Irish Literature

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BACKGROUND:
The history of Ireland is not unlike that of Britain in that it is marked by successive waves of invasion and colonization. Robert Welch writes in his book Changing States of a 12th century compilation called The Book of Invasions that details previous invasions of Ireland up to that point stretching back into antiquity (271); obviously "Ireland was a country which was being constantly invaded and resettled" (Welch, 272). When the Normans came to Ireland in the 12th century after having invaded southern Britain a century earlier, the cycle of invasion gave way to a cycle of British colonization and Ireland remains, at least in the North, in an imperial relationship with Great Britain to this day. This relationship has had political, economic, social, and cultural effects on Ireland and its people that have developed over hundreds of years and created situations, some unique to Ireland, others not, that Ireland is still struggling with today in its efforts to become a modern nation state with a distinct and productive culture. Its long history as a colony and the long-term effects of that history make the Irish struggle for and subsequent but problematic realization of nationhood, both imaginatively and politically, a major component of Irish identity. The nationalist struggle for independence, gathering force in the latter half of the 19th century and culminating in (some would argue partial) success in 1921, is an integral part of the island's recent history and was a core movement around which centered not only political activists but writers, poets, and artists who attempted to give voice to an Irish national spirit. I would like to look at three literary works that are framed around the years closely preceding and following the creation of the Irish Free State and that touch on some of the issues and problems associated with the Irish nationalist struggle and its aftermath. These will be the short story by James Joyce entitled Ivy Day in the Committee Room, the poem by William Butler Yeats called Easter, 1916, and the short story Rock-in-the-Mass by Daniel Corkery. Colonial History of Ireland

However, before discussing these works, it might be useful to present a brief synopsis of the political situation in Ireland from the 1600's until the period of the first story, Ivy Day..., which is set between 1900 and 1910, since an understanding of these historical conditions can only deepen an appreciation of the chosen works. Ian Lustick points out in his study State- Building Failure in British Ireland & French Algeria that "few historians of British imperialism include Ireland within the purview of their studies" and tend to treat Ireland and the Irish question as idiosyncratic, or as "the great exception" (77); this, I suppose, because Ireland has neither successfully assimilated into the British state as Wales and Scotland have nor completely broken with Great Britain in a successful bid for independence as most of Britain's former colonies have (British troops still occupy Northern Ireland). Lustick's explanation for Ireland's unique situation is clarifying and intriguing. He writes that as early as 1557 under Henry the VIII, the English Crown desired ultimately to incorporate Ireland into the realm of British authority and the vehicle for this was seen to be the implantation of British settlers into Ireland who would Anglicize the natives (6-7). There were successive waves of these settlers until the 18th century but the effect was not to legitimize British rule among the Catholic majority but rather the large settler populations interrupted the processes of the British co-option of the local elites and the extension of political rights to the native population that Lustick maintains is necessary to redirect loyalty to new central authorities and are processes essential in successful state-building (8). Lustick agrees with the assessment of the Irish situation given by British politician Sir John Davies in...
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