Faolain’s writings. I had heard his name in passing, but I had not, and still haven’t- regretfully, read any of his works. Although he died in 1991, we can still examine his critical writings today in order to learn more about the cultural and social history of Ireland. In 1940, Ó Faoilain was a co-founder of The Bell journal, a magazine which combined literary and social commentary to influence it’s readership in Ireland until 1954.
Ó Faolain’s views of imperialism in his critical writings are more conflicted than we might expect. He was critical of 800 years of Irish oppression, and as a result ethnic exchange was a focus of his works. However there is an alternative view which exists of him, as a post-colonial scholar. In his work ‘Palestine’ (1947) he outlines his reasoning that the formation of identity is fractured as a result of hybridity. Whilst in his 1976 work ‘A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man’, he demonstrated the understanding that independence affects more than just politics. While he also discussed the cultural elitism and sexism of “the masses”, Ó Faolain didn’t consistently argue that the past represented the “right” past- a truer version of Ireland. Ó Faolain argued that the gaining of independence results in a loss of elitism, and that selective and productive readings are products of our own time. In a way, this piece can be seen as a point in which Ó Faolain began embracing both cultural and political pluralism.
In his personal political view, Ó Faolain served on the Anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War. He wrote two biographies on Eamon de Valera in 1933 and 1939, in which he showed changing opinions from Republican to more conservative. The Bell was a product of these changing political opinions, in which he challenged Northern partitions and was critical of de Valera as a result of “sentimental” politics.
‘The “Doomed Daredevils” of the IRA Warm up their 40 Years’ War’ of 1955 was Republican themed, in which Ó Faolain was critical of the Irish obsession with the past, outlining how this obsession was hidering/ preventing progress.
‘Ulster’ written in 1941, talks about the unification of Ireland, in which Ó Faolain distorted both location of northern and southern Ireland. Ethnic essentialism was a key element in much political commentary at this time. He also rgued that a revolutionary Ireland required a realist aesthetic, however realism itself is often incomplete and overly materialistic. Joe Cleary’s ‘Distress Signals’ (p.53) describes Ó Faolain’s desire for realism as a simultaneous desire for reconciliation.
Ó Faolain also wrote several pieces on the role of Catholicism in this country. He was personally angered at the Catholic Church’s role in the Mother & Child Scheme, as it revealed the sectarian nature of the Irish state. In ‘The “Doomed Daredevils” of the IRA Warm up their 40 Years’ War’, Ó Faolain also outlined how the Catholic Church had a vested interest in maintaining the partition between northern and southern Ireland, whilst also explaining how the IRA were also benefiting from the presence of the partition.
This blog to me shows the younger, more enthusiastic Elaine who was very excited about the blog, “Yeah I can blog once a week, NO PROBLEM.” Ehhhhhh, no. Looking back now, I’m not sure why I was so nervous about posting my seminar reflections online, I mean- it isn’t that bad is it?
I wanted to draw attention to my second seminar reflection, as I actually do not reference anything that is particularly relevant to the School of English/ relevant to my literary studies. However, again highlighting how broad the topics of these seminars were, this seminar delivered by Dr. Tom Birkett reignited my passion for geography of heritage, something I studied as part of my BA studies in Geography. It was refreshing to me that even though I had left my studies in Geography behind, the knowledge which I had gained as an undergrad (in a different subject) was seen as relevant in this department, in this context. I know I don’t mention anything of literary significance, but it interested me, and it interested me to know that my lecturers look beyond literature- they look at the past itself (a theme I hope to carry into my thesis).
The Vikings in Cork and Heritage in Motion
As someone who has studied heritage geography as part of my undergraduate degree, I feel it is only fair that I give you some background. Irish cities were originally Viking settlements, most commonly occurring along rivers. To this day, the most primary urban areas in Ireland: Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Limerick, were originally Viking settlements. Most Scandinavian countries in Europe exploit(ed) their Viking heritage in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries for the purposes of tourism. If Ireland ever wanted to claim that we had a golden ticket, our Viking heritage would be it.
So what is Woodquay?
Woodquay was a site along the River Liffey in Dublin that was considered of great national importance due to the archaeological significance of the site. It was huge, and full of Viking artefacts that had the ability to tell us more about the ways in which Vikings live. In probably any other country in the world, governments and communities would have worked to protect a site such as this. And what did Dublin City Council want to do? They wanted to cover the whole site in concrete, bury it forever and build offices on it. Surely such a thing would never be allowed to happen? Except it was. Archaeologists were allowed on the site for 12 weeks, and then the site was gone forever, the purest and in some ways oldest form of Irish heritage was destroyed.
The importance of this complete disregard for the Viking heritage of Ireland, is that across the country other communities are working tirelessly to establish links with the Vikings rather than cover them up. Waterford, for example, has preserved the Woodstown site- the original site on which Waterford city was founded.
More importantly, is there a Woodquay in Cork? The old Beamish Brewery quarter is about to be demolished and redeveloped into a new section of urban area in Cork. But what if it is much more significant than that? What if it is, in fact, the original site of urban life in Cork? Would Cork City Council cover it up, and continue with their current plans for the area? Or will Cork embrace it’s Viking heritage. Will we finally have proof that Cork was founded by the Vikings? We’ll see!
I suppose the main reason why this topic interested me so much was because I have already studied this before- and it was refreshing to see people in my department actively involved in retrieving physical history!
Remember what I was saying earlier about how nervous I was about posting to the blog/ the dread at being judged by my peers? Well, I did have an epiphany, in which I told myself to cop on and to write a blog post, a blog post that would kick me in to gear, and one in which I owned up to my blog-neglect. Here is what I wrote.
My blog- a wasted opportunity?
I would love to be one of those people who feels comfortable enough to write about themselves online in an open manner, as if talking to a friend. The truth is, in real life, I am actually quite a confident person. I speak loudly and clearly and most of the time I seem to know what I’m talking about (or else I am extremely lucky not to get caught out!) I am an active twitter and facebook user, yet when I was told to maintain an academic blog, what do I do? I freeze, completely ignoring my impending doom! Typical.
And yet I find myself sitting here in a state of academic regret. Oh what could have been… There is of course no harm in attempting now, but I fear this web-masterpiece will remain incomplete, and I am, of course, the only one to blame. If I could go back to September and blog consistently, I would do my utmost to prevent the current pit in the pain of my stomach. The feeling that I have already failed. How can one be quite so dramatic over merely a few blog entries, you may ask. With an English degree, is my best answer. With the power of words, we have the power to create a whole world of catastrophes and fairy tales at our very finger tips, you would be a fool to miss out! At yet just like the ugly stepmother in Snow White, I don’t wish to come on to my WordPress and see that it is completely bare! It is time for change!
Oh procrastination, why do you trouble me?
After this post, I did try to kick myself into gear in order to salvage what I could from my MA experience. I did my best to catalogue what literary experiences I was having outside of the classroom, including my experiences of a live poetry reading (featuring paired poetry- something I had never even heard of before).
A New Experience of Poetry
As someone who has lived in Cork for the past three years, I am a little shy in admitting that I had never been to the Triskel Arts Centre before going to the poetry reading entitled “Yes But Are We Enemies”. However, this poetry reading changed my attitudes and I will definitely be attending more events like it in the future.The Enemies project is a collaboration initiative, designed to bring artists of different styles, cultures, content and ideals together to create diverse work, which somehow seems to complement its counterparts. The Enemies project extends to other disciplines such as photography and music, and has featured over 200 artists, poets, musicians and photographers since the founding of the initiative in 2013. Yes ,but are we enemies is the Irish contingent of what is fast becoming an international collaborative movement, and so it is very exciting to see Cork playing a key role in this debut Irish tour. At the Triskel we saw this collaboration style in the form of paired poetry in which two poets, some local and some travelling with the Enemies project, co-wrote and read a shared poem. It’s an interesting technique as it allows for more than one aspect and multiple sets of emotions to be explored within a poem. As a result of including more people into the creative process, poets benefit from including more people in the audience of the poem. The overall aim of the evening was to encourage us as observers to question how we read and listen to poetry, and to ultimately have our attitudes towards poetry, especially paired poetry, changed.
Throughout the night, seven pairs of collaborative poets read their combined work to a small overcrowded room in the Triskel. It was also reassuring to see UCC students who were invited, in their own right, to partake in the reading. Sarah Hayden and Rachel Warriner opened the festivities with a poem about body image. At points, both poets read the same lines of the poem, which created a ghostly aspect to the poem, which suited the tone of being haunted by one’s own body image and the ideals of what we should look like. Cal Doyle and Doireann Ní Ghríofa took a different approach with their poem, as Doireann described the physical landscape of Cork City, Cal gave an account was more hard core (which included several profanities, which lead me to question the suitability for the child sitting beside me). More organic performances followed from the pairs of Paul Casey with Afric McGlinchey, Ailbhe Darcy with Enemies co-curator SJ Fowler, and Sam Riviere with Enemies co-curator Christodoulos Makris. I personally didn’t think that the other two pairs, Eleanor Hooker with Sarah Hesketh and Billy Ramsell with Patrick Coyle, worked very well together. These poets read their individual poetry rather than reading poetry together, which I thought was the purpose of the evening.
Overall, I had a very enjoyable time at the Triskel Arts Centre. From now on I will not overlook what it has to offer when I’m looking for something to do, and I strongly encourage you to do the same.
And I also wrote a review of a play:
What Happened Bridgie Cleary? (Review)
Tom MacIntyre’s play What Happened Bridgie Cleary depicts a true story of a Tipperary seamstress, who was burnt to death by her husband in 1895. Mikey Cleary claimed that his wife had been abducted by fairies and that a changeling had been left in her place, and so he was jailed for manslaughter. The news story received worldwide attention, and Bridget Cleary is most popularly described as the last witch burned in Ireland, even though it was never proven that she was a changeling/witch. Throughout the play, Bridgie experiences flashbacks to her husband’s accusations in the form of the rhyme “Are you a witch or are you a fairy, or are you the wife Mikey Cleary?”
This play serves to go beyond the facts of the case and examine the emotional turmoil that Bridgie created when she was both alive and deceased. The guilt felt by her husband Mikey is portrayed in a dominant role in this production, which is not something I expected when I first entered the Everyman Theatre to see this play. The themes of love, jealousy, rage and desire drive the play, and the events which lead to the death of Bridgie Cleary.
The set itself was very minimal, designed to depict purgatory, as pillars of hanging clothes encompass a bare stage, with the exception of Bridgie’s precious Singer sewing machine, and four corner stones which became significant props as the play unfolds. A small production with only three actors, Joanne Ryan’s portrayal of Bridgie is strong and enchanting, retaining the focus of the audience. The independence of Bridgie as a seamstress is effortlessly portrayed by Ryan, and she really is the glue keeping the play together. One scene which stands out is the transportation Ryan creates when she describes Bridgies becoming “reborn” as a child, into the world of nature. This transportation and close relationship with nature may well be seen as one of the reasons why Mikey Cleary suspected his wife of being a changeling.
As I said previously, Mikey Cleary’s guilt over the death of his wife is an unexpected aspect of the play. The powerful emotions which result from the feelings of rejection and unrequited love could be deemed as motive for the murder of his wife, yet I somehow doubt it. Whilst Mikey’s pure and true love for Bridgie is conveyed at every opportunity, it is in some ways cheapened by the details of Bridgie’s extra-marital affairs, including their neighbour William, who completes the set of characters we see on stage. One sad aspect of the play is hearing Bridgie declare her true love for the man who used to buy eggs from her; however she consistently denies having an affair with him. Perhaps she was more in love with the independence he gave her, as a result of earning her own money, than the actual man himself.
This play depicts Bridgie, Mikey and William as all being prisoners in the purgatory of unrequited love, and as Bridgie says in the opening line of the play, “I never knew anyone that wasn’t someway prisoner,” maybe this play can speak to a little part in all of us.
I must admit, I did like blogging in the end. Even sitting here writing this blog, I feel a little sad that I didn’t do more of it; even so I could look back on this blog in a few years’ time to examine my journey through my MA. Or even so that others could look at it and see the progress I have made. Maybe in my next chapter, I will learn to blog more efficiently (and regularly).