Project Title: In Service to Cathleen: Exploring a Feminine Ireland and Irish Femininity in “The Lost Land”
Student: Chloe Dyer ’18
Mentor: Dr. Nancy Comorau
Ireland is rich in mythological and literary traditions. Irish nationalist mythology often personifies Ireland as female, such as in the characters of Cathleen ni Houlihan, Sean Bhean Bhocht, Erin, Dark Rosaleen, or more generically as a queen, mother, or mistress. While in some instances Irish women have capitalized on this mythology to gain power and legitimacy in the political sphere, it has also served to profoundly restrict them in everyday life. Just as the female personifications of Ireland were often passive and in need of male defenders, women in traditional Irish society are expected to be passive, to remain in the home, become mothers, and not participate in the public sphere; modern Ireland has low female political participation and high rates of domestic violence. This paper examines perceptions of Irish nationalism, identity, and the role of women as participants in Irish society in the poetry of The Lost Land by Eavan Boland.
A female poet, Boland challenges the male-dominated Irish literary tradition. Her work juxtaposes cultural ideals with lived experiences of Irish women, exploring domesticity, femininity, and motherhood/daughterhood. She does not actively challenge the conflation of Irish identity and femininity, or conform to the tropes women are expected to occupy; rather, she conveys a more accurate, honest experience of Irish women, and portrays women as occupying roles as mothers and homemakers with power and agency. In poems such as “Ceres Looks at the Morning” and “Daughter,” Boland ties the mother-daughter relationship to nature as well as to Irish politics. Other poems, such as “Blossom,” reinforce the feminine, natural aspect of motherhood, without male or political influence, while some such as “Mother Ireland” focus on how the roles of women are tied to Irish political history.