Dr Tina O’Toole is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Limerick. She is the programme director for the MA English, and she currently serves as Treasurer for the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures (IASIL). In 2016 she was overall winner of the University of Limerick Excellence in Teaching Award.
The role of university teacher of literature means dividing my time between the lecture theatre, the office, and the library. These days I mostly teach twentieth and twenty-first-century Irish literature, chiefly fiction. My main research interest is in Irish women writers and activists of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This concentration on writers including “George Egerton” [Mary Chavelita Dunne], Kate O’Brien, Elizabeth Bowen, and others, underlines their efforts to write their way out of the restrictive cultural and social circumstances they found themselves in during the difficult early years of the new Irish state. One of my books, The Irish New Woman (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), focuses on the turn of the twentieth century, and has opened up scholarly attention to the “invisible” women writers of that generation. The level of interest in this research is reflected in the number of invitations I’ve since received to contribute to international journals and key anthologies, and to lecture internationally.
So far, I’ve written and/or edited five books and two journal special issues. My first experience of post-doctoral research and publication was interdisciplinary and collaborative, as Project Researcher on two strands of the government-funded “Women in Irish Society Project” at UCC. As part of that initiative, directed by Patricia Coughlan, Éibhear Walshe, and Linda Connolly, one of my responsibilities was as general editor of The Dictionary of Munster Women Writers (Cork University Press, 2005). That task, which aimed to provide biographical and bibliographical information on women writers between 1880 and 2000, involved contacting and interviewing a very wide range of informants in the province, including local studies librarians and historians, readers and writers groups, scholars, as well as many of the authors themselves and their families.
I have a longstanding interest in retrieving the lost histories of people whose writing and experience falls between the cracks in the official accounts of the past. Coming from a working-class household with a long history of strong women, about whom family lore stretched back over several generations, I struggled to understand why they or their like had never made their mark on the public world. I was lucky in having great teachers who solidly encouraged that interest; I studied with the Dominicans in Wicklow, and then at UCD and later UCC, encountering several inspirational feminist activists and scholars along the way.
With such role models, and a foundational experience of community and scholarly collaboration in UCC under my belt, I’ve tended to find ways to work with like-minded colleagues on a range of research initiatives ever since. For instance, my most recent publication, Women Writing War (UCD Press, 2016) was co-edited with colleagues Gillian McIntosh (Queen’s Belfast) and Muireann O’Cinnéide (NUI Galway) and involved contributions from scholars internationally. This is one way I’ve found to circumvent some of the all-too-real discrimination against “mere” women’s work in the field of Irish studies. Collaborating with, and finding encouragement from, colleagues who have similar research interests and a commitment to the rediscovery of women’s lives and agency has given me great heart and a sense of solidarity over the years. So if I were in the business of giving advice to younger scholars it would be that: take heart, believe in your work, and find good people to collaborate with.