Modern Irish Literature (EAS3226)

StaffDr Ellen McWilliams - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module will examine a range of Irish fiction, drama, and poetry. Through lectures and seminar discussion, and drawing on a range of historical and theoretical sources, the module will explore how Irish writers have responded to the complex history and politics of Ireland in the course of the last century. The programme will focus in detail on the following:

  • The Irish Literary Revival
  • Irish Modernism
  • The representation of the War of Independence and the Civil War of the 1920s
  • The postcolonial dimensions of Irish literature
  • Exile and the Irish writer
  • Emigration and the Irish diaspora
  • Contemporary Irish writing and postmodernism
  • Readings of the past in contemporary Irish literature 
  • The ‘Troubles’ in contemporary Irish writing
  • Irish writing and the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate a knowledge of the most important developments in the modern Irish literary tradition
  • 2. articulate the significance of key historical events to reading and interpreting Irish writing in this period
  • 3. articulate the value of different theoretical perspectives (Postcolonialism, Gender Studies, Postmodernism) to reading Irish literature
  • 4. provide evidence of how more recent Irish writing has been influenced by, and responds to, the writing of canonical figures such as Joyce and Yeats
  • 5. identify how contemporary Irish writers relate to, and interrogate, the historical and literary past, particularly in the response of recent writers to post-independence ideologies

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 6. demonstrate an advanced awareness of the various possibilities for reading literature in relation to relevant historical contexts and a range of theoretical ideas
  • 7. demonstrate an enhanced comprehension of the analytical and critical skills acquired in previous modules (specifically in relation to close reading and the articulation of complex ideas)
  • 8. demonstrate an advanced capacity to work with familiar and unfamiliar conceptual frameworks; integrate and synthesize different kinds of material; and establish a cogent line of argument

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 9. through leading discussion, responding to feedback, teamwork and co-operation with others demonstrate advanced seminar skills
  • 10. demonstrate an ability to work individually in researching, synthesizing, and preparing for seminars and written course work
  • 11. through preparing for seminar discussion and course work, demonstrate advanced research skills, including: IT and internet skills; identifying appropriate primary and secondary sources; working to a deadline; and advanced communication skills

Syllabus plan

Week 1 Introduction: Irish Literature – Texts and Contexts  

Part 1 Making Irish Literature Possible

Week 2 W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, and the Irish Literary Revival  

Week 3 The Poet and the Tower: W.B. Yeats’s Later Poetry

Week 4 Voices of Resistance: James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man 

Part 2 Writing Violence: Conflict and Resolution in Irish Literature

Week 5 The War of Independence and the Civil War: Frank O’Connor’s ‘Guests of the Nation’ and Sean O’Casey’s The Shadow of a Gunman.

Week 6 Buried Violence in Northern Irish Poetry 

Part 3 Leaving Home: Emigration, Exile, and the Irish Literary Tradition

Week 7 The ‘Vanishing Irish’ in John McGahern’s Amongst Women

Week 8 Becoming Irish American: The Short Stories of Maeve Brennan and Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn

Part 4 Irish Women’s Writing

Week 9 ‘Outside History’: Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls and Selected Work by Irish Women Poets

Week 10 Irish Women’s Writing in the Twenty-First Century: Anne Enright’s The Gathering

Part 5 Ireland in the Coming Times

Week 11 Rewriting the Nation and the Rise and Fall of ‘Celtic Tiger’ Ireland’: Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy and Short Stories by Roddy Doyle, Kevin Barry, and Claire Keegan

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Seminar3311 x 2 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study33Study Group Preparation and Meetings
Guided Independent Study70Seminar Preparation (Individual)
Guided Independent Study164Reading, Research, and Essay Preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Critical Analysis of a Text 151000 words1-3, 6-8,10-11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Essay 352000 words1-3, 6-8,10-11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Essay 503000 words1-8,10-11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Critical Analysis of a Text Critical Analysis of a Text 1-3, 6-8,10-11Referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1-3, 6-8,10-11Referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1-8, 10-11Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core Reading:

W. B. Yeats – Selected Poetry  

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)

Sean O’Casey, The Shadow of a Gunman (1923)

Selected Northern Irish Poetry – Paul Muldoon, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, and Seamus Heaney

Edna O’Brien, The Country Girls (1960)

John McGahern, Amongst Women (1990)

Patrick McCabe, The Butcher Boy (1992)

Anne Enright, The Gathering (2007)

Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn (2009)

Selected Irish Women’s Poetry – Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Paula Meehan, and Eavan Boland

Selected Short Stories – Frank O’Connor, Maeve Brennan, Roddy Doyle, Kevin Barry, Claire Keegan

Twentieth-Century Irish Writing Course Pack –available via the ELE


Secondary Reading: 

Brown, Terence, Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922-2002 (London: Harper Perennial, 2004).

Campbell, Matthew, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Corcoran, Neil, After Yeats and Joyce: Reading Modern Irish Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

Foster, R.F., The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making it up in Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

Kiberd, Declan, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Vintage, 1996).

Negra, Diane, The Irish in Us: Irishness, Performativity and Popular Culture (London: Duke University Press, 2006). 

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

ELE site will include the lecture schedule, selected readings in PDF, recommended further reading, and internet resources. Lecture slides and handouts will be uploaded weekly.

Available as distance learning?


Origin date

January 2013

Last revision date


Key words search

Twentieth-Century Literature; Irish Literature; Realism; Modernism; Postmodernism; Postcolonialism; Feminism; Nationalism; W.B. Yeats; James Joyce; Intertextuality