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1902: Yeats’s play Cathleen ni-Houlihan debuts in Dublin, spreading a mythic story that inspires Irish nationalists.
1916: A group of rebels takes over key landmarks throughout Dublin in a failed attempt to spark a revolution across the country.
1916: James Joyce publishes A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a deeply personal reflection of his own exploration of identity, mirroring Ireland’s struggle to define its national identity.
1921: Michael Collins returns from England with a treaty by which the transition to an independent Ireland can finally begin, but back home, nationalists are extremely displeased.
These are just a few of the monumental occurrences and artistic events that rocked the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as Ireland gradually shook off the shackles of British rule. Alongside a long and painful political process arose one of the greatest flourishings of literature in modern times—a spirited discourse among those who sought to shape their nation’s future, finding the significance of their bloody present intimately entwined with their legendary past. As nationalists including Charles Stewart Parnell, Patrick Pearse, and Michael Collins studied their political situation and sought a road to independence, writers such as W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, J. M. Synge, Lady Gregory, and many others took a close look at the emerging Irish identity and captured the spirit of the nation’s ongoing history in their works.
The Irish Renaissance—or Irish Revival—that occurred around the turn of the 20th century fused and elevated aesthetic and civic ambitions, fueling a cultural climate of masterful artistic creation and resolute political self-determination reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. Delve into this remarkable period with The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature. Over the course of enthralling lectures, After laying the groundwork of ancient Irish history and centuries of British rule—from the Norman invasion in the 12th century through the brutal Penal Laws and the Great Famine— we will go brings you inside the Irish Revival, when a group of writers began taking a keen interest in the uniquely Irish culture, from its language to its art to its mythology. This fascination fed into the growing demand for Irish nationhood, for the arts, culture, and politics of the time are inextricable.
Uncovering Ireland’s mythic cultural history worked in tandem with promoting the power of a nationalist political movement. As a consequence of British rule, the Protestant Ascendancy had become the dominant land-owning and political class, leaving Catholics and Irish country folk to nurture their identity, history, and myths under strong—often brutal—oppression. As you’ll discover in these lectures, the formation of the Irish identity in the early 20th century was a fierce struggle—a story clearly captured in the literature of the era.
See How Art Meets Politics intersects in the Irish Revival
The Irish Revival was a literary and cultural movement in which the Irish celebrated their history and heritage through sports, language, and literature. The movement emerged in parallel with the Home Rule efforts to free Ireland from British dominion. You’ll see how politicians such as O’Connell and Parnell pushed for reforms and championed Irish nationalism. Meanwhile, writers including Yeats and Lady Gregory were rediscovering myths and heroes such as Cuchulain and Finn MacCumhaill and bringing them to the center of national consciousness through poetry and plays. The result is some of the world’s most dazzling literature—with Irish political history never far below the surface.
We will unpacks a wealth of deep insights from this great literature:
- Go inside George Bernard Shaw’s determination to dominate the London stage, and see how he used his platform to satirize British social classes.
- Trace the development of W. B. Yeats, who is certainly the greatest Irish poet of the era, from his early explorations of Irish mythology to his later complex Modernism.
- Find out why Lady Gregory is one of the period’s truly great masters—and consider how she reconciled her background in the Protestant Ascendancy with her love for Irish folk life.
- Visit the Aran Islands with J. M. Synge and encounter the beauty and wonder of Ireland’s rural life that so captivated him—and then find out why Dublin theatergoers were not enamored of his portrayals of Irish country folk.
- Survey the life and career of James Joyce, from his early mastery of the short story to his enigmatic Finnegans Wake. Discover a way into even his most complex works.
- Witness the founding of the Abbey Theatre and see how a national theater empowered playwrights such as Synge, Sean O’Casey, and many others.
- Meet Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Heaney, and other post-Revival poets who understood the intricacies of Irish history but who had different views of national identity that in some cases ran completely against the project of Yeats.
Great art is historical, and while this survey of great writers goes deep into both ancient myths and the modern aesthetic, this course presents historical context you wouldn’t find in an ordinary literature class. Likewise, this literary vantage presents a unique view of history that facts and figures alone wouldn’t cover.
Survey the Political and Aesthetic Quest for an Irish Identity
One central tension Irish writers faced was what language to write in. Did they express national solidarity by writing in Irish, and risk a career of provincial obscurity? Or did they choose to reach a wider audience in English, the language of the conqueror? This choice is fraught with