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So Funny It Hurts: Irish Comic Fiction - ENG00098H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Bryan Radley
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

“Irish jokes break bones”, Punch magazine once claimed. The pleasure and power – and the pain – of humour underpins the global reputation of Irish literature. The wit of Anglo-Irish writers on the page and stage comes to mind (from Swift to Somerville and Ross, Edgeworth to Wilde), as does the multivalent, modernist humour of Joyce’s Ulysses, in which the comedy is at once antic, linguistic, parodic, philosophical, and scatological. Indeed, in an influential 1962 book entitled The Irish Comic Tradition, the critic Vivian Mercier identified comedy as the principal wellspring of Irish writing.

This module will consider an excitingly diverse range of novels and short stories that grow out of that tradition. Ranging from the 1930s to the present, these texts offer intriguing examples of how humorous fiction has illuminated Irish life. We will think about how humour operates in Irish fiction, what its targets and limitations are, and what the laughter generated in and by these texts can reveal about culture, politics, and society on the island of Ireland. We will examine the ways in which humour is used to examine the traumas of modern Irish history, and to expose power dynamics around class, gender and sexuality, emigration and immigration, language, nationality, race, and religion. In doing so, we will consider the three main theoretical approaches to comedy (in other words, the incongruity, relief, and superiority theories of humour), as well as the ethics, aesthetics, generic status, literary prestige, and publication contexts of Irish comic fiction.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

This module offers an advanced introduction to humour in modern and contemporary Irish short stories and novels. The aim is to present a range of theoretical approaches to comic literature, which will help you to identify and analyse the types of humour found in Irish fiction and explore what comic narratives can reveal about the commitments, tensions, and traumas of Irish society.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with Irish comic fiction since the 1930s.
  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with theories of humour, scholarship on Irish literature, and the cultural and political contexts of modern and contemporary Irish fiction.
  3. Evaluate key debates within Humour Studies and Irish Studies, particularly in relation to comic fiction.
  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to submit a 1000-word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3000-word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.

Your essay will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks.

You will submit your summative essay via the VLE during the revision and assessment weeks at the end of the teaching semester (weeks 13-15). Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to e:Vision to meet the University’s marking deadlines


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

Texts studied on the module may include (in chronological order):

  • Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman (written 1939/40; published 1967)
  • Extracts from Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Cré na Cille (1949; transl. as Graveyard Clay and The Dirty Dust, both 2016) and An Eochair (1953; transl. as The Key, 2015)
  • Short Stories I – by the likes of (in alphabetical order): Samuel Beckett, Elizabeth Bowen, Maeve Brennan, Mary Lavin, Frank O’Connor, and John McGahern
  • Molly Keane, Good Behaviour (1981)
  • A novel or novella by John Banville [e.g., The Newton Letter (1982) or The Book of Evidence (1989)]
  • A novel or collection of short stories by Emma Donoghue [e.g., Stir-Fry (1994) or Touchy Subjects (2011)]
  • Kevin Barry, There are Little Kingdoms (2007)
  • Claire Kilroy, The Devil I Know (2012)
  • Short Stories II – by the likes of Jan Carson, Oein DeBhairduin, Mary Dorcey, Yan Ge, Claire Keegan, Bernard McClaverty, Belinda McKeon, David Park, and Kit de Waal
  • Anna Burns, Milkman (2018)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.