Irish Literature

The literature of Ireland is essentially characterized by four main features: Celtic mythology, educational policy under English rule and related problems typical of the various social classes as well as Catholicism and the family. These topics were and are treated in all three literary genres. This article will now explain the thematic use in prose (fiction) and short fiction (short fiction).


If you ignore the Irish Celtic epics, the story of the longer Irish prose literature begins in the 18th century. An example of literature from the Anglo-Irish upper class is probably the most famous work from this period: JONATHAN SWIFT’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). Often viewed as a children’s book, it is a biting satire on England’s hunger for power and the nefarious British colonial policy.

OLIVER GOLDSMITH’s The Vicar of Wakefield, on the other hand, tells a story of pastoral life in the country from the everyday life of the common Anglo-Irish settlers.

In the 19th century, the stories of WILLIAM CARLETON, who later converted to Protestantism (Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry, 1833) a peculiarity in the otherwise strongly Anglo-Irish dominated prose literature. His stories are satirical observations from the lives of the Catholic peasants, and made a social grouping to lead characters who otherwise received no attention in Irish literature or were only marginal phenomena.

The dramas by JOHN MILLINGTON SYNGE (The Aaran Islands) were poetic realism in which Hiberno-English was made suitable for the stage.

In the 19th century, the genre of the manor house novels, the Big House Novel , arose , which continues in different variations to the present day (e.g. in JENNIFER JOHNSTON’s The Captains and the Kings 1972). These novels tell of the life of the Anglo-Irish upper class and the gradual loss of their social and political supremacy through the emancipation of the Catholic population (Catholic Emancipation). The main representatives of this genre include MARIA EDGEWORTH (Castle Rackrent, 1800), GEORGE MOORE (A Drama in Muslin, 1886, German A Drama in Muslin), SOMERVILLE AND ROSS (The Real Charlotte, 1894), and in the 20th century before especially ELIZABETH BOWEN (The last September 2001, dt. The last September).

BRAM STOKER’s Draculacan also be seen as a parable on the inner decline of a ruling society. A similar motif can also be found in OSCAR WILDE’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). OSCAR WILDE himself is an example of the writer who emigrated from Ireland, who is nevertheless strongly connected to Ireland through his style and his narrative talent.

The most influential writer of this Irish diaspora is without a doubt JAMES JOYCE. His novel Ulysses (1922) is considered the formative work of modernism. With UlyssesJOYCE has opened up entirely new possibilities for creativity in European literature through the experimental use of form and language. The Catholic JOYCE is one of those writers whose school and university education was strongly influenced by the Catholic Church. Catholic images and values, especially sin and debauchery, pervade his entire work. FLANN O’BRIEN (especially with At-Swim-Two-Birds, 1939) and SAMUEL BECKETT are among the direct successors of JOYCE, as they further developed the formal experiments of Ulysses in their novels.

Contemporary literature

Modern Irish writers grapple with a wide variety of developments in society. JOHN McGAHERN’s work deals with the family structures in a rural society shaped by the Catholic Church. AIDAN MATTHEWS novels is strongly influenced by Catholicism and the concept of sin, while Jamie O’Neill’s 2001 published book At-Swim-Two Boys (dt. In the sea, two boys) recalls not only the title of a work FLANN O’Brien, but also openly breaks with the taboo subject of homosexuality in Irish society.

The traditional role of women in family and society is the theme of EDNA O’BRIEN’s work, and caused a sensation in the 1960’s with its supposed freedom of movement. RODDY DOYLE’s humor and use of the Dublin accent, on the other hand, is an example of the novel about the capital and its residents. Other important Irish novelists of the 20th and 21st centuries include JOHN BANVILLE, BRENDAN BEHAN, DERMOT BOLGER, SEAMUS DEANE, COLUM McCANN, BRIAN MOORE, IRIS MURDOCH and COLM TÓBÍN.

Short fiction

The short story is the main genre of Irish prose literature, despite the long list of novelists. There are various explanatory models for this, one of which justifies the popularity of the short story with the strong influence of the oral storytelling tradition in Ireland. In the short story, the same topics are dealt with as in the novel, and writers such as MARIA EDGEWORTH, GEORGE MOORE or OSCAR WILDE have also often tried short stories. Another important short story writer in the 19th century is SHERIDAN LE FANU, whose horror stories are in the same tradition as BRAM STOKERS Dracula.


Irish Literature