Ireland was once popularly characterized by its close relationship with the Catholic Church. Over the last thirty years, this characterization has grown inaccurate. In poems written during and after the “Celtic Tiger” era, Dorothy Molloy, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Peter Sirr and Justin Quinn cast light on this important and complex change in the relationship of Irishness to religion. Their poems challenge the narrative in which “Catholic Ireland” is simply dead and gone, inviting us to think deeply about the legacy of organized religion in Ireland, and about the possibility, or otherwise, of moving imaginatively beyond that legacy into some different future.
Molloy, Ní Chuilleanáin, Sirr and Quinn take on issues of “post-secular” religious thinking by combining poetic innovation with traditional lyric forms, rethinking conventional strategies of lyric with attention to these strategies’ religious implications. Their work is illustrative of what is made available to us by the recent return to, and revaluing of, lyric in the American academy, led by thinkers such as Jonathan Culler, Mutlu Konuk Blasing, Amittai Aviram, Susan Stewart and Daniel Tiffany.
This poetry reveals an Ireland for whom religious faith and practice has become newly negotiable but not irrelevant. It demonstrates that, in late capitalism, Irish poets are preoccupied with the threats posed by globalized capital and its new technologies to a sense of community, to the distinctiveness of the local and to a richness and complexity of language and thought. They treat religious tradition as an inheritance that they can employ, part of an arsenal of strategies for thinking through, surviving and even resisting these perceived threats.
The work of these poets suggests that if we move on from “Catholic Ireland” too blithely, we risk losing something, too. It is urgent with the possibility of resisting the homogenization and commodification of identity in an Ireland made vulnerable not only by the loss of its once-characteristic feature — Catholicism — but also by the legacy of colonialism, division, political corruption, growing inequality, recession and austerity. It teaches us to think better about community, ritual, continuity and language that aspires to something greater and stranger than efficiency.