Post-Catholic Ireland in literature and popular culture
This thesis proposes the concept of turn-of-the-millennium Irish culture as “post-Catholic”. It outlines how the Catholic Church had occupied so powerful a position in the post-independent Irish State, but recent decades have seen such profound changes in the moral and political authority ceded to the Church. This thesis therefore argues that the dissolution of the Church’s hegemony constitutes a paradigm sociopolitical and cultural shift, which it defines as the move from a Catholic to post-Catholic society. It also argues that this shift has been both reflected in and effected by literature and popular culture, focusing in particular on issues of gender and sexuality in selected cultural texts. Chapter One examines how Marian Keyes uses the chick-lit novel to write back against conservative Catholicism and the maternalisation of Irish women, supplanting the “Irish Catholic Mammy” with a younger, sexually active generation of Irish women who do not define their subjectivity in terms of their maternal duties. It argues that Keyes’ hostility towards the Catholic Church affects, indeed directs, the sexual politics and frankness of her work and her treatment of topics such as abortion and divorce. Chapter Two investigates how popular novelist Maeve Binchy explores female sexuality and desire in opposition to a traditional Catholic discourse of sin and virtue. It analyses the changes in socio-sexual mores throughout Binchy’s work, and evaluates Binchy’s attempts to find a continued role and relevance for the “good” clergy in post-scandal Ireland. Chapter Three explores how television sitcom Father Ted satirises and thereby subverts Irish gender norms and Catholic doctrine on issues such as contraception and homosexuality. It argues that the sitcom format of Ted variously allows for satire, ribald farce and comic set-pieces, all of which undermine the Church’s authority further. Chapter Four examines Aisling Walsh’s television drama Sinners (2002), Gerard Mannix Flynn’s dramatic monologue James X (2003) and Bruce Beresford’s “family values” film Evelyn (2002). It explores how all three texts foreground and indict the role of the Irish State in both the Magdalene laundries (Sinners) and the industrial schools (James X, Evelyn). It also investigates the differing attitudes to Catholic iconography and archetypes throughout the texts, from Sinners’ rejection of the Marian tradition to Evelyn’s recuperation of the figure of St Joseph. Chapter Five turns to Arthur Mathews’ Well-Remembered Days: Eoin O’Ceallaigh’s memoir of a twentieth century Catholic life (2001). It argues that this mock-lament for the Church’s demise simultaneously parodies the late Nineties “memoir boom” and rejects the entire narrative of post-independence Irish identity in which, as indicated in the title of the text, Irishness and Catholicism were synonymous. It examines how “Catholic” does not operate in the title and body of Well-Remembered Days in the small-case “catholic” sense of wide-ranging and inclusive; in terms of the form of cultural Catholicism promulgated by O’Ceallaigh, “Catholic” is a byword for intolerance, prejudice and exclusion. The deliberate sexual hysteria of Well-Remembered Days is also examined, consolidating the argument that issues of gender and sexuality are key in cultural expressions of post-Catholicism.
Advisor: Kuch, Peter; McIlvanney, Liam
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Department of English - Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Catholicism; Father Ted; Maeve Binchy; Marian Keyes; Irish Studies; Arthur Mathews
Research Type: Thesis