chapter  8
Fragments, Politics, and “The Bells of Shandon”
WithFergus Dunne
Pages 23

This chapter provides an introductory analysis of Francis Sylvester Mahony's literary reputation. It examines the competing ideological interpretations accommodated by the piece, which, in many ways, typified the intricate aesthetic dialectic that informed much of his work. If, on the one hand, Mahony's remarks commence the ballad's seriocomic comparisons of provincial Cork and cosmopolitan Europe, they also alert the reader to the possibility that Shandon Church may reflect the rich and troubled history of its surrounding area. Superficially at least, Mahony's most famous poetic creation concerns the nostalgic comparison of the Shandon bells with the better-known sounds of Moscow, Notre-Dame of Paris, St. Peter's of Rome, and the minarets of St. Sophia in Istanbul. The tonal instability of the poem – its unusual combination of sincerity and sarcasm, which Mahony liked to emphasize in performance – was produced by its fusion of nostalgically nativist and irreverently anti-nationalist sentiments.