The Ex-Isle of Erin: Images of a Global Ireland

Fintan O'Toole, Author
Fintan O'Toole, Author New Island Books $19.95 (236p) ISBN 978-1-874597-49-0
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""[T]he world that was left behind has now disappeared,"" writes journalist O'Toole. ""The exile's dream of return has no meaning when the homeland is an ex-isle, a place forever gone."" In 14 brilliantly written essays, most commissioned for the Irish Times, O'Toole focuses on the give-and-take of global culture--with an emphasis on that between the U.S. and Ireland. He profiles, for example, H.J. Heinz CEO Tony O'Reilly, who has a foot in ketchup in Pittsburgh and another in the Sunday Independent in Dublin. Then he offers a smart reevaluation of Oscar Wilde and Wilde's fascination with his American cultural antipode, Jesse James: ""Wilde himself became a transferable icon, an image of dandified civility which was the other side of the coin of the image of outlaw derring-do."" In reflecting on his own Catholic youth, O'Toole dissects the perceptions of Ireland's former cultural purity. Then, he says, the religious ideal held before him was of ""the utopian Catholic of the future who had become, in all but religion, a Protestant,"" while the social ideal found its fulfillment in meeting the British royal family. For O'Toole, the poet Paul Durcan represents ""The Way We Are."" He is, writes O'Toole, ""one of the few who have been able to immerse themselves in the flow of change and contradiction and still emerge with a coherent and distinctive body of work,"" one that reflects the realities of Ireland's rapid transformation and the ""extraordinary cultural porousness that resulted."" Taken together, these essays are a must-read for any member of our global village, ex-native or ex-emigrant. (Jan.)
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