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…

Movement to Know: The Irish Middle Ages
Movement to Know / 29/01/2018

Unlike other contemporary English-speaking countries, Ireland has one of the oldest vernacular literatures in western Europe, following only Greek and Latin. Irish literacy flourished with the arrival of Christianity in the fifth century; before, the Irish had a simple writing system known now as “ogham.” This system was used primarily for inscriptions, but the introduction of Latin led to an adaptation of the Latin alphabet into the Irish language. This catalyzed the rise of a small, literate class during the Irish Middle Ages.   Most early Irish literature consists of lyric poetry and retellings of ancient prose tales. Some of the earliest poetry available, written in the sixth century, portrays an intense religious faith through descriptions of nature. In the ninth century, Ferdomnach of Armagh, a scribe, produced the Book of Armagh—an illuminated manuscript written primarily in Latin but containing early texts relating to St. Patrick. Ferdomnach wrote the first part of the book in 807/8 for Patrick’s heir, Torbach.   A vast range of medieval and Renaissance poetry follows the Old Irish period. Slowly, the Irish created a classical tradition in their own language. Verse remained the primary mode of literary expression; by the 12th century, writers had established…

Movement to Know: The Irish Literary Revival
Movement to Know / 12/01/2018

Also known as the Irish Literary Renaissance (nicknamed the “Celtic Twilight), this movement marked a flowering of Irish literary talent. The movement is associated with a simultaneous revival of interest in the country’s Gaelic heritage and growth of Irish nationalism in the middle of the 19th century. Early influences include James Clarence Mangan, a poet, and Samuel Ferguson, another poet, and Standish James O’Grady, a journalist and historian. The early literary revival had two geographic centers: Dublin and London.   William Butler Yeats, an esteemed poet and playwright, is credited with developing the movement into a vigorous literary force. Travelling between Dublin and London, he edited and published Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, a collection of short pieces by several 18th and 19th century Irish authors. He founded the National Literary Society; nearly simultaneously, Arthur Griffith and William Rooney, both writers, founded the Irish Fireside Club and Leinster Literary Society. In 1893, Yeats published The Celtic Twilight, another collection of lore and reminiscences of Ireland. In the same year, the Gaelic League was founded to preserve Irish culture, its music, dances, and language.   The Irish Literary Revival spawned countless leagues, organizations, and publications, many of which…