Irish realism of the 1960s has often been interpreted as a continuation and rejuvenation of the tradition of Irish naturalism, particularly in its concern to undermine the perceived romanticism of revivalist myths in postindependence Ireland. While Irish realist social critique was indeed an important strand of 1960s fiction, especially in the work of John McGahern, this essay argues that it was cross-fertilized by other realist narrative modes, including British documentary writing of the 1950s and 1960s. The Irish New Wave, however, differs in important respects from its British counterpart. Irish fiction registers the ambiguous class position of the Irish in Britain, and narrative strategies common to working-class realist texts, such as the delineation of the relationship between place and community and the representation of social mobility, proved inadequate for articulating lives lived within the Irish community in Britain. Focusing on the figure of the male laborer as represented in contemporary sociological texts and in the work of Donall Mac Amhlaigh and Tom Murphy, the essay examines the development of contrasting narratives of class and community informed both by traditional Irish discourses of emigration and by newly emergent documentary realism.

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