Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose The (P)luck of the Irish from March 15, 2015 because we’re coming up on St. Patrick’s Day and because some of our most colorful literature are gifts from our Irish brethren (on St. Paddy’s, we are all Irish!).
Whether or not you wear green, eat bangers and mash, lift a pint of Guinness and sport a shamrock pin that says “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s a great day to consider the contributions of Irish literature to the English lexicon.
The Irish language infuses one of the oldest vernacular literatures in western Europe (after Greek and Latin). In fact, its writing includes Latin, as well as Irish and English. The Latin dates back to the 7th century, written by monks. English was introduced in the 13th century with the Norman Conquest of Ireland.
Until the 1800s, the Irish language dominated Irish literature. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, English rapidly became the main language in society and in literature. A Gaelic revival took place at the end of the century but it’s the authors writing in English who have had the widest, most enduring success.
Perhaps the most famous Irish author, certainly the one who had greatest impact on English language literature of the 20th century, was James Joyce. I posted a piece about him, The Joy in Joyce, on this blog site last June. A long list of other notable Irish authors includes Jonathan Swift, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Edna O’Brien, Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, Colm Toibin and John Banville. Yeats, Shaw, Beckett and Heaney were recipients of the Nobel Prize. For such a small country, Ireland has attained a high visibility in the literary world.
Many Irish-born authors did not remain in Ireland but they brought the rich cultural heritage and the spirit of the island into their writing. The geography, the history, the very air and water infused the themes and the cadence of the novels, memoirs, poetry and plays produced by Irish writers.
Some authors and books to start your Irish journey might include:
Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray (novel); The Importance of Being Ernest (play).
Bram Stoker: Dracula (Gothic horror novel).
W.B. Yeats: The Collected Poems (poetry).
G.B. Shaw: Pygmalian (play); Candida (play).
James Joyce: Dubliners (short stories); Ulysses (novel).
Maeve Binchy: Circle of Friends (novel); Evening Class (novel.
Seamus Heaney: District and Circle (poetry); Opened Ground (poetry).
Edna O’Brien: Saints and Sinners (short stories); The Country Girls (Trilogy).
There’s an Irish saying, “If you’re enough lucky to be Irish… You’re lucky enough!” I’ll add to that, “Even if you are not Irish… luck will find you when you read Irish literature!”