Quebec Studies

The Representation of Ireland and the Irish in the Québécois Novel

Quebec Studies (2000), 29, (1), 128–134.

Abstract

128 Research Note The Representation of Ireland and the Irish in the Québécois Novel By Pâdraig 0 Gormaile, National University of Ireland, Galway In memory of Dr. Jeanne Kissner (1942-1999) The Irish, who are present almost from the beginning in New France, and who later emigrated to Canada in important numbers in the one hundred years following the end of the eighteenth century, occupy an unusual position in Québécois literature. In one sense the Ireland factor is one of the best-kept secrets of Québécois culture, because relatively little attention has been paid to this aspect of French-Canadian studies. Yet, on scratching the surface of Québécois identity, Ireland and the Irish can be clearly seen as having exerted considerable influence on such disparate cultural factors as traditional music, family surnames, and Catholic Church appointments. Generally, although not always, portrayed as anglophones, they are not however necessarily always associated with the Anglo-Saxon in creative literature, despite historical conflict in matters ecclesiastical and educational. In fiction from Quebec over the past thirty years, Ireland in fact represents a number of positive characteristics for the majority of Québécois novelists who deal with the theme. Ireland is seen to represent several ideals: the ideal of political identity for Quebec, the ideal place in which the quest for self-knowledge proves possible, and the place of origin of the ideal pioneer spirit of survival and solidarity which leads eventually to the defense of the French language in North America. The hidden face of things Irish in Québécois culture surprised me on my first visit to Montreal in 1984. Although I had gone to Canada in order to research a new course on Québécois literature, my contacts included a number of people who were familiar with the writings of the twentieth-century French author whose work had been the topic of my Ph.D. dissertation. On the first day, jet-lagged and marveling at the phonetic and syntactic dexterity of Montreal bus-drivers, I visited an elderly lady in a retirement home on Boulevard Gouin Est on the northern end of the île de Montréal. When she had regaled me with stories about the French writer whose work we both knew, and who had tried in vain to take up the invitation to visit extended by his Québécois readers, it was time to go. Before leaving however it seemed a good idea to visit the House Library which my host looked after with the purpose of encouraging her fellow residents to enjoy the pleasures of reading. Wandering among the book stacks she suddenly plucked a novel from the shelf in the fiction section. The striking black and white cover was made even more eye-catching by the title emblazoned in bright red: Le Salut de l'Irlande, by Jacques Ferron. "En souvenir de notre rencontre, " he said. "Vous le ramènerez un jour si vous avez l'occasion." The indexcard at the back of the book showed that two readers had borrowed it in fourteen years: while there could be little doubt about the cultural background of Mme Dugas, that of Mme Mäher must have included, at the very least, an Irish connection on the part of her in-laws. On becoming the third and subsequent long- Québec Studies, Volume 29, Spring/Summer 2000

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Gormaile, Pádraig