Manchester Irish Writers’ Group

The below worksheet was adapted from Postcolonial Manchester by Lynne Pearce, Corinne Fowler and Robert Crawshaw (Manchester University Press, 2013); it was devised by Dr Sarah Ilott, Research Assistant, North-West Writers into Schools.

The Irish Diaspora in Manchester

Though the experience of all diasporic groups living in Manchester will be different in some ways, the Irish diaspora is particularly unique because Ireland is so close to Manchester. Because it is only a short trip from Manchester to Ireland, this means that Irish migrants can frequently return home without spending much time or money to do so. This means that Irish migrants tend to have a different sense of local or national identity, as there is not the sense that they have properly left one place and arrived at another, as might be the case for other migrants who move much further.

 

Research Exercise

Look up the meaning of diaspora. How many diasporic communities can you think of now living in Manchester?

 

The Manchester Irish Writers’ Group

The Manchester Irish Writers’ Group formed in 1995 and their publishing imprint, called Scribhneoiri Press, published four collections of short stories and poems written by members of the group between 1995 and 2005.

 

There are many shared themes in the work of these writers, including the legacy of the mythic past, the representation of childhood, the experience of dislocation caused by travelling to and from home, the difference between rural and city landscapes and thinking about what life might have been like if they hadn’t left Ireland. Two of these themes are outlined below.

 

The Mythic Past

Many writers focus on the Great Famine of the 1840s and 1850s in Ireland, during which time lots of people starved and died and many others emigrated (left the country). Despite not having been alive to witness the Famine, many writers evoke a sense of personal loss and mourning when describing it. This creates the impression that the Irish have never recovered from this horrific event and that it has become a shared memory that unites the Irish through a collective sense of mourning.

 

How does the following poem link the sadness of the speaker’s Irish ancestors with their own?

 

Blight, by Seán Body

for Noel Connor

 

A decade of collaborations:
Drawn to words… But this
is silence, stillness

 

so deep it moves
the eye. An expectation
of ocean.

 

These colours belong
somewhere. Indeterminate
outlines suggest a bird,

 

some fish, two seals—
or just a west coast beach
picked out in stone.

 

You could tell our history
in stone: this a shawled head
back to the land

 

expects no one;
the weight of its grief
binding like roots.

 

A bruised sun lies low,
hardly revealed
by the small wing of shadow.

 

I almost listen
for the dry throated cormorant—
And I’m back

 

walking a winter strand.
Everywhere the eye turns
is tormented:

 

Loss a witching note
snaring the soul.

 

The Parallel Life

Many of the stories and poems written by members of the Manchester Irish Writers’ Group imagine what life might have been like if they had stayed in Ireland. Because a return home (whether permanent or temporary) is more possible than for many other diasporic groups, writers often paint a picture of the imagined parallel life that they might have had. These stories often work as personal fantasies, in which the realities of Irish life and the people left behind remain frozen in time and unchanged.

 

Creative Exercise

Think about a point in your life at which you reached a metaphorical crossroads and could have gone either way. What would your life have been like if you had taken the other path? It doesn’t matter if the decision was not in your hands at the time – just think about how your life could have been different if something had happened differently in your past. Now imagine that you have lived the other life and send a postcard to a friend telling them what your life is like.