Edited Collection - Irish Writers and the Civil Service

deadline for submissions: 
November 15, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Jonathan Foster (Stockholm University), Elliott Mills (Trinity College Dublin), and Karl O'Hanlon (Maynooth University)
contact email: 


CFP: Edited Collection -  Irish Writers and the Civil Service


Jonathan Foster (Stockholm University), Elliott Mills (Trinity College Dublin), and Karl O’Hanlon (Maynooth University)



The history of modernism involves a major shift from aristocratic patronage to technocratic administration (Kindley). In this Irish case, the scene of art shifted from the Seven Woods of Coole to counters and desks in bureaucratic Dublin and Belfast. As the writer Richard Power’s widow Nancy quipped, the Irish Civil Service must have been the biggest patron of the arts since the Medici (O’Brien). The phenomenon predated this shift, too, with writers working in the Victorian Irish Civil Service. Irish writers also found bureaucratic work in an international context. Faced with the Marriage Bar and other discriminatory regulation, women writers have helped to forge non-governmental organisations to seek reform of the state, including the Women Writers’ Club, the League of Nation’s Society, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (Brady).


Many major and lesser-known writers honed their pens in officialdom: Elizabeth Bowen, Suzanne Day, Denis Devlin, Thomas Kinsella, Michael Longley, Kate O’Brien, Dennis O’Driscoll, Brian O’Nolan (Flann O’Brien/Myles na gCopaleen), Anthony Trollope, Máire Mhac an tSaoi, Richard Ryan, Bram Stoker, and Mervyn Wall to name just a few.


Ceri Sullivan’s pioneering study of the figure of the “writer-official” explores how “experience in office produce[s] characteristic and original modes of writing,” a bureaucratic poetics (6). Following the “institutional turn” in Irish Studies (Dempsey, Mahony, and O’Neill), attention is beginning to be paid to the role of the bureaucrat in Irish writing. Mulreany and O’Brien note that, early in Irish history, “the description ‘scribe’ or ‘poet’ was to a degree interchangeable with ‘public servant’, albeit of a very rudimentary form. The scribe enshrined, and helped interpret, law and the poet memorialised events and recalled custom, procedure, family history and inheritance. Both roles, often combined in one person, were of importance to the king or local nobility”. They argue that this overlap has continued in modern times, in so far as aspiring Irish writers have been “attracted to work in the public sector” and “develop[ed] their skills and life experience while working there” (xi).


From George O’Brien’s vivid article in The Irish Times on the Civil Service as a hotbed of Irish writing, Adam Hanna’s work on Kinsella as a Civil Service poet, to Jonathan Foster and Elliott Mills’s recent special issue “Brian O’Nolan and the Irish Civil Service”, scholarship in this area is burgeoning.


This edited collection calls for abstracts considering the Irish writer-official from a multitude of angles. Topics might include:


  • The Irish writer-official and aesthetics/a “bureaucratic poetics”
  • The literariness of government institutions (An Gúm and Radio Éireann, etc.)
  • Irish writers and the development of the Northern Irish civil service after Partition
  • relationship of writers in the civil service and the institutions of state (politicians/Ministers, the Dáil/Senate, judiciary)
  • Literature in civil service periodicals (e.g. The Irish Civil Service ReviewDublin Opinion)
  • Critiques of the state
  • Scríbhneoireacht Gaeilge/writing in Irish
  • Women civil servants and feminism/the Marriage Bar
  • State Archives (PRONI, National Archives) and literature
  • Theories of labour and Irish literature
  • Modernity and bureaucracy in Irish writing



Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words and a biography of 50 words to: bureaupoetics@gmail.com


The deadline is: Tuesday 15th November.


Selected contributors will be invited to submit essays, with a view to producing an edited collection.


Selected Bibliography

Brady, Deirdre F. Literary Coteries and the Irish Women Writers’ Club. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2021.

Byrne, Angela et al. All Strangers Here: 100 Years of Personal Writing from the Irish Foreign Service. Dublin: Arlen House, 2021.

Dempsey, Aoife, Jane Mahony and Stephen O’Neill (eds). ‘Institutions and Ireland: Transforming Representations’, The Irish University Review, 52.1 (May 2022).

Foster, Jonathan, Elliott Mills (eds). ‘Brian O’Nolan and the Irish Civil Service’, The Parish Review: Journal of Flann O’Brien Studies 6:1 (Spring 2022)

Hanna, Adam. Poetry, Politics, and the Law in Modern Ireland. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2022.

Kindley, Evan. Poet-Critics and the Administration of Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 2017.

Mulreany, Michael, Denis O’Brien (eds.). Lord of the Files: Working for the Government - An Anthology. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, 2011.

O’Brien, George. ‘How the Civil Service Became a Hotbed of Great Irish Writing’, The Irish Times, 3 February 2018. 

Sullivan, Ceri. Literature in the Public Service: Sublime Bureaucracy. Hampshire: Palgave Macmillan, 2013.