Spanning 16 centuries of Irish literature and covering writing in Gaelic as well as English, this newest member of the Oxford companion series is a worthy complement to its sister publications: The Oxford Companion to English Literature [RBB Ja 1&15 1996] and The Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales (1986). Welch, an English professor at the University of Ulster at Coleraine, has done a superb job of coordinating the work of the more than 150 scholars who served as contributors to this guide.
Reflecting the diversity of Ireland's literary heritage from the bardic poets and Celtic sagas to twentieth-century authors like Brian Friel, Edna O'Brien, and Nuala NiDhomhnaill, the more than 2,000 unsigned entries cover writers, titles of major works, literary genres and motifs, folklore, mythology, periodicals, associations, and historical figures and events. Since Ireland's literature is inextricably intertwined with its religious and political differences, articles on Catholicism, Protestantism, Northern Ireland, the IRA, and Sinn Fein appear along with entries on literary subjects such as Big House, Metrics, and Stage-Irishman. Events that have shaped or influenced Irish writers, such as the famine of the mid-nineteenth century and the Easter Rising of 1916, are also treated. Entries vary in length from a paragraph to more than four pages, with the longer articles treating topics of special literary significance, such as the Abbey Theatre, and major authors like Joyce, Shaw, and Yeats. Many entries conclude with brief references to additional sources.
In most respects, the articles are remarkably current. Entries on contemporary writers generally refer to publications through mid-1995, and the deaths of Brian Coffey and Joseph Tomelty in 1995 are noted. Although the announcement in October that Seamus Heaney had won the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature obviously came too late to be included, no such excuse can be offered for the article on Roddy Doyle, which does not indicate that his Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha was the recipient of the 1993 Booker Prize. Supplementing the dictionary portion are maps of Ireland and of downtown Dublin and a selective bibliography of secondary works. A chronology of historical events through 1994 is also provided. A chronology of major literary works and authors would have been a welcome feature.
The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature has the obvious advantage of being 15 years more up-to-date than Robert Hogan's Dictionary of Irish Literature (Greenwood, 1979), and it contains more than twice as many entries as that work, which focused primarily on Anglo-Irish writers. However, Hogan is still useful for its primary bibliographies and its more extensive articles. (A new edition of Hogan will be published in November.)
This excellent guide to the literature of the Emerald Isle also serves as an introduction to the rich history and culture of a land whose physical beauty masks the scars of its turbulent past. It is a valuable resource that belongs in most public and academic libraries.
`A good present . . .well worth its price of L8.99' Irish post 25/11/2000
`one consults an Oxford Companion for facts, not assessment, and you will find many cogent and extensive definitions here ... so much industry has gone into this undertaking that we should be grateful for all it contains in the way of information and illumination' Patricia Craig, The Independent
`heroic volume ... It surpasses previous exercises of a similar nature in the richness of its detail and the ecumenism of its approach. The system of cross-reference favoured in successive Oxford Companions proves to be perhaps the book's crowning glory. An act of critical interpretation in its own right, this book not only records the details of an immensely rich literature, but also helps to change the way in which we understand it.' Times Literary Supplement
`Editor Robert Welch ... has spent 10 years compiling the book. It has not been wasted.' Mario Basini, Cardiff Western Mail
`monumental ... The work has required 10 assiduous years to compile, and the author offers it as both reliable guide and stimulating companion to any reader wishing to delve into Ireland's surest indigenous industry, the written word' Anne Simpson, Glasgow Herald
`there could hardly be a better time to publish The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature ... the Companion gives a dizzyingly eclectic overview of Irish literature - and sometimes political - life' Ian McTear, Belfast Telegraph
`enlightening survey of Irish Literature' Tom Lawrence, Oxford Times
`the brief guides to further reading are admirably up-to-date ... The editor declares an intention to avoid jargon and he deserves heartfelt gratitude for succeeding. There is much to relish between the lines ... the Companion does more than plug a necessary gap in the unevenly-filled shelf of Irish reference books. It records and celebrates an extraordinarily distinguished intellectual achievement.' Roy Foster, The Times
`Anyone interested in following up the Irish literary institutions and concepts ... must acquire the new Oxford Companion to Irish Literature ... a hugely useful tool for checking and reference.' Victoria Glendinning, Daily Telegraph
`This book is a treasure chest of knowledge about the well-known and lesser-known writers responsible for Ireland's rich literary heritage. It is a mammoth work ... For anyone really interested in Irish literature it is a must ... a reference book that can be dug out and delved into whenever the need arises ... the book is a fine piece of work, and it should be in any serious Irish reader's library.' Pat Byrne, Irish World