In Joyce's Wake
Contemporary Irish writers live up to legend
James Joyce and W. B. Yeats set quite a precedent. Since their deaths more than 50 years ago, Irish writers have lived in the shadow of perhaps the most influential writers of the 20th century.
Writing fiction or poetry in Ireland after Joyce and Yeats seemed to require some combination of hubris, naivete, or unparalleled courage. To their credit, today's writers have created a body of work with a voice and influence all their own.
Heaney and the Poets
Seamus Heaney is undoubtedly the best-known contemporary voice in Irish poetry. His varied and complex poetry, published in collections such as Death of a Naturalist (1966) to Station Island (1984) transcend the Irish experience and filter the concerns of his homeland through a personal lens. Most recently the 1995 Nobelist has turned his attention to translation, producing a new edition of the epic poem Beowulf.
Dark Fiction and Subtle Tales
Roddy Doyle and Patrick McCabe may be the next wave of Irish fiction. Booker Prize-winning author Roddy Doyle, author of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, shares McCabe's theme of family and adolescence. Much like best-selling countryman Frank McCourt, Doyle takes an unsentimental look at Irish childhood.
Patrick McCabe has carved his own niche with dark fiction like The Butcher Boy, which fellow Irish novelist and filmmaker Neil Jordan made into an acclaimed film in 1998. McCabe's most recent novel, the dark comedy Breakfast on Pluto, told the tale of a young transvestite caught in the paramilitary conflict of Ireland in the 1970's.
Far from the bittersweet vision of his young colleagues, William Trevor has long written lyrical fables of Irish families torn between tradition and change. A regular contributor to the New Yorker, Trevor recently came into a wider spotlight with Atom Egoyan's film adaptation of Felicia's Journey. Trevor has garnered a wide audience for his modern-day tales written in a subtle, somewhat ironic style.
The story goes that Joyce once knocked on Yeats' door and announced he was there to escort the visionary poet into the 20th century. To be certain, poets and writers of Irish descent are still leading the way.