Irish Studies in the Informatics Age

Irish Studies in the Informatics Age

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Irish Studies in the Informatics Age

[…] and Gutenmorg with his cromagnom charter, tintingfast and great primer must once for omniboss step rubrickredd out of the wordpress else is there no virtue more in alcohoran. For that (the rapt one warns) is what papyr is meed of, made of, hides and hints and misses in prints. Till ye finally (though not yet endlike) meet with the acquaintance of Mister Typus, Mistress Tope and all the little typtopies. Fillstup.
Finnegans Wake (London: Faber & Faber 1939), p.20.

Television kills telephony in brothers' brawl.
Ibid., p.52.

This essay aims to trace the history and development of the electronic book in Ireland with some consideration of wider cultural issues involved in the very notion of digitising literature for the computer-based reader. In regard to digitising, the Irish book is subject to precisely the same conditions as any other literary product, so considered; that is to say, the processes applied by computers are precisely the same, be the books Irish or otherwise. In consequence the subject of this essay properly concerns textual archives and collections rather than discrete texts, whether held on national servers or linked together in cyberspace in such a way as to constitute a definite cultural topography for the internet user. The electronic Irish book is, then, less the name for a new way of producing literature than a new medium for the 'Irish anthology'—that is, a library of digital texts, however extensive, which has been created to represent (in sample or totality) the Irish literary tradition. In prevailing cultural conditions, each item in such a library is likely to be a digital copy of a formerly printed work of the kind in question rather than a new cultural entity generated ab initio within a new cultural medium.

As to whether we call our subject the 'electronic Irish book' or the 'Irish electronic book', the difference is roughly analogous to that between 'smoked Irish salmon' and 'Irish smoked salmon'—a significant consideration for shoppers since the former implies a greater authenticity of actual contents than the latter, though not necessarily a superior dining experience. For practical purposes, it is Irish texts that concern us here, whether digitised in Ireland or elsewhere. Texts of other national provenance, whether in English or in another language, are the equivalent to 'Irish smoked salmon' in the foregoing culinary comparison; these may well abound to the degree of greatly outnumbering the others (as they do in any sizeable bookshop), but they are not the subject of this essay.

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Related Searches

There remains, however, one more category to consider, and that is the 'electronic book (Irish)'. This arises in a view of English literature that happens to embrace Irish writers of any period. Wherever there exist large-scale electronic literary archives in the English language such an Irish sub-set is likely to be found, though unlikely to be clearly marked as such—more likely, in fact to be called "Anglo-Irish" in accordance with the tag adopted by the Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature at the date of its inception.[1] One has only to think of the place of Swift, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Wilde and Yeats in the English literary canon—all claimed as Irish writers wherever Irish literary studies are on the curriculum—to appreciate this phenomenon. What gives point to such deliberations is the recent announcement that Google will undertake a massive digitising project in conjunction with the New York Public Library and the universities libraries at Harvard, Stanford, Michigan and Oxford to the effect that a projected 20 million books may well be scanned within coming decades.[2] The 'searchability' of such a corpus using Google's well-tried Search Appliance, familiar to all internet users at this date, should be quite formidable. At the catalogue level, also, the British Library has recently adopted a Google search engine for its own catalogues, as the NYPL has done already. Meanwhile the Google Search Appliance has begun to colonise the corporate market in Europe.[3] Given a web browser and the unbeatable Google specifications ('sub-second response times, dynamically generated snippets and cached HTML pages'), it is clear that a course has now been set towards a new world of electronic omniscience available to everyone in cyberspace.[4] What we do with our newly-acquired capacity for instant recall over the whole length and breadth of printed literature is another matter.

The honour of prophesying the domination of modern culture by the electronic media arguably belongs the Irish novelist James Joyce—an honour allowed him by Marshall McLuhan in placing excerpts from Finnegans Wake in the margins of War and Peace in the Global Village (1968), his 'sequel' to the better-known Gutenberg Galaxy of 1962.[5] Joyce's obiter dicta on the subject are not at entirely transparent, nor were meant to be, as the above epigraphs sufficiently indicate. The first of these means, perhaps, that Johann Gutenberg's famous innovation heralded a new dawn for mankind when he arose one morning in 1439 to print a pamphlet with his newly-invented movable type. It also suggests that his printing press quickly saw off the orally-based cultures enshrined in an earlier manuscript tradition, here represented by the Koran—a much more 'authoritative' text than St. Jerome's vulgate Bible. (A quizzical sentence elsewhere in the Wake addresses the question of literary authors qua scriptural authorities: 'I thought ye knew all and more, ye aucthor, to explique to ones the significat of their exsystems with your nieu nivulon lead.')[6] By radically exploiting the very mobility that turned movable fonts into the fundamental building-blocks of a scientific world-view, Finnegans Wake goes beyond the specious fixity of dictionaries and encyclopaedias to create a universe of meaning in which 'the reality of experience' (in Stephen Dedalus's famous phrase from A Portrait) is indistinguishable from the totality of shifting perspectives—personal, cultural, social and historical—that make it up in all times and places. For this reason Joyce is the prophet of cultural relativity par excellence, just as he is—in a phrase sarcastically attached to Leopold Bloom in Ulysses—'our distinguished phenomenologist'. Yet, added to his long dalliance with 'all the typtopies' of same-yet-different human cultures, so understood, he also appears to have fixed his gaze on the electronic media as a medium for the generalisation of cultural relativity in modern times. This tendency was first exemplified by Marconi's radio which makes its way into the Wake's earliest written episode as a 'radio beamer tower' and later appears as a 'tolvtubular high fidelity daildiallers as modern as tomorrow […] eclectrically filtered for allirish earths and ohmes'.[7] "King Roderick O'Conor", the episode in which these phrases fall, was the first section of Work in Progress to be penned by Joyce, in 1923. In the even more strikingly up-to-date scenario of "Scene in a Pub", he introduced a television to the said hostelry in order to rehearse some dramas, ending with the aforementioned first fragment. Here the novel apparatus is called 'the bairdboard bombardment screen' after its inventor John Logie Baird, with a good deal of apposite terminology thrown in: 'Down the photoslope in syncopanc pulses, with the bitts bugtwug their teffs […] Spraygun rakes and splits them from a double focus'.[8] A little later, a scientific advance associated with the name of Lord Rutherford—here Dublinised as 'first lord of Hurtreford'—enters the picture when '[t]he abnihilisation of the etym' is captured on camera and 'projectilised from Hullulullu, Bawlawayo, empyreal Raum and mordern Atems'.[9] By such means Joyce equates the splitting of the atom in the physical world with the promiscuous—perhaps even incestuous—explosion of culture in the home: 'Hll, smthngs gnwrng wthth sprsnwtch! He blanks his nosoes because that he confesses to all his tellavicious neices.'[10] From this it may be guessed that Joyce considered Baird's cathode gun likely to affect the human family in peculiar ways as it sits down to watch the 'owl globe wheel in view' on screen.[11]

Now, all of this comes very close to Marshall McLuhan's notion of a 'global village' created by the lightning speed of the tele-communications signal—not to mention the internet which perfectly complements his dream of instantaneous access to the downtown filing cabinet via short-circuit tv, though he did not live to see it. The grand effect according to McLuhan, is the 'retribalisation' of society. As he told a CBC interviewer in May 1960, the electronic media function like 'a continually sounding tribal drum' so that 'everybody gets the message all the time.'[12] For contemporaries such as Malcolm Muggeridge, standing on his dignity as a man of letters (though a media figure in his own right), the gospel of McLuhanism amounted to 'a prophecy that literature is finished and a willingness that literature is finished' and its author an 'actual destroyer of our civilisation […] transforming language into interference [in] a kind of suicidal urge.'[13] Others believed that McLuhan actively rejoiced at the encroaching nemesis of print-culture and suspected that his antipathy to Protestant individualism as a Catholic convert was at the bottom of his theory (the reflective adolescent supposedly giving way to the unreflective teenager of our own day).[14] No wonder McLuhan became a guru for the Woodstock generation.[15] Disregarding the 'brawl' between television and telephone, the tussle between print and television is repeated every time that a book and a monitor are found in company with each other on a reader's desk. The outcome is not, however, the one that pessimists might have anticipated. Instead of falling out in any fatal sense, the two have come to co-exist in comfortable harmony, each profiting in various ways from the form and functionality of the other. Internet has not, and probably never will, supersede the printed book as the primary medium of publication. Almost to the contrary, in those vast tracts of cyberspace where images (jpegs) and music (mpegs) are not the modus operandi, print-culture has colonised the internet. So far from withering away, the book is more than ever central to our 'reading' of the universe, albeit the immaterial aspect of the screen-image confers on it a more ghostly character than solid books possess. As a result, the term 'internet' is virtually synonymous with on-screen fonts in common parlance, although its capacity to deliver images (stills and 'movies') and music is crucial to its popular appeal and its commercial prospects. It is interesting, moreover, that the supposed predominance of the new media, so far from obliterating what Derrida termed 'the civilization of the book' has resulted in a vast proliferation of electronic facsimiles of books.[16] In spite of a good deal of speculation about non-linear consciousness and its technological adjuncts, the effect of Internet is to facilitate access to books rather than to abolish them; for the content of Internet is usually a book or part thereof. This glaringly obvious fact might nonetheless come as a surprise to the new-age philosophers of the web for whom the trail of hyperlinks bespeak some technological equivalent of the 'death of the author' which Roland Barthes, that great land-based semiologist, wrote about so well.[17] Here there is a paradox. Where internet appears to open up the possibility of textual pluralities in keeping with Barthes' predications about the epistemological illusion of literary realism, the 'writerly text' which he so pointedly critiqued is now surfing across the waves of cyberspace and, with it, the literary canon which post-modernists so comprehensively disparage on account of their association with race and nation, and the phallocentric universe.[18] One of the deepest ironies of internet is that nationalism is back on the agenda, though not necessarily the essentialist kind that gave the phenomenon such a bad name. If so, it is less a question of revolting against the re-tribalisation of society by electronic means than of deciding which internet community to join. And here the paradox comes to a head; for there has never been a more efficient way of constructing an anthology pertaining to any determinate territory, age or cohort than the cultural topographies of cyberspace—albeit that the construction of a national literature on the World Wide Web is in some sense a contradiction in terms. What has not been taken up by readers and writers alike in the book/computer equation is the far-reaching potential for formal development of literary genre implicit in the new technology qua medium, with its variant structuring principles and particularly those associated with the 'hyperlink' technology embedded in all website pages as the standard means of navigation.[19] Both hypertext markup language (HTML) and the more sophisticated active server page (ASP) which has come increasingly to supersede it—at least in the framing context of text-based websites—allow the possibility of bringing to the screen components of the website archive which the webmaster who compiled them may never have seen conjoined, or in succession. This suggests a technological starting-point for new literary forms which some writers have already started to explore, the best-known being Michael Joyce, author of the Afternoon: A Story, 'the grand-daddy of hypertext fiction', as internet historians have it.[20] If this is indeed a departure of great significance it has not met with its founding genius, despite the enthusiasm of the hypertext community for the earliest examples.[21] What has been achieved so far is markedly inferior to the non-linear writings cited on a list compiled by the editors of The Electronic Labyrinth at Virginia University. This includes Alain Robbe-Grillet, Umberto Eco, Flann O'Brien and Laurence Sterne along with Nabokov's Pale Fire and Calvino's Castle of Crossed Destinies as exponents of the 'non-linear tradition in literature' which the editors deem analogous to the hyperbook developed by Michael Joyce at Vassar College and others in the same technological groove.[22]

The cultural practices of Irish men and women have been affected by the advent of personal computers during the final decades of the twentieth-century in much the same way that cultural practices in any other 'First World' country have been affected, with rapid and far-reaching changes taking place as regards the way that texts are written, edited, circulated and conserved. Here word-processor, email and internet technologies are the media whose 'message'—in McLuhan's famous phrase—promises or threatens to reconfigure the way in which we produce or experience literature and culture. Yet, while a marked change in reading and writing practices can be seen as stemming directly from the new technologies, the central object of all such activity has not been significantly modified: text is still text, a book is still a book, and literature is still literature. What has altered, on the other hand, is the extent to which the book has been made electronically available—that is to say, the extent to which an electronic facsimile has been generated broadly retaining the visual parameters of the familiar hand-held object while dispensing with its material constituents—though not to the exclusion of the possibility of reconstituting it again by means of a desktop printer and a ream of paper.

In her ground-breaking essay entitled 'The Virtual Reality of Irish Fairy Legend', Angela Bourke has advanced the idea that the 'three-dimensional' structure of the World Wide Web, with its capacity for lateral connections, may liberate us from the downward pressure of hegemony and canon. In a brief history of Irish culture that takes the laying of railway tracks on both sides of the Atlantic as its dominant trope, she tells us:

For over a century, many of the dominant ideas in metropolitan culture have been expressed in terms of linear progress and hierarchical structures. Lines could be traced to where they converged in a single point of origin, but that is now being superseded. Meanwhile the cultural criticism that has developed as a discipline hand in hand with the rise of the personal computer has drawn attention to the invisible assumptions and intellectual models which underpin so much of our received knowledge. [23]

Here she proposes that the overwhelming linearity of a culture whose general form has been dictated by the material character of movable type now promises to give way to a new order inasmuch as 'computers have begun to offer […] freedom from large centralised institutions'[24]—all this to the benefit of the orally-based traditions of such story-tellers as Eamon de Búrc, the chief subject of her essay. It must be said that the advent of the computer in Ireland has had no ascertainable effect on the workings of oral tradition (any more than on literary tradition), although it may have added to the visibility of local 'storytellers' such as Pat Speight, a member of a local 'yarnspinning group' in Cork with experience of a range of audiences in schools, hotels, hospitals, and prisons and competition credits in Courtmacsherry, London, Chicago and Jonesborough (Tennessee).[25] However intriguing may be the speculative connection between a Marcusean critique of 'one dimensional man', a McLuhanite resistance to the linear, and an ethnographical savouring of Irish folklore, the thesis that Internet and the World Wide Web will serve to resuscitate an age-old form of cultural practice and its traditional fire-side vehicle in Ireland remains purely notional at the moment.

Given that the modern Irish state emerged from an ideological commitment to traditional forms of life and thought, whether under the aegis of the Protestant-led mythic-minded and profoundly conservative literary revival that it spawned or the mainly Catholic-nationalist political activism of the separatist movement, it is ironic that Ireland has now become a leading player in the manufacture and distribution of hardware and software for computers. That change may be said to reflect a growth process within the new nation as it comes to broach modernity on its own terms after an initial and extended period of reaction against the cultural manifestations of British power in Ireland. It may also be read as a reaction against the self-inflicted damage of cultural and economic isolationism during much of the twentieth century. Or it can be read as the accidental product of a confluence of national and international forces—of which Ireland's membership of the European Union, the development of the jet turbine and the advent of the microchip are the most important—collectively making Ireland an ideal platform for air-lifting American goods into the European market, and in the process giving rise to the so-called 'Celtic Tiger'. If one ironic consequence has been the reinvention of Ballyskiddy in the Co. Kerry Gaeltacht as the foremost European producer of Viagra, another has been the emergence of American computer companies as the largest net employers on Irish soil.

Up to 60% of all computers imported into Europe are assembled in American-owned premises in Ireland, while the proprietor of the largest of these has frankly called his company's Irish base 'the heart of Dell's European operation.'[26] Dell now ranks as second largest software exporter in the world—and this largely thanks to the investment made in Ireland. On the national scale, the company is ranked as the third largest company in Ireland with a 33.8 % share of the country's hardware manufacturing capacity for export and the largest share of domestic computer sales in Ireland itself. It employs 5,000 Irish men and women, of whom 4,000 are in its Limerick manufacturing plant, and sustains a need for another 30,000 'downstream' jobs in service industries throughout the mid-West of the country. While hardware manufacture remains the preserve of the big US companies in Ireland,[27] a point was passed in 2002 at which the greater part of income from software manufacture was earned by independent Irish companies set up and manned by graduates of the institutes of technology (ITs), which in many instances replaced the older regional technical colleges (RTCs) which trained carpenters, and plumbers and electricians. Given the scale of such changes and their impact on the population, it is not surprising that the rural town of Ennis in Co. Clare was 'wired for computers' in a Telecom Éireann experiment of 1999, demonstrating—as Fintan O'Toole wrote at the time—that 'Irish people are capable of taking the new technology in their stride while simultaneously taking it with a pinch of salt'.[28] In another sense, too, Ireland has 'arrived' in the Informatics Age; cyberspace now contains a galaxy of sites dedicated to Irish enterprises along with numerous others devoted to Irish literature and culture. Some of these are based on Irish servers, others in America or the United Kingdom, and still others in continental Europe. However circuitously, each is connected to the others by means of hypertext links of just the sort that, in their vast multiplicity, comprise the entire scope of the World Wide Web.[29] The resultant network maps out an Irish cultural topography in cyberspace that would constitute an 'island', were it not of its very nature both non-spatial and diffuse. The third and final part of this essay will explore aspects of that topography with a view to assessing the present and future prospects for the electronic Irish book. Unfortunately that entity is for the most part an aspiration shared by several Irish webmasters and their clients (literary and academic) rather than a present reality, and in this lies an anomaly of Swiftian proportions; for to speak of an electronic Irish book today is to give a name to 'the thing which is not'—or, at least, not yet. Accordingly, what is said here focuses upon the groups and websites engaged in planning cyberspace for Irish studies, eschewing commerce and entertainment except where these intersect with issues of cultural and literary value.[30]

The 'electronic book' is an integral part of the modern book-publishing process in the sense that it is always temporally (and even ontologically) prior to the printed book itself. Likewise, the writer's version is very likely to exist these days in a digital form before it manifests as typescript, and no less likely to be digitally transferred to the publisher before any editing has been considered. The digital copy of the book is the intellectual capital of the publishing process and publishers cannot be expected to hawk it promiscuously on the Internet street-corner, unless that version is likely to secure the same value in units profit. The chief problem here is that the portable utilities designed for electronic reading are still inferior to the physical book as vehicles of literary experience. If palm-held e-books were to the taste of frequent readers, they would be just as common in the rush-hour traffic as the iPod 'duke-box'. They are not. In fact, they are very rarely seen, though somebody is surely using them, given the manner in which e-readers and e-texts are advertised on internet.[31] Some of the difficulties associated with them are related to the unavoidable considerations of scale, others to software packages. Small-scale screens call for 'large print' fonts of the kind familiar from editions published for elderly and purblind readers. In addition, the file-format used by these instruments is based on Adobe Acrobat (.pdf), with the result that the text displayed can be read, bookmarked and tweaked as to font-scale and background colour, but cannot easily be copied to another context or treated as word-processor text without some trouble. It follows that, while electronic books may find an audience among literate travellers with a distaste for lugging books, they are hardly likely to replace the 'real thing' in the majority of cases. It is one thing to consult a palm-held computer to glean an address or confirm an appointment; it is another to sit back and read a novel on a screen the size of a 'Post-it' page, subject to all the variations of ambient light in relation to an LCD screen. The loss or theft of a palm-reader seems at once more probable and less bearable than the loss of a paperback edition.

Nor are publishers willing to surrender electronic copies of in-print books in easily-reproducible formats such as .txt, .doc or .htm—those favoured by internet pirates for obvious reasons. Simultaneous publication in hard-copy and electronic format is not an option either, and hence the electronic book is more-or-less bound to remain the medium of out-of-print and out-of-copyright literature except where sales dictate that it can be digitised without loss of profit, a calculation analogous to that involved in audio-publication on CD or cassette. Hence, when we speak of the electronic book, we necessarily refer to a vast range of texts which have entered the public domain through the good offices of literary archivists working at digital text centres in universities around the world over the last three decades, or else through the exertions electronic publishing concerns such as Chadwyck-Healey who specialise in the compilation and sale of corpora of just this kind. To a great extent, the electronic book is an antiquarian affair—or at least comprises matter in which the copyright of the author as distinct from the electronic publisher is not at all at issue. In such cases the texts in question are usually sourced by scanning printed volumes of older texts on an industrial scale and subjecting these to Optical Character Recognition software (OCR) and further editing them according to broadly-consensual rules and protocols before transmitting them to the client/user by means of a CD ROM or any other digital recording media—among which the simple download operation enabled by internet browsers on the World Wide Web, with or without a password and/or credit-card transaction, is the medium of choice for most in the age of broadband. In consequence of all this, what was formerly the exclusive domain of book-sellers is now being shared with 'webmasters' who offer graphic or text-based editions of classic (and not so classic) works, and do so, moreover, in a copyright environment which, in spite of much flexing of legal muscle, has never yet been tested in a court of law. To speak of the 'electronic Irish book' is to insist upon a specification which Internet does not inherently recognise, being, by, its very nature, a trans-national galaxy of computer terminals. At the same time, it does not debar the idea either, although here the question is less one of available technology, or even of an available corpus, than of the creation of a cultural topography in cyberspace that by means of a hub or hubs draws together a mass of texts that collectively represent or actually comprise the body of Irish literature.

Internet has the capacity to digest as much text as we can throw at it, subject to the human capability for 'digitising' sources and the legal entitlement to do so. Given enough scanners (that is, people to scan and machines to scan with) and a shed of suitable dimensions—stretching half way across the Indian sub-continent, for example—it is quite conceivable that whole literatures could be digitised. Indeed, Chadwyck-Healey have already proven the case by creating their celebrating English Poetry Database, while the Virginia and Toronto electronic text centres have gone a long way towards emulating this astonishing achievement. One of the more visionary undertakings triggered by the computer revolution has been the Gutenberg Project at Chapel Hill with its start-up plan to 'Give Away One Trillion E-Text Files by December 31, 2001'—a target which the site now proclaims it has fully met.[32] The compilers of the Perseus classics collection at Tufts are chiefly concerned with Graeco-Roman literature, but Bibliomania, Literature Online (LION), and Questia have made considerable strides in gathering in the top-tier of Irish names renowned in English literature; chiefly, that is to say, the Anglo-Irish poets, playwrights and novelists of the 18th and 19th centuries, while further 'Irish' materials are electronically conserved at such 'foreign' sites as the Victorian Women's Project at Indiana University. Among the writers represented there are Caroline Norton and Mrs Humphry Ward, both Irish by birth, while a good sampling of the works of Swift and Goldsmith can be found at the Virginia Text Centre—though not Swift's "Irish Tracts", so necessary for an Irish consideration of the writer, nor Goldsmith's "Carolan" either. For contemporary poets, such as Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, and Paul Muldoon, the net-searcher must cross over to the piratical side of the cyber-sea where enthusiasts will be found to have posted many of their favoured poems and even whole collections. The writings of James Joyce and W. B. Yeats were freely available on the Toronto University and other servers until the recent extension of the EU copyright term from 50 to 90 years. Copies of same at the Oxford Text Archive are blocked by passwords. It is symptomatic of the current lack of a coherent internet hub for Irish electronic texts that the majority of researchers in the field probably resort to the comparatively hit-and-miss results supplied by Google rather than entrusting themselves to the resources of a properly managed Irish-subject website.

What does Cyber-Ireland currently look like? For literary purposes, the most practical starting-point is any one of several web pages put up by Irish-studies organisations such as the American Conference for Irish Studies (ACIS)[33] or the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures (IASIL),[34] both of which give access to a wide range of Irish-interest websites.[35] Others Irish-studies associations with Home Pages include the Canadian Association for Irish Studies (CAIS),[36] the British Association for Irish Studies (BAIS),[37] and the European Federation of Associations and Centres for the Study of Irish Studies (EFACIS),[38] while numerous Irish studies centres located at Bath Spa University College (Somerset, UK), Boston College (Mass.), the Catholic University of America (Washington), St. Thomas's University (Minnesota), Glucksman Ireland House (NYU), the University of Keel and Staffordshire (UK), the University of Liverpool (UK), and the University of Rennes, are easily accessible from these locations.[39] The "Irish Resources in the Humanities" page originally at UCD is a particularly good example of a high-level web page involving professional design standards and a well-organised tree of hypertext links.[40] Besides giving access to other academic sites, this last-mentioned supplies links to a variety of Irish state-body Home Pages, including the Higher Education Authority (HEA);[41] but its main distinction is the gathering of biographical notices, primary texts and critical essays devoted to Thomas MacGreevy, the Irish modernist poet. Not the least interesting feature of this achievement is the fact that the question of copyright entitlements has obviously been cleared with academic contributors, as the appearance of the © sign against their names at the bottom of each page indicates. The Irish Writers' Centre,[42] a creation of Dublin Corporation based on Parnell Square, hosts the Irish Literature Exchange,[43] being a highly-effective Europe-Union funded translation project with links to several other lively sites in the communitarian world of Irish culture. These include prominently "Irish Writers Online" (a concise bio-bibliographical dictionary of living authors),[44] and RTÉ's "Ireland's Millenia" (a compilation of biographical dictionaries by Harry Boylan, 1978, rev. edn. 1998, and Louis Redmond, 1996).[45] PGIL EIRData, compiled and edited by the present writer, is a bio-bibliographical dictionary with extensive quotations from original works and criticism, as well as sections devoted to annual bibliography of Irish studies, table-of-contents of leading journals, conference dates and venues, and other matters relating to Irish studies.[46] It is supported by the Princess Grace Irish Library, Monaco.

A variety of Irish state bodies exist with literary contents of one kind or another. These include the Irish National Archives [47]—a new star in the Irish firmament, though recently comprising a rather barren 'links page' set up under the aegis of the HEA. Several semi-state organisations supporting writers and artists such as the Irish Arts Council and Aosdána (which it hosts online) contain valuable information for cultural research.[48] Having lingered behind the curve for quite some time in global terms, Irish sites of this kind recently advanced at an almost astronomical rate, and none more so than the National Library of Ireland[49] which used to sport a bare web-page stating official opening hours at a date when these were stringently curtailed by forced economies, now happily a thing of the past.[50] As current host to the technologically-brilliant exhibition organised for the 'Bloomsday' centenary, there is nothing laggard about the Library's website today, while even the clunky electronic catalogue introduced tardily enough around the millennium has given way to a lively interface that allows full navigation between all fields of bibliographical data. A key cultural institution long frozen in the aspic of official neglect has thus transformed itself into a worthy cultural flagship under the impact of Celtic Tiger riches and revised cultural priorities in governmental circles.

At present, in fact, the National Library of Ireland boasts one of the most nuanced websites in Irish cyberspace—a title hotly contested by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), which owns a busy and a stylish website featuring the scientific and cultural activities of 'the leading learned society in Ireland'.[51] Best-known for its curatorship of The Book of the Dun Cow and many other treasures, the RIA is well placed to assume flagship responsibility for the construction of an Irish electronic library. It set about doing just this in 1992 in partnership with University College, Cork/National University of Ireland (UCC/NUI) under the striking acronym CURIA, taking the Gaelic manuscript tradition as its target area. The collapse of this arrangement some time after resulted in the chalice passing to the Corpus of Electronic Texts (CELT), the Munster party to the alliance, now left to carry on like Aoife abandoned by her Strongbow.[52] At the outset CELT professed the aim of producing 'an online database of contemporary and historical topics from many areas, including literature and the other arts […] for the greatest possible range of readers, researchers, academic scholars, teachers, students, and the general public.'[53] After a short spell of project work during 1997-98 the web site fell asleep till revived by HEA fund-injections under the "Documents of Ireland" umbrella at UCC which covered project-costs for 2000-03.[54] It now supports a team of philologists including Beatrix Faerber and Julianne Nyhan working under the direction of Donnchadh Ó Corráin, its founder.

While some 650 texts written in or relevant to Ireland are listed on the CELT front pages, only 261 in Irish, Latin, Norman French (along with English translations from these languages) are to be met with on the publication pages. An additional 153 bardic poems are presented in an adjacent section. All of these have been made available in HTML, plain text and/or graphic-based SGML formats, and—if generally without much regard to visual design—all are edited and presented according to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) guidelines regarded today as the world-wide benchmark for digitising scholarly text. Irish literature in English, served up here under the somewhat over-determined rubric 'Hiberno-English Texts', is presented in somewhat lesser volumes. Of eighteenth-century works there are several by Jonathan Swift, though—once again—not the "Irish tracts"; two by Edmund Spenser (pleasing to post-colonial 'argufiers'), and another by Oliver Goldsmith (The Deserted Village—which Lord Macaulay facetiously compared to 'an ejectment in Munster').[55] Of nineteenth-century works, the collected poems and prose of Oscar Fingall O'Flahertie Wilde, a poem of John Boyle O'Reilly and, in addition, the essays and ballads of Thomas Davis have been purportedly 'captured' and hence are listed though not yet edited or accessible. Of the twentieth-century literary harvest we are given the complete writings of Patrick Pearse, together with those of James Connolly and also Michael Collins's Path to Freedom (1923), the "Official Correspondence relating to the Peace Negotiations [between] de Valera and Lloyd George, 1921" and Speeches and Statements of Eamon de Valera 1917-73 edited by Maurice Moynihan (1980)—the last-named listed but not yet accessible—as well as George "AE" Russell's National Being (1916), and a copy of Horace Plunkett's The New Ireland (viz., Ireland in the New Century, 1904). Copies of the novels of Banim and Griffin were at one time available on this site but seem to have drifted away at the time of writing.[56] Thus comprised, CELT reflects a deeply unsystematic approach to digitising Ireland outside of the areas of Irish-language scholarship and nationalist historiography. The general effect is of a snapshot of Irish intellectual life as seen from the vantage point of Spike Island. A preponderance of historians connected with the project is given as the reason for the bias in its English-language archive.

If CELT contains a budding treasure-house of the elder literature of Ireland, then the magnificent display of the Irish manuscripts placed on the web by "Irish Script on Screen" (ISOS), now operating under funded project conditions at Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies (DIAS), more than compensates for the omission.[57] ISOS comprehensively reflects the Irish manuscript collections of the Royal Irish Academy, the National Library of Ireland, Trinity College, Dublin, University College, Galway, University College, Dublin, and Mount Melleray, using a powerful web-technology first developed for the Froissart Project at Sheffield University to display the pages in brilliant colour and detail.[58] Magnification by means of composite image tiles allows the closest scrutiny of the holograph pages, while linked text-versions of the contents along with commentaries upon them where scholarly editions have already been produced make this a powerful research tool as well as a show-case for Irish national treasures. A prominent link to ISOS is maintained on the CELT site and hence reflects a strong element of complementarity and co-venturing in this area. (The role of private enterprise in Irish antiquarian digitising can be glimpsed in the facsimile of An Tiomna Nuadh [The New Testament] (1602) in the printed translation by Uilliam Ó Domnhnaill, mounted on the home page of the Bible Baptist Church at Ballinclog, Mallow, Co. Cork, with Irish hymnal music in the background.)[59]

ISOS was deservedly the focus of attention at the recent colloquium on "Digitisation for Celtic and Irish Studies", held by the DIAS in December 2004, when papers were presented on such issues as the storage of digital material, textual mark-up and text/image interface, as well as giving updates on the progress of Irish digitising projects already underway or completed. These include searchable databases of Celtic Latin texts and bardic poetry, the RIA Irish Dictionary project at University of Ulster (EDIL), and the digitised 1872 catalogue of Trinity College Library. The emphasis of the symposium rested with Gaelic literature of the older periods, which is understandable given research interests at the DIAS's School of Celtic Studies.[60] Yet, strenuously as ISOS is advancing the digitisation of Old and Middle Irish manuscripts in graphic and text-based formats, it will not and cannot address the challenge of creating an Irish national library in cyberspace covering all writing in English and in Irish, any more than CELT, with a similarly antiquarian and philological agenda, can hope to do so. In both instances the specialisms of the staff involved more or less preclude such an outcome. It therefore remains for other centres of Irish literary studies to take up the challenge of co-ordinating and advancing the production of an electronic library of literature in Ireland—in pragmatic terms, the only real meaning attached to the phrase the 'electronic Irish book'.

There is no lack of materials and no shortage of collaborators; only resources and funding are deficient at the moment. In 2002 a symposium was held under the title of "The Irish Book Lover" at the Princess Grace Library in Monaco in order to explore the possibility of augmenting the Library's EIRData website in just such a manner. There the plan was conceived of publishing a selection from The Irish Book Lover (1909-1957), the defunct bibliophilic journal whose achievement was commemorated at the symposium, and this appeared under the Library's imprint at the end of 2004.[61] At the same time a digitised selection from the journal was placed on the EIRData website together with an integrated version of the original index of those 32 volumes. This itself comprises rich material for a worthwhile digital project involving hypertext links (.html) and mark-up codes (.xml) in order to comprise a highly responsive database for Irish literary studies with 'deep field' characteristics in regard to content and significant internet design values. Numerous other journals, already mirrored in some degree on the EIRData website,[62] might well be similarly treated to produce a vast array of tables-of-contents and specimen text, all subject to the usual forms of copyright clearance. Likewise—though more ambitiously—the contents of various library holdings, whether the nineteenth-century fiction collection at Bristol University or the F. J. Bigger Collection in the Central Public Library, Belfast, might be scanned and edited under funded project conditions so as to comprise an electronic archive spanning broad stretches of modern literary history, embracing equally the better and the lesser known authors, with full searching capability in regard to all.

Although present challenges for print culture appear to have been tentatively identified by Joyce early in the last century, the implications for scholars in all literary and historical fields, including Irish studies, remain to be resolved. It is however in possibilities of archiving Irish literature on a large and coordinated scale that the most optimistic outlooks for the future development of the electronic Irish book surely are to be found.


1, For the use and scope of the term "Anglo-Irish" in literary studies, see my article '"Anglo-Irish, Moryah": A Taxonomic Enquiry into the Naming of Irish Literature in English', in The Irish Review, 14 (Autumn 1993), pp.83-93.

2, See the 'newsbreak' at (15 Dec. 2004).

3, and

4, The basic Google address is while and other national varieties cater for the different cultural proclivities of each.

5, Marshall McLuhan, War and Peace in the Global Village (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1968); The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (Toronto: Toronto UP, 1962).

6, Finnegans Wake (London: Faber & Faber 1939), p.148. [148.16-18.]

7, Ibid, pp.380 [380.16] & 309 [309.15-27]. One has only to recall the circular dial of
the old-fashioned 'wireless' to realise how strongly the new device suggested the possibility of a reconstituted Logos ('Now we're getting it. Tune in and pick up the forain counties!': 500.36), even if the experience is inevitably marred by static ('Raw of Gar and Donnerbruck Fire? Is the strays world moving mound or what static babel is this, tell us?': 499.34-35.)

8, Ibid, p.349 [349.10-13.]

9, Ibid, p.353 [353.22-28.]

10, Ibid, p.349 [349.27-29].

11, Ibid, p.6 [006.29-30].




15, Ironically, Joyce was castigated by H. G. Wells for trashing everything that Protestant good-sense had raised up in literature and society, while Logie professed to have been inspired by Wells's science fiction. See Letters of James Joyce [Vol. I], ed. Stuart Gilbert (NY: Viking Press, 1957), pp.274-75 (23 Nov. 1928).

16, See Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1976), p.5.

17, Roland Barthes 'The Death of the Author', in Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana, 1977), pp.142-48.

18, Viz., 'To interpret a text is not to give it a (more or less justified, more or less free) meaning, but on the contrary to appreciate what plural constitutes it.' (Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans., Richard Miller (London: Jonathan Cape, 1975), p.5.)

19, The term 'hypertext' was coined by T. H. Nelson, deviser of the Zanadu electronic text project and with it the conception of the 'hyperbook'. (See the Electronic Labyrinth at The irresistible coinage 'cyberspace' is attributed to the Canadian science fiction writer William Gibson in his 1982 novella Burning Chrome. (See The connection between hypertext and the Baudrillard's term hyperreality is something like the fool's gold of media philosophers.

20, See 'Michael Joyce: An Annotated Bibliography', at #joyceafter. According to his web-page at Vassar College, Michael Joyce 'is no longer maintaining a public web presence'. Afternoon: A Story can be purchased at Eastgate, where a copy of his hyperbook Twelve Blue is available to view ( Several others are still accessible at Vassar (

21, See the account of Joyce's hyperbook in http://www.iath.virginia.ed/elab/hfl08184. His earlier analogue novel bears the title The War Outside Ireland (1982).

22, See

23, Angela Bourke, 'The Virtual Reality of Irish Fairy Legend', in Claire Connolly, ed., Theorizing Ireland [Readers in Cultural Criticism] (London: Palgrave, 2003), pp.27-40; p.36.

24, Ibid, p.36.

25, See

26, See and

27, Dell's website gives this account of their 'purpose-built, state-of-the-art manufacturing complex' in Limerick: 'Raw materials are delivered just in time through forty dock doors on one side of the building, manufactured in cells by teams and rigorously tested. The finished computers are then dispatched via another forty doors on the other side of the building, destined for direct delivery to customers' offices and homes throughout Europe, Middle East and Africa.' (

28, Fintan O'Toole, 'No more identikit Irishness', The Irish Times, 23 Nov. (1999) ["Eye of the Twentieth Century" series].

29, Hypertext links are written on the source document using the syntax filename. A link can be inscribed as a bookmark in another part of a single document. Theoretically, at least, all such documents and sites are one in Informatic terms in spite of contradictory contents.

30, In Chapter Four of Gulliver's Travels (1726), the Houyhnhnm points to Gulliver that one of the vices he seems to share with the Yahoos is the propensity to talk of irrational and immoral things as if they actually exist—in other words, to tell lies. A copy of the work can be found on the EIRData website at library/classics/Swift,Jon/Gulliver01.htm, along with other works of Jonathan Swift.

31, See, for example, the wares on offer at and

32 They evidently mean a trillion internet transactions. Their list of English texts—to be found at—cites only major English classics and 'thousands of other authors'.


34,, located at the University, Ulster at Coleraine (N. Ireland).

35, (As secretary to IASIL for some years and author of its WebPages, the present writer uses its Gateway as his Homepage.)


37, hum/bais/index.html

39, It is fitting to mention the excellent pages that were hosted at St. Mary's College, Strawberry Hill (London), until the recent cessation of the Irish studies courses there.

40, Formerly at UCD, it has migrated with Dr. Susan Schreibman to the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities.



43, Idirmhalartán Litríocht Éireann at


45, millennia/


47, An additional 'guide' to the Archive has been rather gratuitously supplied at

48, and

49, The main catalogue has been reconfigured under the rubric Horizon Information Portal using JSP technology with the separate server address of, readily accessible from the front page.

50, Formerly at The page is defunct—though the organisers of the 2005 St Patrick's Day Parade in New York with a webpage at think otherwise. On that site, too, the link to the Irish Government ——actually points to the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce at, in an uncharacteristic act of geo-political partiality for which the hired help may be responsible.

51, The verdict quoted was given by a member, T. P. Dolan, in his A Dictionary of Hiberno-English Dictionary (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1998), p.217.




55, John Montague, virtually the laureate of modern Irish poets at Cork University and a former department member, has written extensively on Goldsmith. See, for instance, his essay in The Figure in the Cave and Other Essays (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1989), where Macaulay is quoted.

56, Both authors are comprehensively covered in the British Fiction Database at




60, The other schools at DIAS are devoted to Theoretical Physics and Cosmic Physics. The Institute—founded by Eamon de Valera in 1940—is home to a legendary squib by Flann O'Brien relating to an early lecture series in which Alfred O'Rahilly and Erwin Schrödinger purportedly divulged their respective findings that there are 'two St. Patricks and no God.'

61, Bruce Stewart, ed., The Irish Book Lover: An Irish Studies Handbook, with an Integrated Index and an Introductory Lecture by Nicholas Allen (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 2004).

62, See the existing examples in (To enter through the front page, go to and click "Bibliography" then "Journals Literary & Critical".)
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