In this, his first complete book of literary criticism, Professor Eamonn Wall investigates a number of Irish writers who are either from the West of Ireland or who deal with the West. Wall, an Irishman, is Smurfit-Stone Professor of Irish Studies and Professor of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
His chosen subjects are, as follows, the poets Richard Murphy, Moya Cannon, Sean Lysaght and Mary O’Malley; Tim Robinson,forensic cartographer and chronicler of Aran and Connemara; playwright and film-maker Martin McDonagh; and the late John McGahern, whose stories specifically are the matter in hand.
In this impressive 210-page work, the writer posits a theory of correspondences between the Irish West and the American West, borne out with particular conviction in Wall’s assured and perceptive assessment of the McGahern ouevre.
Those of us of a certain age well remember The Virginian, the Western TV series, which has enjoyed at least one re-run on Irish television in recent years - albeit not in prime time slots - forty years or more since its first airing in Ireland. The Virginian was, like many such series, based on a novel, written by Owen Wister (1860- 1938), about a character simply known as The Virginian. Comparing the eponymous hero of Wister’s work to Moran in Amongst Women, Wall writes of how “the destructive ambitions of Trampas all melt before The Virginian’s willingness to work and fight for what he believes.” Trampas, whoa there - you do a sort of mental double take, as the man played by the handsomely rugged Doug McLure hoves into view in his original literary incarnation.
Richard Murphy and Moya Cannon are treated as eco-poets, Murphy is deemed a natural heir to Worsworth – both are compared in Wall’s treatment to the American poet Gary Snyder, and his Zen sensibility. A look at Mary O’Malley’s long career takes as its starting point her remark that the poet, daughter of a fisherman, once cherished an ambition “to become the first woman skipper in Ireland.”