Northern Irish Literature 5

Critical writing in Northern Ireland


Celebrate Literary Belfast



With the resurgence of creative writing in Northern Ireland from the 1960s onwards, critics such as Seamus Deane, Tom Paulin and Edna Longley have sought to articulate contemporary poets’ and novelists’ preoccupations with place, identity and political conflict, and to locate the achievements of these writers in a number of wider contexts.

This critical project has also involved the interrogation of the political and cultural mythologies of wider Irish society, north and south.

A number of Northern Irish creative writers have also published works of criticism with Seamus Heaney’s collections of essays, Preoccupations (1980), The Government of the Tongue (1986), and The Redress of Poetry (1995) perhaps the most widely read. These include essays on Irish, American and European poets and poetry, and also provide valuable insights into Heaney’s own poetic practice and personal mythology.

Edna Longley’s collections of essays, Poetry in the Wars (1986), The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland (1994), and Poetry and Posterity (2001) are concerned with revising and undermining monolithic versions of Irish, especially Northern Irish or Protestant, culture. Close reading of key texts of Irish poetry, coupled with an understated relish for critical controversy, enrich essays devoted to recurring poets such as Edward Thomas, Louis MacNeice, Yeats, and recurrent themes.

In their individual ways, Seamus Deane and Tom Paulin operate as cultural as well as literary critics. Both founders of the Field Day project, they approach their cultural nationalism from different perspectives.

Deane the Derry Catholic is broadly concerned with the formation and reproduction of an Irish national culture. Paulin the Belfast Protestant is fascinated by the paradoxes and tensions of the north’s relationship with Britain and British literature.

Deane’s Celtic Revivals is a useful starting point in the exploration of modern Irish literature, while Paulin’s Ireland and the English Crisis is combative, provocative and challenging.