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History’s Prison: Escaping the Temporality of the State-Still-To-Come

Daniel Jewesbury
p. 149-161


The commemoration of the Easter Rising invokes a spectral nationalism which, in the Irish Republic, has for some years largely lain dormant. That invocation attaches itself all too easily to a call to “fulfil the destiny of the nation”. This teleological obligation binds us to a future that has already been plotted, in the past. Against such moribund fulfilment of historical duty, it is possible to identify ways of escaping a doomed temporality, in the here and now.

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Full text document will be published online on November 2018.


From the teleological time of the nation to occupying the space of the Republic
In the blank space of the public square
In the female prison …

First lines


The day was dying and the wind was sighing,
As I lay crying in my prison cell,
And the old triangle
Went jingle jangle
Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

Brendan Behan’s play The Quare Fellow, a meditation on a condemned man’s final hours in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison, emphasises the ways in which the routines and confines of the gaol combine to annihilate time: at various points in the play, verses of a song, “The Auld Triangle”, are heard, sung offstage as if by the (always unseen) prisoner himself. The repetition of the chorus reminds us that the only rhythm in this life, the only punctuation, is the jangling of the triangle used to wake the prisoners every morning. Days pass identically, separated, one from another, by the ringing of the triangle. The words of the song, interspersed through the time of the play, introduce the idea – the possibility – of an elsewhere, a space that is outside prison-time, only for the triangle to reassert itself at the end of each verse, jus...

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Bibliographical reference

Daniel Jewesbury, « History’s Prison: Escaping the Temporality of the State-Still-To-Come », Études irlandaises, 41-2 | 2016, 149-161.

Electronic reference

Daniel Jewesbury, « History’s Prison: Escaping the Temporality of the State-Still-To-Come », Études irlandaises [Online], 41-2 | 2016, Online since 30 November 2018, connection on 21 January 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/etudesirlandaises.5035

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About the author

Daniel Jewesbury

Ulster University

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© Presses universitaires de Rennes

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