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Ireland: A world of leprechauns and land-hungry bullies

WE lived in a land of saints and scholars, but how Ireland was depicted in literature, on TV and on film was often very different from reality.

Not only were we obsessed with land ('The Field'), we were also a nation of cute hoors trying to pull a fast one over our colonial masters ('The Irish RM').

We could be repressed ('The Magdelene Sisters'), all-singing, all-dancing with our leprechaun friends ('Darby O'Gill and the Little People'), or a gossipy nation aspiring to join the middle classes ('Valley of the Squinting Windows').

One of the first portrayals of Ireland at the turn of the century was 'The Aran Islands' (1907) by John Millington Synge, which recorded the day-to-day life of the people living on the remote, windswept islands off the west coast.

In fact, we had a bit of an obsession with life on the islands -- despite their being home to just 30,000 people around 1900.

Tomas O Criomhthain published two memoirs in the 1920s of his life on the Blaskets, but for generations of schoolchildren their experience of the Co Kerry islands was shaped by Peig Sayers.

'Peig' was published in 1936, later becoming compulsory reading in schools. Her miserable existence is best summed up where she says she wouldn't have been as happy as a child, had she known the hardship that was to come in her life.

Around the same time the documentary 'Man of Aran' (1934) was released, but much of it was staged.

But Hollywood had no time for such realistic depictions, instead preferring to focus on an Oireland of fisticuffs, dancing and craic.

'The Quiet Man', starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, was released in 1952 and told the story of an Irish-American returning to claim his family homestead in the 1920s, only to be waylaid by a fiery woman and troublesome locals. It won two Oscars.

Cliché was brought to a new level with 'Darby O'Gill and the Little People' in 1959 and 'Finian's Rainbow' in 1968, and this fictional Ireland remained on the screen until latter times, with Tom Cruise's 'Far and Away' (1992).

Hollywood's treatment of the Northern troubles varied, ranging from 'A Terrible Beauty' (1960) starring Robert Mitchum which told of IRA activities in World War Two, to 'The Devil's Own' (1997) where Brad Pitt goes to the US to buy missiles for the IRA.

But sometimes fiction veered too close to reality, with author John Weldon causing outrage when he published 'The Valley of the Squinting Windows' in 1918 under the pseudonym Brinsley MacNamara .

It depicted residents of the fictional village of Garradrimna in Co Westmeath, generally accepted as being his home town of Delvin, as being insular, inward-looking gossips obsessed with their social standing.

Such was the scandal that followed that the book was burned, and his father, a local schoolmaster, was forced to emigrate.

Notable Irish people who made an impression abroad included broadcasters Eamonn Andrews and Terry Wogan, while Brendan Behan took America by storm in the 1950s, regularly appearing on TV.

Designer Sybil Connolly's 1953 arrival in America was marked on the cover of 'Life' magazine under the headline Irish Invade Fashion World.

Surprisingly, considering the size and length of the Irish diaspora, Ireland was rarely the subject of TV shows produced in other countries.

We were depicted in 1980s shows like 'Murder, She Wrote', but the biggest hit was 'Father Ted'.