Irish Literature and Rebellion
In the heart of every Irishman hides a poet, burning with nationalistic passion for his beloved Emerald Isle. It is this same passion, which for centuries, Great Britain has attempted to snuff out of the Catholics of Ireland with tyrannical policies and the hegemony of the Protestant religion. Catholics were treated like second-class citizens in their native home. Centuries of oppression churned in the hearts of the Irish and came to a boil in the writings and literature of the sons and daughters of Ireland. The Literary Renaissance of Ireland produced some of the greatest writers the world has seen. John O’Leary said it best, “literature must be national and nationalism must be literary” (Harmon, 65). Although there is an endless stream of profound poets and playwrights; John Synge, Lady Gregory, Oscar Wilde, etc., this paper’s primary focus is on William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, and their contributions during the Irish Literary Renaissance and their perspectives on the “Irish Question.” They preserved the names of the heroes of the past and celebrated the Irish spirit through their writings so that the sacrifice of many would not be in vain.
William Butler Yeats was born in the Dublin suburb of Sandymont on June 13, 1865. Interestingly enough, his family was of the Protestant faith. He wasn’t much of an activist at first and didn’t really care all that much for schooling either, “because I found it difficult to attend to anything less interesting than my thoughts, I was difficult to teach” (DLB 19, 403). However, in 1886 he met John O’Leary, an old Fenian leader. O’Leary had been a Young Irelander and fought in the insurrection of 1849. He took Yeats under his wing and introduced him to the world of fenians and fenianism. His influence on Yeats’ writing is undeniable. Yeats began to write “in the way of [Sir Samuel] Ferguson and [James Clarence] Mangan” and evolve his nationalism and anti-English sentiment (O’Connor, 165). Yeats, like Ferguson, saw “literature in Irish was an essential part of the education of any Irishman and tried to make it so” (O’Connor, 150). He toured Ireland and established the National Literary Society. His greatest ambition was to unite Catholic Ireland and Protestant Ireland through national literature. He loved Ireland and the Irish…
…rs this to be “the real voice of the Irish middle class” (O’Connor, 161). Throughout “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” we are introduced to a cast of characters who have been out shaking hands and kissing babies. They sit around and slowly warm themselves back to life by the small fire and sipping on stout. The discuss politics and life, each other, and the anniversary of the tragic loss Charles Stewart Parnell. The story ends with the reading of a poem written in memory of Parnell, which declares him the “Uncrowned King,” and concludes “The day that brings us Freedom’s reign. / And on that day may Erin well / Pledge in the cup she lifts to Joy / One grief – the memory of Parnell” (Joyce, 116).
Through the words and verses of Yeats and Joyce and all the writers of the Irish Literary Renaissance, the memories of the brave have survived. The purpose of the their writing was to kindle the patriotic flame of the Irish and work towards a united Ireland. In the troubles of today, the memory of the sacrifices of yesterday are still strong within the culture and traditions of the Irish. Someday, their dream and the dream of so many who have gone before them will be recognized and achieved.