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Message to Erin: an Anthology of the Irish in Canada, ed. by Daniel O'Leary

The Moosehead Anthology 12

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Message to Erin: Moosehead Anthology 12

Traditionally, the Irish in Canada have maintained somewhat uneasy relations with their cousins in the Old Country. Although many Irish-Canadian communities have retained strong Irish cultural, linguistic, and anthropological characteristics, and Irishness was fully represented symbolically in early Canadian heraldry and national semiotics, the colonial position of the country and the wide imperialist consensus in the early Canadian nation until quite recently tended to mute Irish-Canadian support for Irish political nationalism despite the wide Canadian survival of the Irish language, Hiberno-English dialect, and Irish music. Taken together as a group, the Protestant and Roman Catholic Irish formed the largest demographic group in Canada at the time of Confederation, and early Irish-Canadian print culture forms a much richer field of study than generally has been supposed. Nor have the descendants of the early Irish settlers of the country been backward in contributing to the development of a Canadian national literature in more recent times.

Message to Erin: An Anthology of the Irish in Canada, 1745-2010 documents the Hibernian contribution to Canadian letters with representative selections both of Irish writing about Canada and Irish-Canadian writing about the Irish. In keeping with the long history of harmonious community relations and general Irish-Canadian amity, Message to Erin takes advantage of recent advances in Canadian book history to bring together a wide variety of un-reprinted and neglected early writing from the full spectrum of the Irish-Canadian community, drawing selections from early periodicals and newspapers, rare early imprints and ephemeral literature, and including poetry, fiction, memoirs and autobiography, and historical writing to document the sentiments, values, and preoccupations of the Irish in Canada. The anthology will also provide sources for the study of Irish Canada by region, highlighting the distinct character of the Irish in Quebec, Ontario, and Atlantic and Western Canada, and including selections from contemporary Irish-Canadian writing that demonstrate its continued vibrant character.

Some of the authors in Message to Erin retain a measure of at least academic celebrity. William Butler’s books on the Riel Rebellion and the Northwest were classics of their kind in the Victorian period. Nicholas Flood Davin’s edition of his long neo-romantic epic was the first volume of poetry published on the Canadian prairies. The popularity of the fiction of Mary Anne Sadlier made her one of the first Irish-Canadian authors to enjoy international fame. And recently celebrated in Irish-Canadian David Wilson’s superb new biography, Thomas D’Arcy McGee’s central role in the development of Canadian nationality remains widely acknowledged. More recent 20th and 21st-century writing from Thomas O’Hagan to David Adams Richards has maintained the national prominence of Irish-Canadian literature. But Message to Erin does more than simply document the contribution of the prominent to Canadian literature. The anthology also attempts to redress the injustice of the neglect and marginalization of Irish-Canadians who lacked access to the kinds of publication that should have offered hope of more durable remembrance. And many of these writings are of keen interest on their own merits. One anonymous selection drawn from an early Irish-Canadian periodical provides a highly moving account of the Quebecois adoption of Roman Catholic orphans during the Great famine. Another selection of neglected autobiographical fiction details the transit and return of Irish immigrants from the United States back to a more congenial country under British rule. Still another selection provides a Victorian Irish-Canadian view of the uprising of 1798. The contribution of the anthology for the study of the Irish in Quebec is one of its most important features. Until recently, the simple division of the province into English and French has obscured the importance of Irish Canadians to both of the province’s literatures. Message to Erin will provide a good introduction to source materials for a fuller understanding of the complex role of the Irish in the writing of Quebec.

In all, Message to Erin: An Anthology of the Irish in Canada,1745-2010 is indispensable to anyone desiring a fuller knowledge of the lives and sentiments of this founding Canadian community. The book includes a critical and historical introduction, introductory and explanatory notes to individual selections, and bibliographic materials for the informed study of Irish-Canadian writing. The work fills an important and neglected niche for the study of Irish-Canadian literature, and opens new fields for the study both of the Irish diaspora and of Canadian literature in general.

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Editor Biography

Professor of Canadian Studies at Concordia in Montreal, Daniel O’Leary’s poetry has appeared in Exile, Fiddlehead, the spoken-word anthology Poetry Nation, and in numerous other journals. Aside from an earlier book of poetry, The Sorcerer of Les Trois Frères, he has published work on early Canadian print culture in The History of the Book in Canada and is co-editor with Jonathan Wisenthal of What Shaw Really Wrote About the War. A descendant of early Maritime Canadian families, O’Leary was born on New Brunswick’s Fundy coast and was raised there and in Nova Scotia.

49th Shelf

The Moosehead Anthology XII: Message to Erin, ed. Daniel O'Leary, 194 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, December 2009, Anthology

ISBN: 9781-897190-54-8 (paper) ... $18.95

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Also by the Editor

The Lower Provinces, 84 pp., 5 x 8, June 2012, Poetry — ISBN: 1-897190-81-6 (paper) ... $16.95 — ISBN: 1-897190-82-4 (Hard Cover) ... $31.95



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