Life-Writing and Diaspora II: The Autobiographical Writings of the Irish in Britain an Australia
There is no more common Irish journey than that made by generations of people 'across the water' to Great Britain. A complex set of factors, from the countries' geographical proximity to the colonial nature of their historical relationship, combine to ensure that Irish migration to Britain 'comprises a very large, very special case'.1 Australia, too, has claims to exceptionalism as a receptor of Irish migrants. Oliver MacDonagh proposes three respects in which the Irish-Australian diaspora differs from its counterparts in Britain and North America: its historically high percentage of the total population of the new country, its very even demographic distribution and the somewhat special status of the Irish as a 'founding people', arriving in Australia -mainly as convicts and soldiers -at the beginning of its European colonization, thereby exercising a potentially stronger influence over the shape and destiny of the new nation than the other Irish emigrations could hope to achieve. 2 Although points of commonality co-exist with these markers of difference - particularly for Catholic Irish migrants, who have a shared historical experience of being a denigrated out-group in both countries - any joint examination of the autobiographical writings of the Irish in Britain and Australia must expect the contrasts to eclipse the correspondences. Yet, as this chapter will show, despite being shaped by highly distinctive diasporic histories and sociocultural conditions, these respective literary corpuses reveal certain narrative preoccupations that illuminate the shifting meanings of home and belonging for those whose identities are forged across boundaries and heritages.
A History of Irish Autobiography
Australian Literature (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature)