Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

A 1988 documentary film, also entitled Mother Ireland (directed by Anne Crilly, produced by Derry Film and Video), provides background to Boland’s poem. The film explores the diverse array of female personifications of Ireland: in literature, in nineteenth century political cartoons, in songs such as “Ireland, Mother Ireland.” It demonstrates that, depending upon time and circumstances and the eye of the beholder, Mother Ireland can be a powerful symbol of Irish nationalism or the Sorrowful Mother, either a strong nurturing protector or a pathetic victim of oppression. Eleven Irish women interviewed in the film offer a variety of perceptions of, and a variety of feelings about, the concept and the persona of Mother Ireland. Eavan Boland is not mentioned in the film, and her poem does not allude to it, yet hers could be considered a twelfth voice, extending the film’s discourse.

Mother Ireland’s progress, over the course of the poem, closely parallels the progress that Boland describes Irish women, especially writers (including herself), undergoing in Object Lessons. In the past, she says, the female figure in Irish literature (written by men) “was utterly passive. She was Ireland or Hibernia.She was invoked, addressed, remembered, loved, regretted.And she had no speaking part.” She became a “projection of a national idea” and in the process was oversimplified, misrepresented, her true story untold. During Boland’s...

(The entire section is 581 words.)