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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

10 - MacNeice's Irelands: MacNeice's islands


An island means isolation; the words are the same. We expect in an island to meet with insular vices. What is shocking is to find an island invaded by the vices of the mainland.

Louis MacNeice, I Crossed the Minch

The question of Louis MacNeice's Irishness can still generate controversy in Ireland. It may now be fairly widely accepted that MacNeice was one of the most accomplished of the post-Yeatsian generation of poets, but this Oxford-educated and London-domiciled, displaced Northern Irishman is still sometimes disallowed a role in the intellectual life of the Ireland of his day. As long ago as 1974 the poet Derek Mahon opined that he had played no role in the country's intellectual life and seemed unwilling, even as late as 1985 in an interview with myself as editor of the Poetry Ireland Review, to retract. And in 1987 Denis Donoghue, reviewing a ­volume of MacNeice's selected criticism in the London Review of Books (23 April), was able to use the original Mahon obiter dictum as a stick to beat those of us who think that the statement requires at the least substantial qualification if it cannot be completely contradicted.

There is, of course, lots of evidence to support the Donoghue line. In Armitage and Clark's less than fully dependable bibliography of MacNeice's work, we find that MacNeice in the course of a prolific poetic career published in only two Irish periodicals: in The Bell, when he was poetry editor, and once in Lagan, the Northern Irish annual associated with the Ulster regionalist movement of the 1940s.

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Mahon, Derek, ‘MacNeice in England and Ireland’, in Brown, T. and Reid, A. (eds.), Time Was Away: The World of Louis MacNeice (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1974), pp. 113–22
Armitage, C. M. and Clark, Neil, A Bibliography of the Works of Louis MacNeice (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1973)
Rodgers, W. R., Irish Literary Portraits (London: BBC, 1972)
Dodds, E. R., Missing Persons (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977)
MacNeice, Louis, I Crossed the Minch (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1938), p. 3
Dodds, E. R. (ed.), The Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), p. 133
Heuser, A. (ed.), Selected Literary Criticism of Louis MacNeice (Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 143–4
Dodds, E. R. (ed.), Journal and Letters of Stephen MacKenna, with a memoir and a preface by Padraic Colum (London: Constable, 1936), p. 40
Longley, Edna, Poetry in the Wars (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1986), p. 90