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What was the Irish Renaissance?

The flag of Ireland.
James Joyce's "Dubliners" came out of the Irish Renaissance.
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  • Written By: Licia Morrow
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 April 2014
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The Irish Renaissance, also described as The Irish Revival, Celtic Renaissance, or Celtic Revival, was a movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that intended to give a new life to Irish, or Celtic, tradition and culture. The period was started as a backlash to hundreds of years of English domination, and can be traced to the book History of Ireland: Heroic Period (1878), by Standish O’Grady. The authors of the Irish Renaissance attempted to create an independent and national type of Irish literature by looking to Celtic legend for ideas, storylines, and symbolism.

At the time the Irish Renaissance occurred, there was a strong national movement toward preserving Gaelic, the traditional language of Ireland. The writers of the Irish Renaissance, for the most part, supported this idea, but despite these political goals, wrote their Irish stories, plays, and poetry in English.

While the main offerings of the Irish Renaissance were literary, there were also advances in music, crafts, clothing, and art that furthered national identity. During this period, embroidery, metal design, jewelry, woodworking, stonework, and fabrics were all parts of a distinctive Celtic style that perseveres to the present day.

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Notable authors that are associated with this period include poet William Butler Yeats, playwright, poet and writer J.M. Synge, dramatist and folklorist Lady Gregory (Isabella Augusta), and painter, critic, and poet A.E. (George W. Russell). James Joyce, who was not an official part of the movement, and in fact ridiculed nationalistic movements, is also grouped with these authors because he wrote mostly about Irish subjects. One of the movement's most famous literary figures was William Butler Yeats who won the 1923 Nobel Prize for Literature. He was honored with the prize for writing poetry that gave "expression to the spirit of a whole nation."

In addition to Yeats's poetry, the most famous literature that resulted from the period includes J.M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, James Joyce's Dubliners, and Lady Gregory's Cuchulain of Muirthemne.

Besides attempting to undo the suppression of the English, the Irish Renaissance movement attempted to establish institutions to equal or excel those found in England. As a result, this period saw the institution of The Irish Literary Theater, The Irish National Literary Society, and The Abbey Theater that housed the Irish National Theater Society.

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