Irish cultural memory has been remarkably persistent in Australia. It has provided source material for Irish-born and Irish-descended writers of the past, and since World War II its influence on the writing of a number of Australian-born writers of Irish or part-Irish descent has again been evident.
The cultural memory inherited by Irish Australians has been shaped by ethnicity and often by religious affiliation as well as by other variables such as place of origin and family circumstances. Ancestors may include members of one or of several of the ethnicities that are most common in Ireland: Gael, Anglo-Norman, English and Scots. Religious affiliation, usually to the Irish Catholic Church, sometimes to one of the Irish Protestant Churches, is often significant. Reasons for which ancestors came to Australia, voluntarily or under duress, also vary, as does the extent to which Irish traditions are maintained in Australian families and communities. A unique accumulation of Irish cultural memory is therefore available to every Irish-descended writer.
The writers considered include three poets (Vincent Buckley, Robert D. FitzGerald and James McAuley), a number of writers of fiction including Thomas Keneally, Christopher J. Koch, Gerald Murnane, Ruth Park and Criena Rohan, and several playwrights. Autobiographical writing, either as selective recording of the personal past or as semi-autobiographical fiction, also forms a significant part of the published work of Irish- Australian writers since World War II.
In this thesis my purpose has been to investigate the effects of Irish cultural memory, whether it has been cherished or suppressed, on individual writers. I have drawn attention to the preoccupations engendered by that memory, sometimes evident only in the work of individual writers, sometimes shared by a number of writers. These include questions of identity, duality and tension, the nexus between Irishness and Catholicism, the relevance of Irish history to other ethnicities, the legacy of Irish nationalism and the emergence of Australian nationalism, and probably the most persistent, the essentialisation of Irishness. I have finally attempted to show that such an investigation makes possible a different approach to much Irish-Australian writing, suggests new insights and new readings, and draws attention to what Irish cultural memory has contributed to Australian literature as a whole.