Article Title

Conflict, Carnage, and Cats: Toward a Comic Cú Chulainn in Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore


A. J. Knox


Martin McDonagh’s plays can be seen as a bricolage of traditional Irish drama, imagery, folklore, and interestingly, stereotypes, melded with the films of Quentin Tarantino and John Woo. A great deal of scholarship has been devoted to interrogating his connections to earlier Irish playwrights such as Synge, O’Casey, Yeats, and Gregory. However, while much has been made of these playwrights’ affinities for folklore, oral tradition, and mythology, there have not been attempts to link McDonagh or his works to these ancient tales and traditions. There are nonetheless certain thematic, ideological, and figural connections between Cú Chulainn, the epic hero of the Táin Bó Cúailnge of Ireland’s mythological Ulster Cycle, and Padraic, the bloodthirsty protagonist of McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore (2001). In the following pages, I utilize the mythological narratives and portrayals of Cú Chulainn as a lens through which to view McDonagh’s contemporary view of the Irish “hero” in Lieutenant, using both theatrical as well as cultural touchstones. Through a comparative study of the two texts, I explore the ways in which McDonagh satirizes ideologies permeating (and permitting) the sectarian conflict in Ireland during the latter half of the twentieth century. To this end, I will focus on his comic subversion of Cú Chulainn’s status as a symbol for Irish nationalism and martial heroism, and his development and construction of a postmodern comic hero for a divided Ireland.

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