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 Sandy mont 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 Ireland er and fought in the insurrection of 1849. He took Yeats under his wing and introduced him to the world of fenian's 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 and wanted them to be one. Yeats never gave up his belief of uniting Ireland through language or on Ireland. However, he was troubled at the thought that his pen could be the cause of war. Although he was politically active, his focus was more on the cultural and literary realms than on a violent rebellion "At the end of his life he was still wondering if his early writing had helped to seed the rising, to 'send out / Certain men the English shot' ("The Man and the Echo, lines 11-12") " (DLB 19,420). [I was unable to find a copy of "The Man and the Echo" in print so I downloaded and from the internet and have attached it.] He goes on further to question how because of his poems, he has caused the destruction of homes and families, "Could my spoken words have checked / There whereby a house lay wrecked?" (The Man and the Echo, line 15-16).
Yeats considers himself responsible for the death of his friends and others family. He is disappointed that his ink could be the reason for bloodshed. The "rising" that Yeats is talking about is the Easter Rising of 1916. On April 24, 1916, a group of Irishmen that called themselves the Irish Republican Brotherhood led by Padraig Pearse and James Connolly's Citizen Army, posted the Declaration of the Republic on the door of the General Post Office in Dublin and declared Ireland a free country. [I have also attached a copy of the Declaration of the Republic for reference.] Unfortunately, although anticipated by the nationalist's leadership, the British Troops quickly suppressed the rebellion and the signatories were swiftly executed as an example to the Irish.
In the end, the rebels "fought with typical Irish gallantry, attacked by soldiers using artillery and outnumbering them twenty to one. Cut off from all possible support from the country, or from reinforcement of any kind, they held out for almost a week, during which Dublin was badly damaged and over three hundred people died" (Coogan, 14-15). Most importantly, the rebels inspired the heart and soul of the Irish population by sacrificing their lives for the independence of Ireland and cast themselves into martyrdom forever. Yeats became possessed with the Irish spirit. He pledged that he would never allow the memories of those who sacrificed their lives to fade. In remembrance of the rising, Yeats composed "Easter 1916", which predicts the "troubles" to persist for years to come in his refrain, "A terrible beauty is born" (Yeats, 53).
Yeats galvanizes the heroism of Ireland's martyrs and implores the Irish to do the same. He does not want the death of valiant men to be in vain. Similarly, James Joyce damned the cruelty of the British in Ireland and calls on the memories of the heroes of yesteryear to instigate the nationalistic pride of every Irishmen. However, there is one great difference between Yeats and Joyce. While Yeats never left Ireland, Joyce believed the only way to fully appreciate the troubles was to remove yourself physically from them. This would allow Joyce to view both sides critically.
He wanted to avoid the most famous quote of Yeats' "Easter 1916,"Too long a sacrifice / Can make a stone of the heart" (Yeats, 54). Joyce believed that to envelop oneself in the politics of the "Irish Question" would only allow for censorship by both the Roman Catholic Church and the British government, and the eventual death of literature, so he exiled himself to the continent and continued his writings there. "When asked near the end of his life if he ever intended to return to Ireland, Joyce responded truthfully, 'Have I ever left it?' " (Joyce, jacket). James Joyce was born in the Dublin suburb of Rath gar on February 2, 1882. He is best known for his novels A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), Finnegan's Wake (1939), and his one book of short stories, Dubliners (1914).
Although all of his works are overwhelming analyses of the social spectrum of Ireland and have undercurrents of political scrutiny, Dubliners is, in the words of Stendhal, a mirror's image of the life and times of Dublin's citizens". The main theme of Dubliners is the paralysis of a society that squanders its moral resources" (DLB 10,271). Joyce condemned the actions on all sides of Ireland dilemma and cursed those who took for granted the blood, sweat and tears of those who have gone before them. He saw that there was no one person or group to point the finger at and instead encouraged everyone to take lessons from the past. Joyce referred to Charles Stewart Parnell as an example to everyone concerned. Parnell, "an Anglo-Irish Protestant landlord, emerged as the leading figure in the Irish Parliamentary Party" (Joyce, XXV ).
Under the leadership of Parnell, the majority of the nationalist groups were united and he used his position to force Parliament to take into account the possibility of Home Rule in Ireland. Joyce believed Parnell's methods to be the epitome of proper political activism and immortalized his convictions in "Ivy Day in the Committee Room". Frank O'Connor considers 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..