Notable Periods in the History of Irish Literature


Irish Literature in the 12th century
During the 12th century, Ireland was divided into a fluid hierarchy of petty kingdoms and over-kingdoms. Power was concentrated in the hands of regional dynasties fighting against each other for the control or more land. One of their number, the King of Leinster Diarmait Mac Murchada (anglicized as Diarmuid MacMorrough) was forcibly exiled from his kingdom by the new High King, Ruaidri mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair. Fleeing to Aquitaine, Diarmait obtained permission from Henry II to use the Norman forces to regain his kingdom. The first Norman knight landed in Ireland in 1167, followed by the main forces of Normans, Welsh and Flemings in Wexford in 1169. Within a short time, Leinster was regained, Waterford and Dublin were under Diarmait’s control, and he had Strongbow as a son-in-law, later naming him as heir to the kingdom. This caused consternation to King Henry II of England, who feared the establishment of a rival Norman state in Ireland. He resolved to establish his authority.  

Irish Literature in the 14th century

The Yellow Book of Lecan, The Great Book of Lecan, The Book of Hy Many, and The Book of Ballymote. It is this manuscript of Irish sagas, law texts, and genealogies, that contains a guide to the ogham alphabet. Much of the information available on ogham has come from this manuscript and this information is thought to have been copied from a much earlier 9th century manuscript.  

Irish Literature in the Early 19th century
The introduction of the Act of Union 1800 changed the appearance of Dublin; with the removal of its parliament, the nobility of Ireland withdrew to England and left their places in Dublin either to fall into decay or to be converted into public offices, hotels or charitable institutions. This Act merged the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain (itself a merger of England and Wales and Scotland under the Act of Union 1707) to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on 1 January 1801. The act received the Royal Assent on 1 August 1800. Prior to this act the two kingdoms had been in personal union with each other since 1541, when the Irish Parliament proclaimed King Henry VIII of England King of Ireland. 

Irish Literature in the Great Irish Famine: 1845-1850
“Six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearances dead, were huddled in a corner on some filthy straw, their sole covering what seemed a ragged horsecloth, their wretched legs hanging about, naked above the knees.” – Nicholas Cummins (1846).  

The Great Famine or the Great Hunger (GaelicAn Gorta Mór or An Drochshaol), known more commonly outside of Ireland as the Irish Potato Famine, is the name given to a famine in Ireland between 1845 and 1849. The Famine was at least fifty years in the making, due to the disastrous interaction of British economic policy, destructive farming methods, and the unfortunate appearance of “the Blight” —potato fungus that almost instantly destroyed the primary food source for the majority population. Incomplete and missing data has led historians arrive at different estimates of the number that died, but between 1846–1851, most agree that between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 people died. Births and marriages also dropped significantly. Those hardest hit were the agricultural laborers, the class that had increased most rapidly in numbers in the decades before the Famine. As Karl Marx stated, ‘The Irish famine of 1846 killed more than 1,000,000 people, but it killed poor devils only’ (Capital, ipt vii, chapter 25). The poor were the first and the most to die. The unprecedented scale of deaths was not due to starvation alone: infectious diseases such as typhus, relapsing fever, and cholera, killed many.  

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