Review by Choice Review
Reference works in Irish studies have appeared fairly regularly in recent years. For this Oxford Companion, Welch (Univ. of Ulster, Coleraine) has assembled a strong body of contributors to survey the Irish literary landscape in some 2,000 entries. Not restricted to writers, the entries include historical figures and events that provide background for the literature. One of the strengths of the work is its demonstration of the cross-fertilization and continuity between the Gaelic and Anglo traditions. Some omissions are surprising--e.g., Marina Carr (dramatist), Denis Donoghue (writer and critic)--as well as factual errors that are inevitable and should be corrected in future editions. The work includes a chronology and a select bibliography. Comparisons will be made with Dictionary of Irish Literature, ed. by Robert Hogan et al. (CH, Apr'80); however one would have to come down on the side of the present work for its currency alone. This work belongs in all academic and large public libraries. M. J. Durkan Swarthmore College
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review
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. (Reviewed April 15, 1996)
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.