The Role of Irish Literature in Ireland
Movement to Know / 22/10/2019

From the outset, the nature and function of Irish literature has always been political or used for political ends. However, it is a mistake to bind Irish Literature to nationalism to the exclusion of Protestant culture, identity and politics.   The role of art in Irish culture, and in particular Irish literature, is best summarized by James Joyce in the Scylla and Charybdis episode of Ulysses. He writes, “The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring. The painting of Gustave Moreau is the painting of ideas. The deepest poetry of Shelley, the words of Hamlet bring our mind into contact with the essential wisdom, Plato’s world of ideas. All the rest is the speculation of schoolboys”.   It is not just the voice of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, but also the voice of the poor and dispossessed. O’Casey writes similarly in Juno and the Paycock: “What was the pain I suffered, Johnny, bringing you into the world to carry you to the cradle to the pains I’ll suffer carryin‘ you out o’ the world to bring you to your grave! Mother o’ God, Mother o’ God, have pity on us all! Sacred Heart o’ Jesus, take away our hearts o’ stone, and give us hearts…