Louisa Carroll

Supervisor: Prof. John Brannigan

School: English, Drama and Film

‘Something in the Water’: An Ecocritical and Psychogeographical Investigation of the Relationship between 20th and 21st century Irish Writers and the Grand Canal

‘That canal goes across Ireland to the Atlantic’ if you trust Sebastian Dangerfield in J.P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man. While many ports of call in Ireland are awash with literary flotsam and jetsam, there is something in the water when it comes to the Grand Canal. Completed in 1804 in a bid to connect Dublin with the Shannon, it is a literary loop littered with ghosts of the great. James Joyce, Elizabeth Bowen, Samuel Beckett, Maeve Brennan, Teresa Deevy, Mary Lavin, Patrick Kavanagh, Katharine Tynan, JM Synge and Flann O’ Brien are but a few tributaries of this great literary channel.

This project will advance the study of the cultural effects the Grand Canal has had on Irish literature by examining connections between the canal and literary history from ecocritical and psychogeographical perspectives. This research is unique as it advances knowledge of the cultural effects of canals contrasting literary studies of natural water spaces namely seas, lakes and rivers. It proposes that while canals are artificially constructed, they evoke similar responses from urban dwellers such as inspiration or transcendence normally associated with ‘natural environments’. From psychogeographical perspectives, the project aims to remap Dublin in the collective consciousness and seeks as Merlin Coverley suggests to “overcome the processes of banalisation by which the everyday experience of our surroundings becomes one of drab monotony”.
As different environments elicit different responses according to gender/sex and class dimensions, this project investigates the effect social divisions and identities have on literary representations of the canal. By interviewing contemporary writers about their relationship with it and connecting literature to specific place, this thesis will progress beyond vague associations between Irish writers and national scales. Instead, the project argues for a new way of linking culture and ecology by embedding writers within local cultural heritage and environments in a more meaningful way.

Funding Information: Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholarship 2017-2021

Online Profile : @CanalWriters