From Symbol to Symptom — Changing Representations of Fatherhood in Recent Irish Cinema

  • Ruth Barton


In this chapter I would like to consider the changes in the representation of paternity by Irish filmmakers in the years before and during the Celtic Tiger. This intersects with other issues around masculinity but has some very specific circumstances that make it distinctive. In part what I am interested in is discussing how Irish cinema replaced a postcolonial discourse with another, or others, and how this in turn affected the manner in which the figure of the father was depicted on screen. As I would like to suggest, this history of representation follows a trajectory of seeing the Irish father as a symbolic figure, who stands in for a set of ideas surrounding Irish identity, to a realist depiction that intersects with a particular conglomeration of discourses in Irish society around paternity. This, as I will further explore, does not lead to a complete break with the tradition of symbolic representation, but alters it in a very conspicuous manner.


Symbolic Figure Absent Father Irish Society Father Figure Irish Time 
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  1. 1.
    Martin McLoone, Film, Media and Popular Culture in Ireland: Cityscapes, Landscapes, Soundscapes (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2008), 37–50.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See in particular the collection of essays in Brian McIlroy, Genre and Cinema: Ireland and Transnationalism, Routledge Studies in Cultural History; 4 (London: Routledge, 2007).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ruth Barton, Irish National Cinema (London: Routledge, 2004), 109–112.Google Scholar
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    Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: the Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Vintage, 1996), 380–94.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Neil Jordan, Michael Collins: Screenplay and Film Diary (London: Vintage, 1996), 46–7.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Ruth Barton, ‘The ghost of the Celtic Tiger’, in Marisol Morales Ladrón and Juan F. Elices Agudo (eds), Glocal Ireland (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011), 26–38. For a recent discussion of the gendering of space, and what he describes as the culture of ‘orality’, see David Lloyd, Irish Culture and Colonial Modernity 1800–2000: the Transformation of Oral Space (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar

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© Ruth Barton 2014

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  • Ruth Barton

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