The culture of Ireland includes customs and traditions, language, music, art, literature, folklore, cuisine and sports associated with Ireland and the Irish people. For most of its recorded history, Ireland's culture has been primarily Gaelic (see Gaelic Ireland). It has also been influenced by Anglo-Norman, English and Scottish culture. The Anglo-Normansinvaded Ireland in the 12th century, while the 16th/17th century conquest and colonization of Ireland saw the emergence of the Anglo-Irish and Scots-Irish (or Ulster Scots). Today, there are notable cultural differences between those of Catholic and Protestant (especially Ulster Protestant) background, and between travellers and the settled population.
Due to large-scale emigration from Ireland, Irish culture has a global reach and festivals such as Saint Patrick's Day, Halloween, are celebrated all over the world. Irish culture has to some degree been inherited and modified by the Irish diaspora, which in turn has influenced the home country.
Though there are many unique aspects of Irish culture, it shares substantial traits with those of Britain, other English-speaking countries, other predominantly Catholic European countries, and the other Celtic nations.
Farming and rural tradition
As archaeological evidence from sites such as the Céide Fields in County Mayo and Lough Gur in County Limerick demonstrates, farming in Ireland is an activity that goes back to the very beginnings of human settlement. In historic times, texts such as the Táin Bó Cúailinge show a society in which cattle represented a primary source of wealth and status. Little of this had changed by the time of the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century. Giraldus Cambrensis portrayed a Gaelic society in which cattle farming and transhumance was the norm.
Townlands, villages, parishes and counties
The Normans replaced traditional clan land management (Brehon Law) with the manorial system of land tenure and social organisation. This led to the imposition of the village, parish and county over the native system of townlands. In general, a parish was a civil and religious unit with a manor, a village and a church at its centre. Each parish incorporated one or more existing townlands into its boundaries. With the gradual extension of English feudalism over the island, the Irish county structure came into existence and was completed in 1610.
These structures are still of vital importance in the daily life of Irish communities. Apart from the religious significance of the parish, most rural postal addresses consist of house and townland names. The village and parish are key focal points around which sporting rivalries and other forms of local identity are built and most people feel a strong sense of loyalty to their native county, a loyalty which also often has its clearest expression on the sports field.
Land ownership and land hunger
With the Elizabethan English conquest, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, and the organised plantations of English and Scottish settlers, the patterns of land ownership in Ireland were altered greatly. The old order of transhumance and open range cattle breeding died out to be replaced by a structure of great landed estates, small tenant farmers with more or less precarious hold on their leases, and a mass of landless labourers. This situation continued up to the end of the 19th century, when the agitation of the Land League began to bring about land reform. In this process of reform, the former tenants and labourers became land owners, with the great estates being broken up into small- and medium-sized farms and smallholdings. The process continued well into the 20th century with the work of the Irish Land Commission. This contrasted with Britain, where many of the big estates were left intact. One consequence of this is the widely recognised cultural phenomenon of "land hunger" amongst the new class of Irish farmer. In general, this means that farming families will do almost anything to retain land ownership within the family unit, with the greatest ambition possible being the acquisition of additional land. Another is that hillwalkers in Ireland today are more constrained than their counterparts in Britain, as it is more difficult to agree rights of way with so many small farmers involved on a given route, rather than with just one landowner.
Holidays and festivals
Main articles: Gaelic calendar and Public holidays in the Republic of Ireland
The majority of the Irish calendar today still reflects the old pagan customs, with later Christian traditions also having significant influences. Christmas in Ireland has several local traditions, some in no way connected with Christianity. On 26 December (St. Stephen's Day), there is a custom of "Wrenboys" who call door to door with an arrangement of assorted material (which changes in different localities) to represent a dead wren "caught in the furze", as their rhyme goes.
The national holiday in the Republic of Ireland is Saint Patrick's Day, that falls on the date 17 March and is marked by parades and festivals in cities and towns across the island of Ireland, and by the Irish diaspora around the world. The festival is in remembrance to Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Pious legend credits Patrick with the banishing of the snakes from the island, and the legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a 3-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian belief of 'three divine persons in the one God'.
In Northern Ireland on The Twelfth of July, commemorates William III's victory at the Battle of the Boyne is a public holiday. The holiday is celebrated by Irish Protestants the vast majority of whom live in Northern Ireland and is notable for the numerous parades organized by the Orange Order which take place throughout Northern Ireland. These parades are colourful affairs with Orange Banners and sashes on display and include music in the form of traditional songs such as The Sash and Derry's Walls performed by a mixture of Pipe, Flute, Accordion, and Brass marching bands.
Brigid's Day (1 February, known as Imbolc or Candlemas) also does not have its origins in Christianity, being instead another religious observance superimposed at the beginning of spring. The Brigid's cross made from rushes represents a pre-Christian solar wheel.
Other pre-Christian festivals, whose names survive as Irish month names, are Bealtaine (May), Lúnasa (August) and Samhain (November). The last is still widely observed as Halloween which is celebrated all over the world, including in the United States followed by All Saints' Day, another Christian holiday associated with a traditional one. Important church holidays include Easter, and various Marian observances.
Main article: Religion in Ireland
Christianity in the form of both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism is the most widely practiced religion in Ireland. Christianity was brought to Ireland during or prior to the 5th century and its early history among the Irish is in particular associated with Saint Patrick, who is generally considered Ireland's patron saint. The Celtic festival of Samhain, known as Halloween, originated in Ireland and is now celebrated all over the world.
Ireland is a place where religion and religious practice have always been held in high esteem. The majority of people on the island are Roman Catholics; however, there is a significant minority of Protestants who are mostly concentrated in Northern Ireland, where they make up a plurality of the population. The three main Protestant denominations on the island are the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland. These are also joined by numerous other smaller denominations including Baptists, several American gospel groups and the Salvation Army. As well as these Protestant Churches, other minority denominations include Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah's Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). In addition to the Christian denominations there are centres for Buddhists, Hindus, Bahais, Pagans and for people of the Islamic and Jewish faiths.
In the Republic of Ireland, the last time a census asked people to specify their religion was in 2011. The result was 84.16% Roman Catholic, 2.81% Church of Ireland (Anglican), 1.07% Islam, 0.54% Presbyterian, 0.9% Christian, 0.99% Orthodox, approximately 2.07% other religious groupings and 5.88% identified as having no religion. About 1.59% did not state their religious identity. Amongst the Republic's Roman Catholics, weekly church attendance dropped from 87% in 1981 to 60% in 1998, though this remained one of the highest attendance rates in Europe.
In Northern Ireland in 2011, the population was 40.8% Roman Catholic, 19.1% Presbyterian, 13.7% Church of Ireland (Anglican), 3% Methodist, 5.8% other Christian, 0.8% other religion and philosophy, 10.1% with no religion and 6.8% religion not stated.
Main article: Irish mythology
The Leprechaun has been estimated to figure to a large degree in Irish folklore. According to the tales, the leprechaun is a mischievous fairy type creature in emerald green clothing who when not playing tricks spend all their time busily making shoes, the Leprechaun is said to have a pot of gold hidden at the end of the rainbow, and if ever captured by a human it has the magical power to grant three wishes in exchange for release. More acknowledged and respected in Ireland are the stories of Fionn mac Cumhaill and his followers, the Fianna, form the Fenian cycle. Legend has it he built the Giant's Causeway as stepping-stones to Scotland, so as not to get his feet wet; he also once scooped up part of Ireland to fling it at a rival, but it missed and landed in the Irish Sea — the clump became the Isle of Man and the pebble became Rockall, the void became Lough Neagh. The Irish king Brian Boru who ended the domination of the so-called High Kingship of Ireland by the Uí Néill, is part of the historical cycle. The Irish princess Iseult is the adulterous lover of Tristan in the Arthurian romance and tragedy Tristan and Iseult. The many legends of ancient Ireland were captured by Lady Gregory in two volumes with forwards by W.B. Yeats. These stories depict the unusual power and status that Celtic women held in ancient times.
Halloween is a traditional and much celebrated holiday in Ireland on the night of 31 October. The name Halloween is first attested in the 16th century as a Scottish shortening of the fuller All-Hallows-Eve, and according to some historians it has its roots in the gaelic festival Samhain, where the Gaels believed the border between this world and the otherworld became thin, and the dead would revisit the mortal world.
In Ireland, traditional Halloween customs include; Guising — children disguised in costume going from door to door requesting food or coins – which became practice by the late 19th century,turnips hollowed-out and carved with faces to make lanterns, holding parties where games such as apple bobbing are played. Other practices in Ireland include lighting bonfires, and having firework displays. Mass transatlantic Irish and Scottish immigration in the 19th century popularised Halloween in North America.
Literature and the arts
Main articles: Irish literature, Irish poetry, Irish fiction, Irish theatre, Irish mythology, Modern literature in Irish, Music of Ireland, and Irish dance
For a comparatively small place, the island of Ireland has made a disproportionate contribution to world literature in all its branches, in both the Irish and English languages. The island's most widely known literary works are undoubtedly in English. Particularly famous examples of such works are those of James Joyce, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and Ireland's four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature; William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Three of the four Nobel prize winners were born in Dublin (Heaney being the exception, having lived in Dublin but being born in County Londonderry), making it the birthplace of more Nobel literary laureates than any other city in the world. The Irish language has the third oldest literature in Europe (after Greek and Latin), the most significant body of written literature (both ancient and recent) of any Celtic language, as well as a strong oral tradition of legends and poetry. Poetry in Irish represents the oldest vernacular poetry in Europe, with the earliest examples dating from the 6th century.
The early history of Irish visual art is generally considered to begin with early carvings found at sites such as Newgrange and is traced through Bronze age artefacts, particularly ornamental gold objects, and the Celtic brooches and illuminated manuscripts of the "Insular" Early Medieval period. During the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, a strong indigenous tradition of painting emerged, including such figures as John Butler Yeats, William Orpen, Jack Yeats and Louis le Brocquy.
The Irish tradition of folk music and dance is also widely known. In the middle years of the 20th century, as Irish society was attempting to modernise, traditional Irish music fell out of favour to some extent, especially in urban areas. Young people at this time tended to look to Britain and, particularly, the United States as models of progress and jazz and rock and roll became extremely popular. During the 1960s, and inspired by the American folk music movement, there was a revival of interest in the Irish tradition. This revival was inspired by groups like The Dubliners, the Clancy Brothers and Sweeney's Men and individuals like Seán Ó Riada. The annual Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is the largest festival of Irish music in Ireland.
Before long, groups and musicians like Horslips, Van Morrison and even Thin Lizzy were incorporating elements of traditional music into a rock idiom to form a unique new sound. During the 1970s and 1980s, the distinction between traditional and rock musicians became blurred, with many individuals regularly crossing over between these styles of playing as a matter of course. This trend can be seen more recently in the work of bands like U2, Snow Patrol, The Cranberries, The Undertones and The Corrs.
- Irish Nobel Prize in Literature laureates
Main article: Languages of Ireland
Irish and English are the most widely spoken languages in Ireland. English is the most widely spoken language on the island overall, and Irish is spoken as a first language only by a small minority, primarily, though not exclusively, in the government-defined Gaeltacht regions in the Republic. A larger minority speak Irish as a second language, with 40.6% of people in the Republic of Ireland claiming some ability to speak the language in the 2011 census. Article 8 of the Constitution of Ireland states that Irish is the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland. English in turn is recognised as the State's second official language.Hiberno-English, the dialect of English spoken in most of the Republic of Ireland, has been greatly influenced by Irish.
In contrast Northern Ireland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, has no official language. English, however, is the de facto official language. In addition, Irish and Ulster Scots have recognition under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, with 8.1% claiming some ability in Ulster Scots and 10.7% in Irish. In addition, the dialect and accent of the people of Northern Ireland is noticeably different from that of the majority in the Republic of Ireland, being influenced by Ulster Scots and Northern Ireland's proximity to Scotland.
Several other languages are spoken on the island, including Shelta, a mixture of Irish, Romany and English, spoken widely by Travellers. Two sign languages have also been developed on the island, Northern Irish Sign Language and Irish Sign Language.
Some other languages have entered Ireland with immigrants – for example, Polish is now the second most widely spoken language in Ireland after English, Irish being the third most commonly spoken language.
Food and drink
Main article: Irish cuisine
There are many references to food and drink in early Irish literature. Honey seems to have been widely eaten and used in the making of mead. The old stories also contain many references to banquets, although these may well be greatly exaggerated and provide little insight into everyday diet. There are also many references to fulacht fia, which are archaeological sites commonly believed to have once been used for cooking venison. The fulacht fia have holes or troughs in the ground which can be filled with water. Meat can then be cooked by placing hot stones in the trough until the water boils. Many fulach fia sites have been identified across the island of Ireland, and some of them appear to have been in use up to the 17th century.
Excavations at the Viking settlement in the Wood Quay area of Dublin have produced a significant amount of information on the diet of the inhabitants of the town. The main animals eaten were cattle, sheep and pigs, with pigs being the most common. This popularity extended down to modern times in Ireland. Poultry and wild geese as well as fish and shellfish were also common, as were a wide range of native berries and nuts, especially hazel. The seeds of knotgrass and goosefoot were widely present and may have been used to make a porridge.
The Potato in Ireland
The potato would appear to have been introduced into Ireland in the second half of the 16th century, initially as a garden crop. It eventually came to be the main food field crop of the tenant and labouring classes. As a food source, the potato is extremely efficient in terms of energy yielded per unit area of land. The potato is also a good source of many vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C (especially when fresh). As a result, the typical 18th- and 19th-century Irish diet of potatoes and buttermilk was a contributing factor in the population explosion that occurred in Ireland at that time. However, due to the political rule of the time, the majority of Irish produce (root crops, cereals and animal produce) was exported to Britain, leaving few strains of potato as the sole food source for the Irish. This, along with the spread of potato blight led to shortages and famine, the most notable instance being the Great Irish Famine (1845–1849), which more or less undid all the growth in population of the previous century. The cause of which is attributed by some to an adherence to laissez faire economic policies by the government which kept food exports at the pre famine level leading to disease and emigration.
In the 20th century the usual modern selection of foods common to Western cultures has been adopted in Ireland. Both US fast-food culture and continental European dishes have influenced the country, along with other world dishes introduced in a similar fashion to the rest of the Western world. Common meals include pizza, curry, Chinese food, and lately, some west African dishes have been making an appearance. Supermarket shelves now contain ingredients for, among others, traditional, European, American (Mexican/Tex-Mex), Indian, Polish and Chinese dishes.
The proliferation of fast food has led to increasing public health problems including obesity, and one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world. Due to the current "anti-meat fad", the government has broadcast television advertisements to discourage meat consumption. In the Northern Ireland, the Ulster fry has been particularly cited as being a major source for a higher incidence of cardiac problems, quoted as being a "heart attack on a plate". All the ingredients are fried, although more recently the trend is to grill as many of the ingredients as possible. These advertisements however, do not explain the health and vigor of native Irish people while eating their traditional diets high in both fat and meat.
In tandem with these developments, the last quarter of the century saw the emergence of a new Irish cuisine based on traditional ingredients handled in new ways. This cuisine is based on fresh vegetables, fish, especially salmon and trout, oysters and other shellfish, traditional soda bread, the wide range of hand-made cheeses that are now being made across the country, and, of course, the potato. Traditional dishes, such as the Irish stew, Dublin coddle, the Irish breakfast and potato bread, have enjoyed a resurgence. Schools like the Ballymaloe Cookery School have emerged to cater for the associated increased interest in cooking with traditional ingredients.
Representative Irish Foods
Pub culture pervades Irish society, across all cultural divides. The term refers to the Irish habit of frequenting public houses (pubs) or bars. Traditional pub culture is concerned with more than just drinking. Typically pubs are important meeting places, where people can gather and meet their neighbours and friends in a relaxed atmosphere; similar to the cafe cultures of other countries. Pubs vary widely according to the clientele they serve, and the area they are in. Best known, and loved amongst tourists is the traditional pub, with its traditional Irish music (or "trad music"), tavern-like warmness, and memorabilia filling it. Often such pubs will also serve food, particularly during the day. Many more modern pubs, not necessarily traditional, still emulate these pubs, only perhaps substituting traditional music for a DJ or non-traditional live music.
Many larger pubs in cities eschew such trappings entirely, opting for loud music, and focusing more on the consumption of drinks, which is not a focus of traditional Irish culture. Such venues are popular "pre-clubbing" locations. "Clubbing" has become a popular phenomenon amongst young people in Ireland during the celtic tiger years. Clubs usually vary in terms of the type of music played, and the target audience. Belfast has a unique underground club scene taking place in settings such as churches, zoos, and crematoriums.The underground scene is mainly orchestrated by DJ Christopher McCafferty .
A significant recent change to pub culture in the Republic of Ireland has been the introduction of a smoking ban, in all workplaces, which includes pubs and restaurants. Ireland was the first country in the world to implement such a ban which was introduced on 29 March 2004. A majority of the population support the ban, including a significant percentage of smokers. Nevertheless, the atmosphere in pubs has changed greatly as a result, and debate continues on whether it has boosted or lowered sales, although this is often blamed on the ever-increasing prices, or whether it is a "good thing" or a "bad thing". A similar ban, under the Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, came into effect in Northern Ireland on 30 April 2007.
National and international organisations have labelled Ireland as having a problem with over-consumption of alcohol. In the late 1980s alcohol consumption accounted for nearly 25% of all hospital admissions. While this figure has been decreasing steadily, as of 2007, approximately 13% of overall hospital admissions were alcohol related. In 2003, Ireland had the second-highest per capita alcohol consumption in the world, just below Luxembourg at 13.5 litres (per person 15 or more years old), according to the OECD Health Data 2009 survey. According to the latest OECD figures, alcohol consumption in Ireland has dropped from 11.5 litres per adult in 2012 to 10.6 litres per adult in 2013. However, research showed that in 2013, 75% of alcohol was consumed as part of a drinking session where the person drank six or more standard units (which equates to three or more pints of beer). This meets the Health Service Executive's definition of binge drinking.
Main article: Sport in Ireland
Sport on the island of Ireland is popular and widespread. Throughout the island a wide variety of sports are played, the most popular being Gaelic football, hurling, soccer, rugby union and hockey. Gaelic football is the most popular sport in Ireland in terms of match attendance and community involvement, and represents 34% of total sports attendances at events in the Republic of Ireland and abroad, followed by hurling at 23%, soccer at 16% and rugby at 8%. and the All-Ireland Football Final is the most watched event in Ireland's sporting calendar. Swimming, golf, aerobics, soccer, cycling, Gaelic football and billiards/snooker are the sporting activities with the highest levels of playing participation. Soccer is the most popular sport involving national teams. The success of the Ireland team at the 1990 FIFA World Cup saw 500,000 fans in Dublin to welcome the team home. The team's song "Put 'Em Under Pressure" topped the Irish charts for 13 weeks.
In Ireland many sports, such as rugby union, Gaelic football and hurling, are organized in an all-island basis, with a single team representing the island of Ireland in international competitions. Other sports, such as soccer, have separate organising bodies in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Traditionally, those in the North who identify as Irish, predominantly Catholics and nationalists, support the Republic of Ireland team. At the Olympics, a person from Northern Ireland can choose to represent either the Great Britain team or the Ireland team. Also as Northern Ireland is a Home Nation of the United Kingdom it also sends a Northern Ireland Team to the Commonwealth Games every four years.
Main article: Media of Ireland
In the Republic of Ireland there are several daily newspapers, including the Irish Independent, The Irish Examiner, The Irish Times, The Star, The Evening Herald, Daily Ireland, the Irish Sun, and the Irish language Lá Nua
St Brigid's Crosses are often made for St Brigid's Day
Shamrocks are often worn on St Patrick's Day
The February 1945 edition of The Bell, Ireland’s main intellectual monthly, carried an essay by one Donat O’Donnell on the Irish Independent. The author was described only as having “recently graduated from Trinity College Dublin”. He was, in fact, the young Conor Cruise O’Brien, writing under a pseudonym.
In his essay, he noted that The Irish Times paid nothing for unsigned book reviews. The Independent, on the other hand, paid good money but only on certain conditions.
The neophyte reviewer was given a stern warning: “When you get a book from us the first thing to look for is to see if there’s anything objectionable in it. You know there are a lot of these books coming in now — books with some scene in them. If there’s anything like that in it, we don’t want any review, good bad, or indifferent.”
The problem, it was explained, was that the objectionable bits could not be described in print and therefore some innocent parish priest might buy the book and then there would be hell to pay.
So books were only to be reviewed if they were “all right, right through”. “With the others you needn’t write anything and you won’t get any pay, but you can sell the book.”
That same issue of The Bell carried pieces by Sean O’Casey, Bernard Shaw and others on Ireland’s ferocious censorship; an essay by Peadar O’Donnell on mass emigration to wartime Britain (“If the way were open to the U.S.A., there would be a stampede”) and a gloomy piece by Arland Ussher on the future of the Irish language (“with the improved and cheapened means of travel and radio-transmission which we may expect after the War, nothing is more certain than that the vernacular will very quickly be swept out of its last hiding-holes”).
The only mention of the visual arts in the whole issue was a digression in O’Donnell’s essay calling on Irish architects to present their plans for demolishing the older parts of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Derry and Belfast, “for we want our cities transformed, not patched, and we want pictures of the transformed cities NOW”.
Bleakly livelyThis one issue, chosen at random, gives a rather bleak picture of the state of Irish culture as the second World War entered its last year. Yet it is a peculiarly lively kind of bleakness. In these pages alone, there are three young writers who will go on to great things in three different forms.
There is Cruise O’Brien, later one of the leading essayists of the late 20th century.
There is the first appearance, with the exquisite short story Janey Mary, of James Plunkett, who will go on to become the finest historical novelist Ireland has ever produced.
And there is the fifth and final instalment of a groundbreaking autobiographical series on prison life called I Did Penal Servitude. The author is identified by his prison number D 83222. He will later be famous as Brendan Behan.
So here we have in one snapshot the paradoxical narrowness and fecundity, philistinism and creativity of Irish culture almost 30 years after the 1916 Rising.
Perhaps the key to this paradox lies in the two faces of indifference. In the most sustained satiric attack on the culture of the new State, Denis Johnson’s 1929 expressionist play The Old Lady Say No!, the second act is a burlesque on the arts scene.
It features a salon with the “well-known dramatist” O’Cooney, the “famous novelist” O’Rooney, the “rising portrait painter” O’Mooney, and the Minister for Arts and Crafts, along with chorus of the Irish people.
At one point the minister explains, “Well, a young fellow comes along to me and he says, Now look Liam, here’s some Art I’m after doing . . . it might be a book, you see, or a drawing, or even a poem . . . and can you do anything for me, he says? Well with that, I do . . . if he deserves it, mind you, only if he deserves it, under Section 15 of the Deserving Artists’ (Support) Act, No 65 of 1926 . . . And of course, then, you see, it helps us to keep an eye on the sort of stuff that’s turned out . . . ”
The Chorus intones: “The State supports the Artist./And the Artist supports the State.”
This is a very good description of what we might expect in a revolutionary State, an ideological regime using the arts to bolster its authority. And yet, as satire, it is wide of the mark. There was no Deserving Artists Act. There was not even a minister for arts and crafts – or even so much as a humble parliamentary secretary.
The State had two main cultural interests. One was stopping the spread of “evil literature”. Hence the rapacious apparatus of censorship. The other was the revival of Irish as the everyday language of the people. But even these were shot through with hypocrisy. The wealthy and well-educated could still get their hands on most “evil literature”. And the revival of Irish was as much a rhetorical as a real project.
Beyond these projects, there was in fact a remarkable indifference to artists. The downside was that the first part of the chorus’s claim (the State supports the artist) was largely unfounded. There were some specific projects that the State or its agencies did invest, such as Sean Keating’s paintings of the ESB’s Ardnacrusha scheme, Michael Scott’s Irish pavilion at the New York world’s fair (1939), and Gabriel Hayes’s fine sculptures on public buildings.
But even then, these commissions could be horribly fraught experiences, as with Harry Clark’s rejected Geneva window.
The Abbey Theatre (and later the Gate) received small State subsidies, but here too writers such as Johnson, Teresa Deevy and the wildly imaginative Kerry playwright George Fitzmaurice could suddenly find themselves on the outside for no obvious reason.
What is much more striking than the occasional forays into official patronage is the State’s lack of any sustained interest in developing an artistic hinterland on which it could draw for support.
The upside was that the other part of the chorus’s slogan – the artist supports the State – was equally untrue. Official indifference was a cruel kindness, but a kindness nonetheless.
For architects, lack of official patronage in an economy with a small and sluggish private sector, was hugely problematic. But for other kinds of artists, it was what might be called a mixed curse.
It may be unfair to speculate whether, for example, Keating wold have become a better painter had he not been given a semi-official status and the relative comfort that came with it.
But it is worth wondering what might have become of some of his literary counterparts had they not been alienated from the State.
One can think of a number of major writers – Sean O’Faolain, Brian O’Nolan, Kate O’Brien, Frank O’Connor, Teresa Deevy – whose backgrounds in nationalism, Catholicism or the Irish language might have made them suitable material for semi-official status.
We have no idea how they might have responded to such blandishments. What we do know, of course, is that the State (and the church) spared them the torments of such temptation. They remained, in different ways, on the outside – a relatively free place to be.
Hence that paradoxical cultural space, a gloomy sky lit up by flashes of brilliantly jagged anger.