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Irish Studies Seminar Series: Woolfs in Ireland: The Lure of Language and Place by Anne Byrne

November 1, 2018 @ 4:00 pm


November 1, 2018
4:00 pm


Seminar Room, Centre for Irish Studies, Distillery Road


Nessa Cronin

Dr Anne Byrne (Sociology & Politics, NUI Galway) will deliver her seminar, “Woolfs in Ireland: The Lure of Language and Place”, based on her ongoing research investigating the links between Virginia and Leonard Woolf and twentieth-century Ireland. For further details on the seminar and Dr Byrne’s work in this area please see below.

The seminar will take place at 4pm, Thursday 1 November, at the Seminar Room, Centre for Irish Studies, Distillery Road.

Beidh an-fáilte roimh chách, and do arrive early as seating is limited!

Woolfs in Ireland: The Lure of Language and Place

The Woolfs record of their 10-day tour of Ireland in April-May 1934 neglects to mention meetings with indigenous Irish, or so it seems. From a close reading of letters and diaries, the Woolfs, particularly Virginia, experienced an unanticipated immersion in indigenous Irish culture, albeit a mediated one. The Woolfs met with Apostle, Celtic scholar and classicist George Derwent Thomson in Galway, an English intellectual with intimate knowledge of the Irish language and life on the Blasket Islands.

In Dublin, Virginia observed the cast and crew of The Man of Aran (1934), a documentary of the Aran Islands filmed by the Canadian, Robert Flaherty. Woolf’s fascination with the Irish language and the Aran Islands are the subjects of this article. I argue that experiences of immersion in Irish culture, despite herself, led to the realization that Ireland was no country for Woolf, and not only because of Irish loquacity or ‘the talk’. Virginia was animated and overwhelmed by Irish language and indigenous culture as re-represented by J.M. Synge, Thomson and the Aran Islanders. Consequently, she understood the magnitude of her separation from Ireland as artist and writer.

The distance and barrier created by an oral culture, a vernacular language, an historical and contemporary non-Anglophone literary tradition, continuing conflicts over belonging and representations of Irishness by cultural nationalists, could not be crossed without prodigious investment of time and effort and with little or no guarantee of success. Ireland, in the midst of its own history, could not offer refuge for the Woolfs, personally, professionally or politically.

Byrne, Anne and Gosling, Paul. 2018. Remnants of Mr and Mrs Woolfs Tour of Ireland, 1934 in Virginia Woolf Bulletin, 59: 24-32.

Byrne, Anne. 2018. Roger Fry and the Art of the Book, Celebrating the Centenary of
 the Hogarth Press 1917-2017 Virginia Woolf Miscellany, Issue 92, Winter/Spring 2018, 25-29.

Byrne, A. 2018. Autobiography, Chocolate Creams and Letterpress Printing in Virginia Woolf Bulletin, 57 (1): 24-31.

Byrne, Anne. 2016. The Galway Art Gallery Collection and Roger Fry’s The Pond (1921) in Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society  68, 181-216.