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'Room to rhyme': Heaney, arts policy and cultural tradition in Northern Ireland 1968-1971

Carville, C. (2020) 'Room to rhyme': Heaney, arts policy and cultural tradition in Northern Ireland 1968-1971. Review of English Studies, 71 (300). pp. 554-568. ISSN 1471-6968

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/res/hgz136


Drawing on extensive research in Arts Council and government archives in Belfast and the collections of Heaney’s manuscripts at Emory and the National Library in Dublin, this essay reconstructs for the first time Northern Irish state cultural policy at the height of the crisis years 1968-1972. It also examines the response of a major poet to this policy, through a genetic mapping of the complex development of Heaney’s poem ‘The Last Mummer’, between 1969 and its publication in 1972. The poem responds to the mumming plays practiced at Christmas when troupes of young men, or ‘Rhymers’ would enter and perform in the homes of both communities in the North. This tradition also informed ‘Room to Rhyme’, the Arts Council sponsored 1968 tour of several towns in Northern Ireland by Heaney and Michael Longley and the folk musician Davy Hammond. The make-up of the performers on the tour, the itinerary and accompanying booklet, suggest a deliberate attempt on the part of the Arts Council Northern Ireland to assert a role for itself, and for culture, in the political thaw of the time. In the years immediately after the tour, however, major confrontations between civil rights marches and police, widespread sectarian rioting and ultimately troops on the streets, resulted in even more extreme polarization in the North. As this essay shows, Heaney’s manuscripts from this period provide a valuable resource for the examination of the relationship between poetry, the public sphere and notions of cultural tradition in early 1970s

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Modern European Histories and Cultures
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Language Text and Power
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Identities
ID Code:82652
Publisher:Oxford University Press


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