The Sound of the Shuttle: Essays on Cultural Belonging & Protestantism in Northern Ireland


Gerald Dawe

January 2020

Eloquent collection of essays by Belfast-born poet, written over four decades, exploring northern Protestant identity.


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The Sound of the Shuttle is an eloquent and compelling selection of essays written over four decades by Belfast-born poet Gerald Dawe, exploring the difficult and at times neglected territory of cultural belonging and northern Protestantism. The title, taken from a letter of John Keats during a journey through the north-east in 1818, evokes the lives, now erased from history, of the thousands of workers in the linen industry, tobacco factories and shipyards of Belfast.

Sketching in literary, social and political contexts to widen the frame of reference, Dawe offers fascinating insights into the current debate about a ‘New Ireland’ by bringing into critical focus the experiences, beliefs and achievements of a sometimes maligned and often misread community, generally referred to as Northern protestants.

In making the telling point that ‘The jagged edges of the violent past are still locked within ideological vices’, The Sound of the Shuttle is an insightful and honest report based upon many years of creative and critical practice.

This is an essential book for our changing times.

Table of Contents

1. False Faces
2. Telling a Story
3. Armies of the Night
4. Anecdotes over a Jar
5. Our High Destiny
6. The Sound of the Shuttle
7. A Kind of Country
8. What’s the Story?
9. Cultural Resolution
10. Unhealthy Intersections
11. The Hand of History
12. Postscript

About the Author

Gerald Dawe is Professor of English and Fellow Emeritus, Trinity College Dublin. He has published ten books of poetry including The Lundys Letter, Sunday School, Lake Geneva, Points West, Mickey Finn’s Air and The Last Peacock. Awarded the Macaulay Fellowship for Literature, his other publications include In Another World: Belfast and Van Morrison, and The Wrong Country.

Praise for The Sound of the Shuttle

‘…wonderfully written. Dawe has a fluidity in his prose that moves these pieces along at quite a rate, and a reader will no doubt wonder just how Dawe has taken them from a 1981 poetry reading in Holland to a discussion of regionalism in Ireland without the joins showing.’
Andrew Cunning, The Irish Times

‘In The Sound of the Shuttle, Gerald Dawe has, in essence, written a strongly worded love letter to and about the Protestant culture of Northern Ireland, in line with the luminous writing of [Robert McLiam Wilson’s] Eureka Street: “Because, sometimes, they glittered, my people here. Sometimes, they shone”.’
Brian McCabe, Reading Ireland


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