England's role in Ireland prior to this had dated back to the 12th century conquest of Ireland. Henry VIII took the title of "King of Ireland" in 1541. England's role in Ireland has been contested ever since. When Charles II assumed the English throne in 1660, any Catholics who had lost their property through eviction were not able to reclaim it. James II followed on the throne, but fled to Ireland when William of Orange and his wife, protestant Mary Stuart, were invited by Parliament to assume the throne. William's reign initiated a lengthy period of misery for Irish Catholics. They were:
* evicted from their property
* restricted from accessing education,
* unable to bear arms,
* unable to pass land to their heirs
* Unable to vote.
Some of these laws were less rigorously enforced in the late 18th century, providing the context for political upheaval at that time. Political context
The Act of Union of 1809 brought Ireland into the United Kingdom. In the later 19thcentury, a greater awareness of nationalism was followed by the movement toward Irish rule led by politicians such as Charles Stewart Parnell. It aimed at the revival of the Irish language and independence from England. There have been many periods of discontent between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and between Ireland and the U.K. This tension came to a head in the late 1960s through the sharp contrasts between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the oppressed and the Catholics and the protestant Anglo-Irish. These divisions were also reflected in the theatre of the time. Cultural context
Along with the quest for Nationalism, came the growth of Irish cultural identity, such as the foundation of the Irish Literary Theatre (later the Abbey Theatre) by the poet W.B. Yeats and the playwrights J.M. Synge and Lady Augusta Gregory in Dublin in 1899. The aim of this company was to "build up a Celtic and Irish school of dramatic literature." Until 1930, the Abbey succeeded in producing a diverse array of plays on national subjects, such as peasant dramas like Synge's “Playboy of the Western World”, or naturalistic plays of urban working class life, like O'Casey's “The Plough and the Stars”. The Abbey Theatre fostered an Irish performance style and the context for a national theatre company as well. It remains a leading theatre company in the Republic of Ireland and several leading Irish playwrights have had important productions of their work there, including Tom Murphy, Frank McGuiness and Marina Carr. Cultural identity
In the last decades of the twentieth century, there was a stronger move to an Irish "identity," not only in Ireland, but in the countries where Irish emigrants had settled and made their mark. "Visiting Ireland" became an aim of many Americans, Canadians and Australians who had begun to value their Irish roots, and there are few major cities in these countries that don't have Irish "pubs" with Irish music and entertainment. Irish musicians, writers and film makers began a proud new cultural tradition of local material which spread across the world. Dramatic history
Although Ulster and Dublin had had theatres of their own before this time, they had been programmed with an English repertoire and often the only Irish characters featured were stereotypes, such as comic and drunken fools or 'Stage Irishmen.' 1630-1897
Although there was apparently some drama in Ireland during the Middle Ages, there are few records of any dramatic performances before the 17th century. The first public theatre in Dublin was built in 1637 by John Ogilby, a Scottish dancing master. He brought over from London productions such as the historical Irish play, St Patrick for Ireland by James Shirley. The theatre was closed, however, when Oliver Cromwell was in power in Britain. In 1661, after the Restoration, Ogilby obtained a Royal grant to build the Smock Alley (or Orange Street) Theatre....