“What was a Family?”: Politics and Sexuality in Colm Tóibín’s The Heather Blazing

Jose Carregal-Romero


Published in the context of the legal reformations and the public debates about the separation between Church and State in the early 1990s Ireland, Colm Tóibín’s The Heather Blazing (1992) centers round the personal and professional life of Eamon Redmond, a conservative judge in a changing society. This essay will focus on an episode where a pregnant schoolgirl denounces her Catholic school authorities for their decision to expel her. My analysis will also draw on the unpublished version of the same episode, which features the actual case of Eileen Flynn, a teacher who was dismissed because she was an unmarried mother living with her baby’s father, a married man himself. Significantly, whereas in the earlier version Tóibín engages with the issue of divorce, in the published text he further develops his criticism over society’s punitive treatment of unmarried mothers. As will be argued, while exploring the tensions between the personal and the political, Tóibín offers in The Heather Blazing a subversive rewriting of the centrality of the Catholic family as a unit of social cohesion and control in Ireland. This essay will also situate Tóibín’s novel through his journalism, as well as through an account of the shifting sexual, social and religious realities and pressures of twentieth century Ireland.



Catholic Church, Colm Tóibín, Eileen Flynn, The Heather Blazing, Ireland, politics, sexuality

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