Author Spotlight: Sinéad Moynihan

Book: “Other People’s Diasporas”: Negotiating Race in Contemporary Irish and Irish-American Culture

Sinead website picSinéad Moynihan is a lecturer in twentieth-century literature at the University of Exeter.  In addition to several book chapters and articles, she is the author of Passing into the Present: Contemporary American Fiction of Racial and Gender Passing. After awarded an Early Career Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust in 2007, Moynihan started writing her newest Syracuse University Press title, to be published this April, “Other People’s Diasporas”: Negotiating Race in Contemporary Irish and Irish-American Culture.

Tell us about “Other People’s Diasporas.”

Other People’s Diasporas” is concerned with Irish and Irish-American cultural production in the context of unprecedented in-migration to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger.  How did Irish writers, filmmakers, dramatists and stand-up comics confront Ireland’s changed demographics in their work? I argue that they did so by mediating these contemporary concerns about Ireland through narratives that (re)imagined Irish diasporic experience in the United States.  For example, Joseph O’Connor wrote a novel about emigration to New York during the Great Famine at precisely the moment when immigration into Ireland was at its peak.  How are we to interpret this gesture? The book is divided into five chapters, two on contemporary Irish writers (Joseph O’Connor and Roddy Doyle), one on Irish and Irish-American drama (Donal O’Kelly and Ronan Noone), one on stand-up comedy (Des Bishop) and one on Irish and Irish-American cinema (The Nephew and In America).”

Could you briefly describe the economic growth under the “Celtic Tiger?”

“From about the mid-1990s on, Ireland entered a period of unprecedented economic growth.  The Irish economy expanded at a rate of about 9.4% between 1995 and 2000 and this growth continued, though not at the same rate, until 2008.  The first recorded use of the expression “Celtic Tiger” was by Kevin Gardiner of Morgan Stanley in London, who drew a comparison between Ireland’s growth and the Asian “tiger” economies.  This expansion had enormous consequences for Ireland: for the first time, it effectively boasted full employment, many emigrants of the 1980s and early 1990s returned to Ireland to live, property prices soared and, the issue in which I’m interested, suddenly immigration began to exceed emigration by a wide margin.  The years of the “boom” or the “economic miracle” lasted until about 2008, when Ireland, like many other countries worldwide, was hit by a severe recession.”

What kind of obstacles did the new immigrants in Ireland face?

“It’s very difficult to generalise about this, since there were so many “categories” of immigrant to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years and, of course, each individual person has a wide range of experiences.  There were many immigrants from EU countries.  For example, the Polish –  who tended to be white, Catholic and had good English, or were very willing to learn it – perhaps found Ireland more welcoming than other immigrants did, simply because, to Irish natives, they seemed less “different” or “other.”  On the other hand, asylum-seekers had a very difficult time because they weren’t permitted to work while their application for asylum was being considered and they were often housed in small towns in the midlands or the west of Ireland (because this was cheaper than housing them in urban areas) .  Those communities had often had few or no encounters with ethnic minorities prior to their arrival.”

other-peoples-diasporasHow was the arrival of immigrants in the rising economy beneficial for the Irish natives?  How was it detrimental?

“It was beneficial in any number of ways.  Most practically, and in purely economic terms, many immigrants took jobs that Irish natives, more affluent than previously, were now unwilling to take.  They were therefore responsible for the provision of many services, without which the economy would not have run as smoothly or as successfully.  This is in line with what has happened in other economically successful countries around the world which began to attract migrants because of the availability of work.  The downside to this, of course, is that as soon as there is a downturn in the economy, as has happened in Ireland, Irish natives are more likely to see immigrants as “taking” jobs that would otherwise be available for them.  I try to grapple with some of these issues in the epilogue to my book.”

What did writing this book entail?

“The groundwork of this project was laid as early as 2005, when I presented a paper on Jim Sheridan’s In America at a Transatlantic Studies conference in Nottingham, where I was undertaking my Ph.D. on an unrelated subject.  I read the film in the context of the referendum on Irish Citizenship of June 2004.  When that referendum took place, I had only been living in England for nine months.  I was so incensed by the implications of it that I went back to Ireland to vote against it, not that this did any good, since 79% of the population voted in favour of it.  By the time I finished my Ph.D. and applied for postdoctoral funding, which I was awarded, I was absolutely sure that I wanted my next project to about the implications of this referendum and how questions of race and immigration were being negotiated in contemporary Irish culture.  I had two years in which to complete the project, which I did.  It was a straightforward book to write, partly because I was so impassioned by the subject matter and partly because I had very good access to Irish media and popular culture, through frequent visits back to Ireland and through friends and relatives who did a lot of information-gathering on my behalf.”

Can you explain the title “Other People’s Diasporas”?  How did you come up with it?

“The term “Other People’s Diasporas” is taken from a quotation by sociologist Steve Garner.  In the early days of researching this book, I read his book, Racism in the Irish Experience (2004), where he poses the question: “Yet what happens when other people’s diasporas converge on the homeland of a diasporic people?” What I really liked was that embedded in the term “other people’s diasporas” was the implication of a connection between both historical emigration and contemporary immigration to Ireland.  I was interested in precisely this connection.  In other words, how have Irish writing, cinema, stand-up comedy and so on responded to the influx of immigrants to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years? They have done so by mediating their concerns through narratives of emigration to the U.S.”

For more information on Moynihan’s engaging exploration “Other People’s Diasporas,” visit the Syracuse University Press website.  It’s available for pre-order now!

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