Mythology Folklore and Nationalism in Creating Irish Identity Research Proposal

Pages: 10 (3378 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Mythology

Mythology, Folklore

Irish myths and legends and the movement for Irish independence 'All the great English writers were Irish.' Even before the Irish independence movement of the 19th century, Anglo-Irish writers such as Oliver Goldsmith, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde were famous for using the language of the oppressive English and improving upon it to create great works of literature. "I would argue that per capita there is no other nation that has a higher per capita number of Nobel Prize winners for literature [than the Irish]. Add to this the plethora of outstanding Irish writers who did not win the prize, Jonathan Swift, Brendan Behan, J.M. Synge, Sean O'Casey, Bram Stoker, James Joyce, and more recently Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, Marina Carr, Colm Toibin and Patrick McCabe and you have a truly awe inspiring literary tradition that is perhaps unmatched for such a small nation that does not even write in its own native language much" (Maloney 2009).Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Research Proposal on Mythology Folklore and Nationalism in Creating Irish Identity Assignment

However, despite the success of so many Anglo-Irish writers abroad, as the Irish national movement gained traction, there was increasing soul-searching regarding the development of a national language and body of literature. Many Irish nationalists turned to the language of mythology, re-appropriating past Irish mythical figures to suit the needs of the present-day context. This paper argues that the nationalists used myth is a way to 'construct' a new reality to suit their present political needs, and the creation of a modern Irish mythos should not be read as an actual attempt to understand and recover past Celtic history. It will specifically focus upon the figure of W.B. Yeats, a poet and dramatist who was particularly influential in the initial calls for Irish cultural independence. Yeats is unique because, unlike so many Irish writers, he chose to remain in Ireland rather than to go into exile abroad. He wrote and set some of his most famous works in an Irish context, such as his iconic "The Lake Isle of Innisfree." But despite Yeats fusion of mythology and legend with nationalism in his works, Yeats' relationship with the nationalists was often highly ambiguous. And while Yeats and the nationalists used mythology to serve their ends (creative and political) rather than offered a truly accurate view of what ancient Celtic life and lore was like, Yeats' purpose was ultimately personal and artistic rather than collective in its impetus. The eventual dissertation will compare Yeats' approach to that of authors such as Oscar Wilde (whose mythology deliberately concealed its Irish roots) and Lady Gregory (whose writings are openly nationalistic). This paper will take a postmodern approach to analyzing myth, suggesting that it is a cultural construction rather than something static and unchanging

Literature review: Irish nationalist writing

Thanks to its proximity to England, in contrast to other colonized nations, Ireland was uniquely affected by the legacy of the mother country: its language was virtually eradicated. Thus, in the period preceding the 1916 Easter uprising, "among the manifestations of this changing attitude were the growth of new forms of cultural nationalism -- the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), Gaelic League (GL) and literary revival, and also the occurrence of a number of important political initiatives -- the birth of Sinn Fein, the rejuvenation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and emergence of a stronger labour movement" ("Cultural nationalism," 1916 Easter Uprising, BBC). These institutions support the development of a national mythology and encouraged Irish national self-scrutiny. Cultural and political nationalism thus coincided, and both directly informed one another rather than existed in isolation.

A revival interest of the Irish language and past was seen as critical to the creation of a separate culture from that of England. "They regarded Irish as a vital repository of Ireland's culture and of the country's contribution to world civilisation. Its revival was also seen as a means of preserving Ireland's national identity and of 'de-Anglicizing' the Irish people. Due to rapid social change the usage of Irish had declined sharply; before the famine it was spoken by, perhaps, half of Ireland's population but by the late 19th century it seemed in danger of becoming merely an academic subject" ("Cultural nationalism," 1916 Easter Uprising, BBC). The call for a national remembering of language, a perceived common history and mythology, was a way of rallying support against the English and finding a common, uniting belief that transcended rural and urban divides. It was an argument that Ireland 'mattered,' despite the fact that the idea of Celtic culture celebrated by the movement was a 19th century rather than long-standing notion, given the disparate nature of the actual Celtic tribes.

One of the most prominent exponents of Irish nationalism through this celebration of Irish mythology was that of the writer W.E.B. Yeats. "Yeats became involved with the Celtic Revival, a movement against the cultural influences of English rule in Ireland during the Victorian period, which sought to promote the spirit of Ireland's native heritage. Though Yeats never learned Gaelic himself, his writing at the turn of the century drew extensively from sources in Irish mythology and folklore" ("Yeats" Yeats' failure to learn Gaelic or write in Gaelic is reflective of his relationship to the political independence movement: even while he celebrated Irish mythology, the style of his prose is clearly located in the English Romantic tradition of lyric verse and elegiac rumination about the past and the relationship of humans to the national world.

Yeats is particularly associated with Irish nationalism because of his long-standing residence in Ireland, compared with other Irish exiled writers; his commitment to the development of the Abbey Theater and support of a nationalist cause largely associated with Catholicism despite his Protestant heritage. "A potent influence on his poetry was the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne" to whom he proposed and although she rejected him, became a powerful symbolic influence upon his work ("Yeats," Gonne was said to have refused Yeats because of his insufficient commitment to the cause of independence and unwillingness to convert to Catholicism, although she remains identified as Yeats' muse and acted in many of his plays, including Cathleen Ni Houlihan, a play in which Gonne represented Ireland itself "Set at the time of the 1708 rebellion in Ireland, it tells the story of a young man lured away from his imminent wedding by a mesmerising 'Poor Old Woman' who is a metaphor for Ireland" ("Reading Yeats," Abbey Theater, 2010). Yeats began his career focusing on writing plays but gradually became disillusioned with the medium and what he saw as the public's unwillingness to receive great art, and thus turned his attention more and more to poetry. Yeats' drama was always highly abstract, and his lyric and symbolic style, versus a polemic and popular approach, made his talent more suited to verse. More so than the critical reception of his own work at the Abbey Theater, Yeats was outraged when his fellow playwright J.M. Synge's the Playboy of the Western World was condemned as being offensive to the Irish people because of his humor, instigating riots. This was yet another reason that Yeats turned away from a populist embrace of nationalism in his work (Ellis 2003).

However, although Yeats eventually turned away from an explicitly populist style, his output still remains starkly different than that of authors such as Oscar Wilde, whose Celtic influence in his work was at best masked, or at times undetectable. As a point of contrast, one of Wilde's most famous fairy tales, "The Happy Prince" depicts a self-sacrificing statue in a nameless, placeless city (in contrast to the situated nature of Yeats' Ireland) who gives up everything to the poor, after living a cold and heartless life. At the end of the story, the Prince and the sparrow that helped him in his mission are taken to God in a completely denatured fashion, utterly absent of any specific references to Protestantism or Catholicism (O'Connor 2002).


Postmodernism suggest that myths are cultural constructions and notions such as space and time are created in the contemporary consciousness, not static and unchanging entities. Yeats' poetry, particularly his early poetry, is marked by a strong sense of mythological place. Less about Ireland itself, Yeats' poetic local of Ireland is more of a symbolic rather than a literal reality. "W. B. Yeats's sense of landscape, particularly his sense of certain places (Innisfree, Coole, Ballylee) as cherished landmarks (and even sacred places), is inevitably linked to the poet's ideas of home and nation. Importantly, these places were sites of linkage between all that Yeats valued in the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy and in peasant folk culture" (Ben-Merre 2008). "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" is ultimately a vision of solitude, not collective support, even while it celebrates a bucolic Irish location:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

Even Yeats' more explicitly initial political, poetic… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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