The last time I was in Ireland I wasn’t blogging yet. What riches lie here, let’s give it a start:
1. Poetry: I pick Joyce’s Ulysses, then Yeats and also Seamus Heaney, especially if the word “bog” appears in the poem. A good collection is The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry, edited by Patrick Crotty. Beyond the ranks of the super-famous, you might try Louis MacNeice, from the Auden Group, or perhaps Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, who writes in Gaelic but has been translated by other superb Irish poets into English..
2. Novel/literature: Jonathan Swift: Gulliver’s Travels. One of the very very best books for social science too, and one of my favorite books period. After Joyce, there is also Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Lord Dunsany, John Banville (The Untouchable), William Trevor, and Elizabeth Bowen. Iris Murdoch was born in Ireland, but does she count? More recently I have enjoyed Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín, Eimear McBride, Claire Louise-Bennett, with Mike McCormack in my pile to read soon. Roddy Doyle is probably good, but I don’t find him so readable. Colum McCann somehow isn’t Irish enough for me, but many enjoy his work. Can the Anglo-Irish Oliver Goldsmith count? His Citizen of the World remains a neglected work. The recently published volumes of Samuel Beckett’s correspondence have received rave reviews and I hope to read through them this summer. Whew! And for a country of such a small population.
3. Classical music: Hmm…we hit a roadblock here. I don’t love John Field, so I have to call this category a fail. I can’t offhand think of many first-rate Irish classical performers, can you? James Galway?
4. Popular music: My Bloody Valentine, Loveless. Certainly my favorite album post-1970s, and possibly my favorite of all time. When the Irish do something well, they do it really really well. Then there is Van Morrison, Them, Bono and U2, Rory Gallagher, Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats, The Pogues, The Cranberries, and Sinead O’Connor, among others. I confess to having an inordinate weakness for Gilbert O’Sullivan. Traditional Irish music would need a post of its own, but it has never commanded much of my attention.
5. Painter: Francis Bacon is the obvious and probably correct choice, but I am no longer excited to see his work. I don’t find myself seeing new things in it. Sean Scully wins runner-up. This is a slightly weak category, at least relative to some of the others.
6. Political philosopher: Edmund Burke, who looks better all the time, I am sorry to say.
8. Classical economist: Mountifort Longfield and Isaac Butt both had better understandings of supply and demand and marginalism, before the marginal revolution, than almost any other economists except for a few of the French.
9. Theologian: C.S. Lewis, you could list him under fiction as well. Here is a debate over whether he is British or Irish. Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia covers Lewis, one of my favorite books from the last decade.
10. Silicon Valley entrepreneur: Patrick Collison (duh), of Stripe and Atlas, here is his superb podcast with Ezra Klein. Here is further information on the pathbreaking Stripe Atlas project.
11. Movie: There are plenty I don’t like so much, such as My Left Foot, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Waking Ned, and The Commitments. Most people consider those pretty good. I think I’ll opt for The Crying Game and also In the Name of the Father.
12: Movie, set in: Other than the movies listed above, there is Odd Man Out (quite good), The Quiet Man, and The Secret of Roan Inish, but my clear first choice is the still-underrated masterpiece Barry Lyndon.
The bottom line: The strengths are quite amazing, and that’s without adjusting for population.