Ireland since the early Christian period has made significant contributions to literature and continues to do so making its mark on modern literature today; bearing witness also to a renaissance for the Irish language. From poetry to playwrights, Irish authors are known for their deft use of language and play on words. Faithfully depicting characteristics of the Irish in their works as homage to the places of their birth, often to the point of disbarring the perceived social ills of their time or stirring influence for change. The full story of Irish literature begins long before the English ever arrived in Ireland. The Celtic epics, of Irish myths and legends are one of the great oral literary traditions in world history and poetry and folklore of our native tongue is created, still, to this day.
Few Irish writers were able to stand out during English oppression as most of the Irish were uneducated farmers who had little or no opportunity to express themselves in writing. As time passed, the most talented of Irish writers went to England to pursue the greater opportunities there and this trend of writers leaving the country had continued into modern history. Between 1600 and 1900, the people with the best opportunities to write and publish in Ireland were members of the Anglo-Irish ruling class. Although generally identified as British, their works were heavily influenced by the Irish and their emotional ties to Ireland surfaced in the content and style of their work. In the works of Swift, Wilde, Stoker and the poetry of W. B Yeats, regardless of the view on Ireland – the question of irishness demanded attention. In the works of writers such as Joyce and Shaw, despite their dislike for the land of their birth and their wish to escape it, they too could not deny the country and the city that shaped them – a country which in modern times has evolved and modernised pursuing still its distinctive mark on literature.
Despite the great exodus of Irish writers within the last 100 years the growth of Irish consciousness has created a greater distinction between the cultures of Ireland and England, in the minds of both the Irish and the rest of the world. This distinction, the pursuit of distinguishing the Irish and Ireland as our own fuelled our literary revival creating a body of Irish literature that would stand shoulder to shoulder with that of the rest of Europe.
For more on the history of Irish Literature:
Gabriel Rosenstock’s discussion on: The Irish Language and its literature.