Austin Clarke: The Singing Men at Cashel


The latest addition to my website is Austin Clarke‘s The Singing Men at Cashel. This is a novel that was published eighty years ago but was never reprinted (partially because it was banned in Ireland) and is now quite difficult to obtain. Clarke was part of the Celtic Twilight movement, which saw Irish writers looking back to both their historical and legendary past, particularly in the period soon after independence. Poets and dramatists were to the fore, such as Yeats, Synge and Lady Gregory (Clarke was better known both as a poet and dramatist) but there were some novels, even though they have been generally been forgotten. This novel tells the story of Gormlai, a tenth century queen of Ireland. She was known as a poet and an intellectual. She also was married three times, the first two being failures. Her first marriage was to Cormac, an intellectual and ascetic, who believed women to be the root of all evil. The second was to Carrol of Leinster, a rough, bullying, warlike man. Finally, at the very end of the book she runs off with her stepbrother, Nial. The language is flowery and often archaic and the main characters often somewhat basic. It is easy to see why the novel has not been reprinted but, nevertheless, it is interesting to see how novelists handle this subject matter.

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