Greener on the other side

The Irish talent for writing is renowned the world over: here, two new anthologies prove once again that this is one national stereotype that can't easily be denied

New Irish Writing: Soho Square VI, ed Colm Tibn, Bloomsbury pounds 7.99.

National stereotypes are firmly outlawed these days, but there must be allowances for empirical fact. Only a Welsh rugby crowd can sing in tune; only the Irish, with a population (North and South together) not much over half the size of greater London, can produce the overwhelming diversity of literary talent on display here. It must be something in the water.

For the sixth in the excellent Soho Square series, editor Colm Tibn has crammed his volume with fiction extracts, stories, poems, essays and work-in-progress in a wide range of styles. Among the 40-odd contributors there is a galaxy of smart names, as we have perhaps lazily come to expect: from Seamus Heaney to Paul Muldoon and Edna O'Brien, Tom Paulin and Roy Foster to Roddy Doyle and Eavan Boland; John Banville, Michael Longley and more. Some authors do what they're best known for doing (a fine poem from Paul Durcan, a gritty street-tale from Patrick McCabe); others float free of genre - Neil Jordan's "Remote Control", for instance, is a slice- of-life from Tinseltown that brings small apercus ("I know I need a paper to have breakfast with") and larger discoveries ("I knew then that having your name on hoardings was no guarantee whatsoever of untroubled sleep").

Jordan's sense of exile addresses a mighty theme in Irish writing (as in Irish history), but another note sounds through all these pieces. It is not only the sense of place, of home, that Irishness seems almost uniquely to bring - what Tibn calls in his Introduction "the world of common knowledge". It is also a gratitude for that sense of belonging, even if it is a hard heritage, which is reminiscent of Jewish writers. In both groups, it accords a special power, and a powerful context for feeling and experience, as John McGahern puts it in "The Church and its Spire".

It's appropriate, too, that this small volume is dense with text; whereas previous Soho Squares have been richly designed and illustrated, this boasts only a few pages of photographs by Tony O'Shea and one (unillustrated) essay on Jack Yeats by Tom Paulin. It's a book for reading.

Wee Girls: Women Writing from an Irish Perspective, ed Lizz Murphy, Spinifex pounds 8.95. The contributions come from all over the world: from those who, like Medbh McGuckian and Maeve Binchy (below), were born in Ireland and still live there; those who moved out; and those whose connection is more tangential. Perhaps that's why many of these pieces have a self-conscious air. New Zealander Sue Reidy tackles this head-on: "'Rubbish,' pronounced my partner crisply. 'You're no more Irish than I am English.'" Reidy could always spot fellow "Irish Catholics": they would be the ones "cracking jokes and telling stories". But of course. St Pat's Day, as you'd expect, is a keystone of ex-patriate cultural identity. Bronwyn Rodden, from Sydney, went to Ireland and found herself surrounded by people who looked like her family: "I realised I belonged to a race of people after all." Belfast-born editor Lizz Murphy married a Catholic and as a result "was introduced to Irish culture. My Irish culture as opposed to the British subculture imposed upon us by British-Protestant rule and religion," she says firmly. McGuckian is more ambivalent in a fine essay on her own Belfast childhood: "My sister was sent to Irish dancing, but this always struck me as an artificial, joyless rigidity." Bravo!

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game