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How are Irish traditions of satire, in both English and Irish languages connected through classicizing tropes?

This project traces the significance of polylingual word play and the influence of particular classical authors, such as Juvenal and Lucian, on both Irish and English language traditions of writing satire.

Ireland has a long native tradition of satire in both English and Irish languages that has frequently engaged in word play across English, Irish, Latin and even Greek. Multilingual word substitution can be found in Irish texts as early as the 7th century, while polylingual word play features to satirical effect in the work of Jonathan Swift, Donncha Rua McNamara, James Joyce, and Brian O’Nolan. While Swift was deeply influenced by Juvenal, the popularity of satirical author Lucian in 18th and 20th century Ireland, in both English and Irish versions, coincides with moments when Irish satirical writing peaked.

Selected examples

  • A Trip to the Moon (1727), attributed to Murtagh McDermot, is modelled on portions of Lucian’s True Tales. McDermot’s sworn allegiance to King George I referenced in the book’s preface, which asserts the truth of the author’s voyage to the moon in the strongest possible terms, thus becomes a politicized ‘true fiction’ along with the rest of the tale which contains many observations on the governance of the moon.

  • The Eachtra Ghiolla an Amaráin ‘Adventures of a Luckless Fellow’, by Donncha Rua McNamara (c. 1745) is a parody of Virgil’s Aeneid that highlights the struggles of Irish nationalists under the British empire. Just as McNamara’s identity as a colonial subject is full of contradictions, so too does the satire of Jonathan Swift emerge from a conflicting sense of identity, a solidarity with the lower classes, and the influence of both classical and Irish language literature.
  • In 1924 the Irish translation of Lucian’s Dialogues of the Gods by Fr. Peader Ua Laoghaire was published. The following year, excerpts from Lucian’s True Tales translated into Irish by Domhnall Ó Mathghamhna, were published on a weekly basis in the Sunday Independent (21 June 1925 – 25 April 1926). This post-independence engagement with Lucian underlines the continued importance of classical authors for Irish satirical writing.