Literature and IT Review

The tentative title for my thesis currently remains “A Representative Gap in Irish Fiction Concerning Clerical Abuse from the 1990s to the Present”. Having been recommended a large amount of material for primary sources from fellow students and UCC lecturers, my reading list remains large and not yet finished. Where one is arguing for a gap, it falls to reason that there is very little to assess. This would appear correct and thus, I have to ask what makes an absence by seeing what is not absent. Therefore I will be looking at other mediums to explore why popular novels, short stories and prose fiction have fallen short.

     A novel that stands as an exception to the rule is John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness (Doubleday, 2014) which focuses on the role of the priest coming to terms with revelations of the Catholic Church’s scandals. Patrick Galvin’s The Raggy Boy Trilogy (New Island, 2002), in particular Song for a Raggy Boy, is a seminal work pertaining to clerical abuse. However even this is controversial as fiction given how closely it is based in real events and pushes towards nonfiction. Using sources such as the website Goodreads, I have found many self published novels on clerical abuse and while many are well written they are niche and outside of most popular reading discourse.


     Popular film has framed clerical abuse more prominently with examples such as Martin McDonagh’s Calvary (Momentum Pictures, 2014) and The Magdalene Sisters (Momentum Pictures, 2002). I was conscious of not solely focusing on the abuse of children, predominantly boys, by priests and the latter film is one example of the clerical abuse committed on girls by nuns.

     Documentaries have proven the most prolific medium covering this area and in particular I wish to look at Deliver Us from Evil (Lionsgate, 2006) and Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (HBO Films, 2012). Both documentaries trace the damage Irish paedophile priests committed in American institutions and interviewed offenders and officials as high as the Vatican.


     Drama has represented clerical abuse in innovative fashion with works including Peter Gowen’s The Chronicles of Oggle (Bloomsbury, 2015) and Mannix Flynn’s James X (Lilliput Press, 2003). In the later play James puts the church and state on trial for their historical abuses. Both use creative narrative structures to disseminate the horrors of child abuse that appears lacking in almost it’s entirety in the novel format.


     Outside of fiction I will be referring to journalistic analyses and official reports. These include books such as The Boston Globe’s Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church (Little, Brown and Company, 2002) as well as relevant archival articles from papers such as The Irish Times and The New York Times. On top of this I will refer to governmental reports such as The Cloyne Report (The Department of Justice and Equality, 2011).

     Interviewing relevant people will also play a significant role in establishing a coherent thesis. Given that there is not a large amount of secondary sources pertaining to this representative gap I feel it is prudent to simply ask why. People I have planned on contacting include author John Boyne and director of Deliver Us from Evil Amy Berg.


     Thus far I have accumulated a broad range of secondary sources and am in the process of breaking down and categorising them into different types. Marie Keenan’s book Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: Gender, Power, and Organisational Culture (Oxford UP 2012) excellently explores the historical and social dimensions that shaped child abuse within the church and state apparatus. The book Are the Irish Different, edited by Tom Inglis (Manchester UP, 2014) contains many interesting articles pertaining to ideas of Irish exceptionalism. However the chapter “Seuxal abuse and the Catholic Church” written once again by Marie Keenan is most illuminating.    

     Anne Rothe’s Popular Trauma Culture (Rutgers UP, 2011) delves into an important field in my research, trauma theory. It is also perhaps the only book thus far to offer a relative explanation to my question. In part three of the book the chapter “Forging Child Abuse” the author traces the commercial tendency for publishers to sell memoirs pertaining to abuse and for the exploitation of the topic for commercial means by day time television. One avenue I am exploring is the Irish dispossession to avoid being seen to exploit tragedy. A parallel one may draw is the initial reluctance by Northern Irish poets to write on The Troubles, reflected in interviews by Michael Longley amongst others.

     Anne Fogarty’s  “’It Was like a Baby Crying’: Representations of the Child in Contemporary Irish Fiction” (Journal of Irish Studies, 2015) traces representations of children from Joyce to John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness. Fogarty focuses on the hypocrisies of the church around the time of the various reports on clerical abuse. She traces the trauma suffered by children across multiple texts often in the framework of freudian models of understanding.

     Elizabeth Cullingford’s “Evil, Sin, or Doubt? The Dramas of Clerical Child Abuse” (Theatre Journal, 2010) reviews drama pertaining to clerical abuse but also draws on journalism and documentaries like Deliver Us from Evil. This was a vital example for my own research on how to interweave multiple mediums to form a coherent argument.

     A source I believe will be of utmost use is Emilie Pines’ The Politics of Irish Memory: Performing Remembrance in Contemporary Irish Culture (Basingstoke, 2010).  This book, recommended by a member of staff, appears to line up crucially with my explorations and I intend to use the interlibrary loan scheme to borrow a copy from University College Dublin.


     Having been directed to the website Irish Memory Studies Network, I believe it may also prove to be a crucial tool of study. This website, partly established by Emilie Pines, has focused my practical framework on to Memory Studies and Trauma Studies.

     On a pragmatic level I believe UCC’s library offers access to most of my sources but I will take advantage of the interlibrary loaning scheme where necessary. The online databases such as JSTOR will also prove  invaluable to my research. Online sources such as Goodreads is excellent for contacting authors or finding self published relevant literature also. For compiling sources I am using Zotero.

Author: Daniel Lynch

Irish Literature & Film MA student.

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