The top 10: Irish writers at their best
Samuel Beckett was a bleak and minimalist playwright, but perfectly in tune with the transformed world after the savagery of the Second World War. Beckett punctured all the empty myths about nobility and sacrifice and replaced them with cutting observations of the futility of it all. His best work, by far, is his brilliant play “Waiting for Godot.”
Vladimir: That passed the time.
Estragon: It would have passed in any case.
5. “Death of a Naturalist” by Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney chronicles the nature and nurture of rural Ireland in his poetry like no man before or after. Heaney did the near impossible, taking the rhythms of the Irish countryside as his muse and making it resound with meaning for the modern world.
His poem “Death of a Naturalist” achieves just that.
“The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.”
6. “Riders to the Sea” by J.M. Synge
Synge went west to chronicle rural Ireland in the early part of the 20th century. His classic of course is “Playboy of the Western World,” but his greatest play is the one-act “Riders to the Sea.”
(Maurya is keening the loss of her loved ones to the savage sea.)
“They're all gone now, and there isn't anything more the sea can do to me.... I'll have no call now to be up crying and praying when the wind breaks from the south, and you can hear the surf is in the east, and the surf is in the west, making a great stir with the two noises, and they hitting one on the other. I'll have no call now to be going down and getting Holy Water in the dark nights after Samhain, and I won't care what way the sea is when the other women will be keening.”
7. “The Country Girls” by Edna O’Brien
A powerful voice for Irish women for modernity, for exposing the dark secrets that lay hidden under the smooth Irish surface in the 1950s and 1960s. O’Brien’s heroines in “The Country Girl” talked about sex, love and longing –and she was banned because of it.
“Will you fit on the brassiere, Miss Brady?" the shopgirl asked.
Pale, First Communion voice; pale, pure, rosary-bead hands held the flimsy, black, sinful garment between her fingers, and her fingers were ashamed.
"No. Just measure me," I said. She took a measuring tape out of her overall pocket, and I raised my arms while she measured me. The black underwear was Baba's idea. She said that we wouldn't have to wash it so often, and that it was useful if we ever had a street accident, or if men were trying to strip us in the backs of cars. Baba thought of all these things. I got black nylons, too. I read somewhere that they were "literary" and I had written one or two poems since I came to Dublin. I read them to baba and she said they were nothing to the ones on mortuary cards.
"Good night, Miss Brady, happy Easter," the First Communion voice said to me, and I wished her the same.
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