Irish Literary Renaissance: in English Literature

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      In 20th century, there arose in Ireland for the first time since the ancient Gaelic bards, a group of writers who brought about the Irish literary Renaissance. They felt themselves distinctly and devoted Irish and turned to Irish myth and folklore for their inspiration and subject-matter. Irish born writers like Swift, Sheridan, Wilde and George Moore worked in the mainstream of English letters. But these Irish authors, although they contributed to the English literature maintained their "indomitable Irishry". Besides these Irish writers, such Irish-born writers as George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett worked in the broader contexts of English literature rather than in the specific field of Irish expression.

Among other writers of Irish renaissance, mention may be made of James Stephens, Pedraic Colum, Lady Gregory and J. M. Synge. Pedraic Colum's Wild Earth, Lady Gregory's The Rising of the Moon and J. M. Synge's The Riders to the Sea and The Playboy of the Western World are important works based on Irish life and Ireland's struggle for freedom.
Irish Renascence Writers

      Irish people always rebelled against the English suzerainty over Ireland. England imposed English language and Protestantism (Church of England) on Ireland. Roman Catholicism represented a militant Irish defiance of England. Whenever England was in danger, notably during the civil wars and the Napoleonic era, the Irish rose in rebellion. They continued a ceaseless agitation for freedom, Daniel O' Connell successfully fought for Catholic emancipation, but the young Ireland group sought a united nation of all creeds. The young Ireland group led the unsuccessful rebellion of 1848. Thomas Davies, editor of "The Nation tried to restore Gaelic as the living language of Ireland's fondest hopes for Home Rule came to near realisation through the dedicated efforts of Charles Stewart Parnell. But his downfall split Ireland with devastating effects.

      The first significant manifestation of modern Irish literature sprang largely from a romantic and patriotic interest both in the Irish past and in the contemporary unspoiled peasantry. Almost forgotten heroes of legend were exalted along with the superstitions and customs of rural Ireland. Standish James O' Grady is generally considered to have inaugurated the Celtic Renaissance with his History of Ireland: Heroic period (1878) and History of Ireland (1880). Yeats and most other writers of the Celtic Renaissance received their impetus from him. Douglas Hyde dedicated his life to promoting Gaelic as a living tongue and literary medium. His first published work was a collection of Gaelic tales. His many subsequent works, both in Gaelic and English are devoted primarily the cultural and literary history of Ireland.

      W. B. Yeats promoted the Celtic Renaissance to a great extent by establishing the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899. He had earlier established an Irish Literary Society in 1892 in which he enrolled all the Irish authors and journalists. Yeats had been inspired by the Gaelic movement and was convinced that through a wide dissemination of the Celtic myths, not only Ireland but also the whole modern world could be stimulated. And because no form of literary art reaches so large an audience as the acted drama, he chose drama as the medium through which he would carry out his objective.

      The Irish Literary Theatre, performing Irish plays with professional English actors lasted only three seasons. Yeats's The Countess Cathleen and Edward Marlyn's The Heather Field were staged. In 1902, an Irish amateur company of players under W.G. Fay in cooperation with Yeats and Lady Gregory produced Deirdre by A. E. (George Russel) and Countess in Houlihan by W. B. Yeats at St. Teresa's Hall, Dublin; and out of that performance grew the Irish National Theatre society and the world-renowned Irish players. Yeats was a director of the Abby Theatre, Dublin from 1904 till his death. The most prominent, figures among the dramatists of the Irish Literary Theatre were W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and J. M. Synge. These belong to the older generation of dramatists in the Irish theatre but the younger generation is more numerous than the old. Three names stand out conspicuous St. John Ervine, Lenox Robinson and Sean O' Casey. The main concern of the Irish theatre was to restore ancient Irish folk-lore and to reinforce the struggle of Ireland for freedom.

      W. B. Yeats recaptured the Irish tradition and folk-lore in his poetic output too. Celtic Twilight is his collection of Irish stories. In Responsibilities (1914) he owns his responsibilities to the Irish past (The Grey Rock, Pardon, Old Fathers), to the Irish present (defending Irish culture). Michael Roberts and the Dancer (1920) treats the Eastern Rebellion and resultant disorders. Although Yeats had disapproved of violence; in 'Easter 1916' he contrasts the 'polite meaningless words' of Irish nationalism with the noble sacrifice of the revolutionaries from which 'a terrible beauty is born'.

      A. E. (George William Russel) edited the Irish Homestead and Irish Statesman arid organised agricultural cooperatives throughout Ireland. He was the conscience of Irish nationalism. But in his poetry, he indulges in a kind of mystic ecstasy which accounts for the decline of his popularity in the modern age.

      Among other writers of Irish renaissance, mention may be made of James Stephens, Pedraic Colum, Lady Gregory and J. M. Synge. Pedraic Colum's Wild Earth, Lady Gregory's The Rising of the Moon and J. M. Synge's The Riders to the Sea and The Playboy of the Western World are important works based on Irish life and Ireland's struggle for freedom. Among more recent novelists and dramatists of Ireland, the most prominent are Liarn O' Flaherty, Seam O' Faolain and Sean O' Casey. Irish freedom movement under De Valera got fresh impetus and independence of Ireland was declared in 1918. Irish Free State was created by a treaty in 1921. Protestant UIster chose to remain part of Great Britain. There were fresh uprisings for the united Ireland. The Easter Rebellion of 1916 transformed Irish literature. Writers were purged of Celtic twilight and plunged into a real world of blood-letting and nation-building.

      Irish literature since the Easter Rebellion displayed strong realism, even naturalism. Fiction and realistic prose drama predominate in recent Irish writers and their subject matter was contemporary urbanised Ireland. O Flaherty's earliest fiction depicted the starkly primitive folk of the Aran Islands. During the 1920s he was preoccupied with the contemporary Irish troubles, but since the 1930s he had increasingly searched the Irish past, specially the Great Famine of the 1840s. Sean C Faolain was a valiant defender of Ireland abroad and a severe critic of Ireland at home. His short stories generally reveal the sense of frustration and limitation among bourgeoisie Irish in and around the author's native work. In I remember, I remember, he is concerned with the disillusionment that occurs when Irish dreams and memories are confronted with bleak reality. Sean O' Casey wrote The Shadow of a Gurman, Juno and the Paycock, The Plough and the Stars, Within the Gates, Red Roses for Me, Bishop Bonfire (1955). Exuberant vitality and passionate love for suffering mankind inform everything O' Casey writes. Juno and the Paycock (1924) is set in 1922 during the civil war between the Irish Free State and the IRA. The Plough and the Stars (1926) is set during the Easter Rebellion of 1916. Within the Gates (1933) was the first fully expressionistic O Casey drama. O Casey asserts that energetic youth and life can and must prevail against traditional restraint. The more recent O' Casey dramas (The Star turns Red and purple dust, Red Roses for Me, Cockadoodle Dandy, The Bishop's Bonfire) continue the protests against restraint and superstition in a mixture of realism and fantasy.

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