Woman as subject

The tensions and conflicts caused by love inspired countless literary and dramatic works. The Colleen Bawn, murdered by her lover in picturesque scenery in Killarney was a subject repeated several times. Another was the young girl matched against her will with an older man, such as the young girl in J.B. Keane's play Sive.

Máiréad Ní Ghráda's Irish drama An Triail was an important landmark in the discourse about unmarried pregnancy in the 1960s.

Mothers in a variety of roles - from long suffering victims to bossy and dominant - tend to recur.

The sadness of emigration from Ireland was a major theme in numerous lyrics, poems, novels and dramas, not to mention pictures and films.

Critics have commented on a tendency to symbolise Ireland as a helpless woman seeking a hero to deliver her from oppression. However, Ireland was personified as a female in a variety of ways: the Hag of Béara, the aisling and the spirited, determined young woman with her own sense of direction.

The Dark Rosaleen, straining her tear-dimmed eyes for foreign aid, is an image of man's creation. I have often wondered how we should fare if the shrewd practical sense, the housekeeperly instinct - real womanly qualities of the greatest value to the modern state, - had freer play in our public life.
Horace Plunkett quoted in Carol Coulter, The hidden tradition, Cork, 1993, p.32.

Most critics agree that women are now being cast in a greater variety of roles in all the arts than ever before.


  1. Identify three female types or patterns of experience that you noticed yourself in any aspect of the arts.
  2. Suggest reasons why Ireland was frequently symbolised as a woman, helpless or spirited, as the case may be.


  1. Write a scene for a short story, novel or drama which includes a woman in a traditional or non-traditional role.
  2. Research the role of women in any Irish literary creation or genre of your choice.
  3. Make a picture of Sive or a traditional Irish mother or an Irish emigrant girl or Dark Rosaleen.
  4. Study Informal involvement in Political movements at the beginning of this section.
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