The Aran Islander in the late Irish literary renaissance : an ecocritical reading.

Date of Award


Document Type



College of Liberal Arts

Degree Name

Bachelor in Arts


The Aran Islands have been the object of special attention for centuries, famous as a place of "authentic" Irish character in art, language, music, archaeology, and even in the landscape itself. In the critical moment of the Irish Literary Renaissance, when members of the elite invested in the task of "recovering" ancient, autonomous Ireland, nowhere could the past be made more readily present than among the "primitive" Aran Islanders. This is clear enough among present-day tourist literatures that promise your trip to the Islands will be "a step back in time"--borrowed heavily from the insights and imagery of J.M. Synge's famous travel logs, The Aran Islands. In my paper, entitled "The Aran Islander in the Late Irish Literary Renaissance: An Ecocritical Reading," I examine Synge's The Aran Islands and his one-act drama Riders to the Sea, Robert Flaherty's film documentary Man of Aran, and selected short stories by Liam O'Flaherty and his Tourist's Guide to Ireland. The authors of these texts affirm a connection not just to the distant Irish past, but to the Irish land itself, as an ecocritical perspective reveals. This shared experience of the environment, as I argue, allows for these seemingly dissimilar writers and artists to negotiate freely between the otherwise rigid binary of "insider" and "outsider," or, in turn, the "native/oral" vs. "colonial/picturesque." Each writer or artist has a common interest in extolling the island peasant through his comparison or conceived "closeness" to nature, but for very different rhetorical purposes: in Synge's case, towards the creation of a living museum; in Robert Flaherty's case, to glorify--for an imperial commercial audience--the hardiness of spirit that comes with a life of manual labor and repeated sufferings; and in Liam O'Flaherty's case, to self-consciously embrace the animalistic and "brutish" associations from colonial discourse as a vehicle for political dissidence and imminent jacquerie. I combine ecocriticism, postcolonial theory, space and place theory, and insights from Irish studies and island studies in my approach to the primary texts.