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The Irish Literary Revival

5 min read

The Irish Literary Revival follows a movement of increased literary and intellectual engagement in Ireland which began during the late 19th Century. It was part of the larger Celtic Revival which took place when artists and writers of the time became increasingly interested in Celtic culture. During this time, people became deeply engaged in Ireland’s Gaelic heritage and folklore, as well as the growth of Irish nationalism. Connect with our Irish Writers' Collection here and find out why these writers were so influential.

An Irish Literary Renaissance

The Irish Literary Revival, also known as the Celtic Twilight and the Irish Literary Renaissance, was part of this greater national movement. The campaign focused on bringing Irish heritage back into public consciousness across intellectual, linguistic and political levels.

Another title often used to describe the movement is the Anglo-Irish Literary Revival. This name stemmed from the fact that the rebirth of Irish literature was actually happening in English. This new form of literary expression resulted from the work of all those involved.

Irish Writers of the Literary Revival

The literary works created during this period of renaissance included poetry, novels, plays and even essays. Knowing that a complete revival of the past was impossible, many writers began to express Irish themes in new and inventive ways. At the forefront of the movement was W.B. Yeats who, alongside fellow writers Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory and Edward Martyn, founded the Irish Literary Theatre (later renamed the Abbey Theatre).

William Butler Yeats

W.B. Yeats was an Irish poet and a driving force in the Literary Revival. He believed that the endurance of nationalist belief relied upon the revival of Irish spirit and traditions. Such themes appear in many of his poems, including two of his most famous works, ‘The Second Coming’ and ‘Easter, 1916’. His works are not solely built through literary technique, also calling upona deep sense of mysticism that became a foundation of the Celtic Revival.  

Ideas of Good and Evil, 1903

This collection of essays might not be Yeats’ most famous work, but it offers intriguing insights about poetry, politics and the occult. He reflects on Ireland’s changing literary landscape and attributes the preservation of the Irish poetic spirit to bards and storytellers of the past. These essays reveal Yeats’ intellectual and spiritual interests and his deep fascination with literature and with Ireland.

 


George Moore  

George Moore was an Irish novelist, short story writer and dramatist. He worked alongside Yeats, Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn to establish the Irish Literary Theatre and became deeply involved in the Literary Revival. While his works are sometimes viewed as non-conformist, he is often regarded as the first great modern Irish novelist.  

Confessions of a Young Man, 1939 (first published in 1888)


This book is a memoir which speaks about Moore’s early years as a struggling artist in Paris and London. While presented as a novel, Moore’s own voice and experiences shine through. It is not so much about the Literary Revival, or even a result of it, but rather a literary criticism and a discussion of emerging Impressionist artists, threaded with depictions of Bohemian life. 


James Joyce 

James Joyce’s early writings were greatly influenced by the works of George Moore. Unlike his predecessor however, he was utterly contemptuous of the Irish Literary Revival. While he did not wish to participate, his written works are nevertheless steeped in Ireland’s rich and complex history. Joyce’s literary genius has much to be celebrated and many of his works highlight the cultural and political richness of early 20th century Ireland.

Ulysses, 1969 (first published in 1920)

 
The Irish Literary Revival created a desire for a national epic, a desire evident in Ulysses as Joyce voices the absence of a such a text through one of his central characters. The novel is ultimately a political one and is filled with figures from Irish history. It is often hailed as a modern epic due in part to its title and heavy episodic style.

 

Dubliners, 1947 (first published in 1914)


This complex book reflects on life in Ireland at the end of the 19th Century. Comprised of fifteen stories, it offers a naturalistic depiction of Irish middle class life. Each story provides an insight into the unromantic lives of ordinary Dubliners. Written at the peak of Irish nationalism, it establishes a detailed and realistic social and political atmosphere.

 

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was another writer involved in the Literary Revival and his poetry is filled with references to Ireland. Wilde became a significant literary figure towards the end of the 19th Century with a series of famous plays (including Lady Windermere’s Fanand The Importance of Being Earnest).Discover more vintage books by Oscar Wilde here

The Picture of Dorian Gray 

This novella does not solely belong to British literary tradition. Though less prevalent than in Wilde’s poetry, this text also carries an Irish dimension. Irish folklore, while subtle, becomes bound to the book’s Victorian London setting. The plot itself explores the idea of aestheticism, identity, age and the passage of time. As an Anglo-Irish writer, Wilde himself was split between two identities and this conflict seeps into the narrative. 

 

The Importance of Being Earnest 

The Importance of Being Earnest is a comic play that satirises English upper class values at the end of the 19th Century. The entire play hovers on the edge of criticism, though never quite falls one way or another. The play analyses, satirises and exposes a more decadent way of life. It never touches directly upon Irish themes but the tone is one of a partial outsider looking in on a familiar yet sometimes alien world.



Irish Literary Revival - a Literary Dawn

So many authors were part of the Irish Literary Revival that it’s impossible to name them all. Other particularly notable writers were George Bernard Shaw, Lennox Robinson, Maria Edgeworth and John Millington Synge. Amongst them too, the mystic poet George Russel ('Æ') and his contemporary Seamus O’Sullivan.

The Revival sought to provide the public with cultural heritage, to create a sense of national identity. In many ways, it also worked to reverse stereotypes previously associated with the people of Ireland. Irish folktales offered images of heroic endeavors that people wished to draw into the present. 

The literature that shaped the revival movement is still celebrated today. The beauty and complexity of the novels, poems, plays and essays written in the late 19th and early 20th centuries has undeniably enriched the history of Irish literature and will continue to do so for many years to come. 

Country House Library stocks an incredible range of beautiful vintage books by Celtic Writers from the Irish Literary Revival.

Travel back to this exciting time in Anglo-Irish literature with our vintage books here

 



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