Topic 56C – Historical relations between Ireland and great britain. Irish aunthors: sean o’casey and james joyce

Topic 56C – Historical relations between Ireland and great britain. Irish aunthors: sean o’casey and james joyce



2.1 The Middle Ages

2.2 The 16th century

2.3 The 17th century

2.4 The 18th century

2.5 Late 18th century and early 19th century

2.6 The development of Irish nationalism

2.7 The Easter Rising

2.8 Irish independence: The Irish free state

2.9 The civil war

2.10 The Irish Republic and its relationship with the United Kingdom

2.11 The present situation in Northern Ireland


3.1 Literary panorama of Ireland

3.2 Sean O´casey´s life and works

3.3 James Joyce´s life and works




The English have been in Ireland, both as peaceful settlers and conquerors, since the 12th century. It was not until Henry VIII (king 1509-1547) that English interference took its toll on the Irish people. In order to subdue and rule Ireland, Henry sent Protestants to “plant” or colonize Ireland and wrest control of her from the Gaelic and Catholic native population. Additionally, non-Conforming Protestants often went to Ireland where they could worship as they chose with minimal interference from the Anglican church. Subsequent kings and queens, notably Elizabeth I, increased the efforts to install plantations across the island, claiming land for England and forcing the Irish to rent their own land back from their conquerors. This effort to “re-colonize” an already thriving civilization was largely successful, particularly in the area around Dublin and in the province of Ulster, and this began the period in Irish history known as the “Protestant Ascendancy”. All action on the part of the Irish to resist the incursions were soundly defeated by English forces.

In the early years of the 18th century the ruling Protestants in Ireland passed a series of “Penal Laws” designed to strip the “backwards” Catholic population of remaining land, positions of influence and civil rights. The 19th century saw the repeal of some of the harshest penal laws as many Protestants found them impossible to enforce. A few Catholics, thanks to covert assistance from Protestant allies, had also managed to retain their middle-class status during the height of the Penal Laws. The potato blight destroyed the food crops for several years. 1847 was the worst year, for even though the blight was weaker, few tubers remained from previous years to plant, and starvation increased. Many were found dead with grass stains on their mouths or seaweed in their stomachs as they had attempted to stave off death.

In the twentieth century, with WWI over, frustration over the lack of Home Rule (due to the British government’s continuing efforts to cater to the Ulster unionists), led the Irish Sinn Feiners to form their own parliament, known as Dail Eireann. And from there it was an easy next step to engage the Irish Volunteers in the Irish War of Independence. For the next two years the Irish forces, now known as the Irish Republican Army, fought the British armies, including the brutal Black & Tans (decommissioned troops from WWI) in Ireland. England’s resources had been taxed by the war with Germany, and that, coupled with the unorthodox guerrilla techniques employed by the Irish, turned the effort in Ireland’s favor. The war cost many Irish lives, however, and eventually people wearied of the fighting. Consequently, when Britain offered to meet the Irish in treaty talks in December 1921, the leaders were ready to negotiate. Michael Collins, the IRA leader, agreed to British terms for peace, which among other things created a twenty-six county Irish Free State with dominion status.

Many, such as Eamon DeValera (the only 1916 leader to avoid execution, and by this time president of the Dail), opposed the Treaty, viewing it as a sell-out since the six counties left out of the Treaty, 2/3 of the ancient province of Ulster, had been retained by the British to appease the Unionist Protestants living there. In fact, Northern Ireland, as this newly-partitioned area became known, was the largest area which would maintain a loyal Protestant majority. In essence, the British planned to keep at least part of the island, and political sentiment, under British control indefinitely. As a result of the disagreement over the Treaty, DeValera resigned his position. And quickly the Irish Civil War began. This war pitted former allies against one another as the terms of the Treaty were contested by force, and the war resulted in more Irish deaths than had the war with Britain. It only came to an end in 1923 when the pro-Treaty side, now the Free State Army (which had lost its leader, Michael Collins, to an assassin’s bullet early in the conflict) finally wore down its opposition, known as the Irregulars (but still referred to as the IRA by many). The IRA was outlawed by the Free State and its members outlawed.

In 1926, Eamon DeValera, repudiated the more radical elements of Sinn Fein and found a way to circumvent a distasteful oath of allegiance to Britain. As the leader of the new party, Fianna Fail, he was elected Prime Minister, or Taoiseach, of the Free State in 1932 and in 1937 put forth a new Irish Constitution which declared Ireland to be a Republic, independent of Britain. Also included in this new Constitution were provisions making Gaelic the first official language of the Republic and a territorial claim to the entire 32 counties of Ireland.

World War II presented another challenge for Ireland. Although there were some who believed England’s enemies should be Ireland’s allies, and therefore Ireland should side with Germany, many more were unsympathetic to the Nazi cause. Ultimately the Irish Government retained a neutral stance during the war, but in reality allowed both Britain and the US to call upon Irish ports and airstrips when necessary. The next serious crisis for Ireland would wait until two decades later, and Dublin fell into the shadows as the focus of events shifted north-to the partitioned province of Northern Ireland.

Regarding the cultural panorama, in 1830 the Trinity Collage of Dublin became the cultural and political centre of the Irish life and the works of Sean O´Casey in drama and James Joyce in the novel were the main representations of a changing concept of literature and art.

On the one hand O´Casey gave a voice to a social class never heard seriously on the stage before, the Dublin poor. On the other hand, Joyce explored the new lands in fictional narrative and was the father together with the English novelist Virginia Woolf, of the so-called “stream of conciousness” , although he died without noticing the success of his achievements.


2.1 The Middle Ages

By the 12th century, Ireland was divided politically into a shifting hierarchy of petty kingdoms and over-kingdoms. Power was exercised by the heads of a few regional dynasties vying against each other for supremacy over the whole island. One of these, the King of Leinster Diarmait Mac Murchada (anglicised as Diarmuid MacMorrough) was forcibly exiled from his kingdom by the new High King, Ruaidri mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair. Fleeing to Aquitaine, Diarmait obtained permission from Henry II to use the Norman forces to regain his kingdom. The first Norman knight landed in Ireland in 1167, followed by the main forces of Normans, Welsh and Flemings in Wexford in 1169. Within a short time Leinster was regained, Waterford and Dublin were under the control of Diarmait, who named his son-in-law, Richard de Clare, heir to his kingdom. This caused consternation to King Henry II of England, who feared the establishment of a rival Norman state in Ireland. Accordingly, he resolved to establish his authority.

With the authority of the papal bull Laudabiliter from Adrian IV, Henry landed with a large fleet at Waterford in 1171, becoming the first King of England to set foot on Irish soil. Henry awarded his Irish territories to his younger son John with the title Dominus Hiberniae (“Lord of Ireland”). When John unexpectedly succeeded his brother as King John, the “Lordship of Ireland” fell directly under the English Crown.

Thus, as we have seen, the historical connection between Great Britain and Ireland started with the invasion of part of the island in the late 12th century and the recognition of Henry II as lord of Ireland. But actual power was divided among numerous local kings and Anglo-Norman feudal lords. Furthermore, English settlement was restricted to an area in the East known as “the Pale”.

In the 13th century a civil government independent of the feudal lords was organised. Ireland was divided into counties for administrative purposes and English law was introduced. The Anglo-Irish ruled the country for two centuries independent from the English Kings, and they became increasingly Irish, by marriage with Irish women and by adopting Irish customs. Over the following centuries they sided with the indigenous Irish in political and military conflicts with England and generally stayed Catholic after the Reformation. The authorities in the Pale grew so worried about the “Gaelicisation” of Ireland that they passed special legislation in a parliament in Kilkenny (known as the Statutes of Kilkenny) banning those of English descent from speaking the Irish language, wearing Irish clothes or inter-marrying with the Irish. Since the government in Dublin had little real authority, however, the Statutes did not have much effect.

2.2 The 16th century

In the reign of Henry VIII things started to change. After the break-up with the Roman Church he feared that the weakness of Ireland would lead to its falling under the influence of his enemies, therefore he adopted the title of King of Ireland. However, the attempts to impose the his ecclesiastical supremacy got no support except from English officials.

From 1536, Henry VIII decided to re-conquer Ireland and bring it under crown control. The Fitzgerald dynasty of Kildare, who had become the effective rulers of Ireland in the 15th century, had become very unreliable allies of the Tudor monarchs. They had invited Burgundian troops into Dublin to crown the Yorkist pretender, Lambert Simnel as King of England in 1487. Again in 1536, Silken Thomas Fitzgerald went into open rebellion against the crown. Having put down this rebellion, Henry VIII resolved to bring Ireland under English government control so the island would not become a base for future rebellions or foreign invasions of England. In 1541, Henry upgraded Ireland from a lordship to a full Kingdom. Henry was proclaimed King of Ireland at a meeting of the Irish Parliament that year. This was the first meeting of the Irish Parliament to be attended by the Gaelic Irish chieftains as well as the Hiberno-Norman aristocracy. With the institutions of government in place, the next step was to extend the control of the English Kingdom of Ireland over all of its claimed territory. This took nearly a century, with various English administrations in the process either negotiating or fighting with the independent Irish and Old English lords.

In the reign of Queen Mary the settlement of Irish lands by English landlords began through the plantations, and it continued with Queen Elisabeth. But also numerous rebellions took place against the establishment of the Anglican Church, giving place to stronger repression of Catholicism and to the confiscation of land of Catholic landlords. Elisabeth reduced the country to obedience, but the division between the Anglican ruling class and the Irish became the centre of most confrontations in Ireland. The re-conquest was completed during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, after several bloody conflicts. After this point, the English authorities in Dublin established real control over Ireland for the first time, bringing a centralized government to the entire island, and successfully disarmed the native lordships. However, the English were not successful in converting the Catholic Irish to the Protestant religion and the brutal methods used by crown authority to pacify the country heightened resentment of English rule.

2.3 The 17th century

From the mid-16th and into the early 17th century, crown governments carried out a policy of colonisation known as Plantations. Scottish and English Protestants were sent as colonists to the provinces of Munster, Ulster and the counties of Laois and Offaly. These settlers, who had a British and Protestant identity, would form the ruling class of future British administrations in Ireland. A series of Penal Laws discriminated against all faiths other than the established (Anglican) Church of Ireland. The principal victims of these laws were Catholics and later Presbyterians.

The 17th century was perhaps the bloodiest in Ireland’s history. Two periods of civil war (1641-53 and 1689-91) caused huge loss of life and resulted in the final dispossession of the Irish Catholic landowning class and their subordination under the Penal Laws. In the early 17th century there was more tolerance to Catholicism, but there was also an important settlement of protestants from Scotland in the Ulster province. This was the most successful English settlement, because British tenants and labourers were introduced as well as landlords. This has determined the historical presence of a protestant majority in that area.

In the mid-17th century, Ireland was convulsed by eleven years of warfare, beginning with the Rebellion of 1641, when Irish Catholics rebelled against English and Protestant domination, in the process massacring thousands of Protestant settlers. The Catholic gentry briefly ruled the country as Confederate Ireland (1642-1649) against the background of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms until Oliver Cromwell re-conquered Ireland in 1649-1653 on behalf of the English Commonwealth. Cromwell’s conquest was the most brutal phase of a brutal war. By its close, up to a third of Ireland’s pre-war population was dead or in exile. As punishment for the rebellion of 1641, almost all lands owned by Irish Catholics were confiscated and given to British settlers. Several hundred remaining native landowners were transplanted to Connacht. During the Commonwealth Catholics and Anglicans were forbidden to practice their religion.

In the Restoration Charles II favoured religious toleration, but power was controlled by the Protestants again. After the brief interval of James II’s reign in which Catholics were favoured, William III’s victory over James II meant the final subjugation of the Catholics.

2.4 The 18th century

Subsequent Irish antagonism towards England was aggravated by the economic situation of Ireland in the 18th century. Some absentee landlords managed some of their estates inefficiently, and food tended to be produced for export rather than for domestic consumption. Two very cold winters led directly to the Great Irish Famine (1740-1741), which killed about 400,000 people; all of Europe was affected. In addition, Irish exports were reduced by the Navigation Acts from the 1660s, which placed tariffs on Irish produce entering England, but exempted English goods from tariffs on entering Ireland. Some Irish Catholics remained attached to Jacobite ideology in opposition to the Protestant Ascendancy until the death of “James III & VIII” in 1766. Thereafter, the Papacy recognised the Hanoverians as the legitimate rulers. Most of the 18th century was relatively peaceful in comparison with the preceding two hundred years, and the population doubled to over four million.

The Protestant position was secured by acts of the English Parliament restricting to Protestants membership of Irish Parliaments and the tenure of public offices. Catholic landownership by 1703 was less than 10 percent. The Protestant rulers of 18th-century Ireland began in subordination to England but ended asserting their independence as well. In 1720 the Declaratory Act affirmed the right of the British Parliament to legislate for Ireland and transferred to the British House of Lords the powers of a supreme court in Irish law cases. Resentment at this subordination provoked Jonathan Swift to direct his protest against English domination. Therefore in the 18th century there was anti-English feelings both in the side of the Anglo-Irish minority and in the side of the Catholics.

2.5 Late 18th century and early 19th century

By the late 18th century, many of the Irish Protestant élite had come to see Ireland as their native country. A Parliamentary faction led by Henry Grattan agitated for a more favourable trading relationship with England and for greater legislative independence for the Parliament of Ireland. However, reform in Ireland stalled over the more radical proposals to enfranchise Irish Catholics. This was enabled in 1793, but Catholics could not yet enter parliament or become government officials. Some were attracted to the more militant example of the French Revolution of 1789. They formed the Society of the United Irishmen to overthrow British rule and found a non-sectarian republic. Their activity culminated in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which was bloodily suppressed. Largely in response to this rebellion, Irish self-government was abolished altogether by the Act of Union on January 1, 1801.

Not until 1828 did the repeal of the Test Act and the concession of Roman Catholic emancipation provide political equality. The Union provided free trade between the two countries and with the British colonies, but Ireland was in an inferior position compared with England’s progress under the Industrial Revolution. Within half a century agricultural produce dropped in value, while the rural population increased. Then in the mid 19th century the blight destroyed the production of potato causing the Great Famine, in which perhaps as many as a million people died and even more emigrated.

2.6 The development of Irish nationalism

In 1800, after the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the British and the Irish parliaments enacted the Act of Union, which merged the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain (itself a union of England and Scotland, created almost 100 years earlier), to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Part of the deal for the union was that Catholic Emancipation would be conceded to remove discrimination against Catholics, Presbyterians, and others. However, King George III controversially blocked any change.

In 1823, an enterprising Catholic lawyer, Daniel O’Connell, known as “the Great Liberator” began a successful campaign to achieve emancipation, which was finally conceded in 1829. He later led an unsuccessful campaign for “Repeal of the Act of Union“.

The second of Ireland’s “Great Famines”, An Gorta Mór struck the country severely in the period 1845-1849, with potato blight leading to mass starvation and emigration. The impact of emigration in Ireland was severe; the population dropped from over 8 million before the Famine to 4.4 million in 1911.

The Irish language, once the spoken language of the entire island, declined in use sharply in the nineteenth century as a result of the Famine and the creation of the National School education system, as well as hostility to the language from leading Irish politicians of the time; it was largely replaced by English.

Outside mainstream nationalism, a series of violent rebellions by Irish republicans took place in 1803, under Robert Emmet; in 1848 a rebellion by the Young Irelanders, most prominent among them, Thomas Francis Meagher; and in 1867, another insurrection by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. All failed, but physical force nationalism remained an undercurrent in the nineteenth century.

2.7 The Easter Rising

In September 1914, just as the First World War broke out, the UK Parliament finally passed the Third Home Rule Act to establish self-government for Ireland, but was suspended for the duration of the war. Nationalist leaders and the IPP under Redmond in order to ensure the implementation of Home Rule after the war, supported the British and Allied war effort against the Central Powers. The core of the Irish Volunteers were against this decision, a majority splitting off into the National Volunteers who enlisted in Irish battalions of the 10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions. Before the war ended, Britain made two concerted efforts to implement Home Rule, one in May 1916 and again with the Irish Convention during 1917-1918, but the Irish sides (Nationalist, Unionist) were unable to agree terms for the temporary or permanent exclusion of Ulster from its provisions.

The period from 1916-1921 was marked by political violence and upheaval, ending in the partition of Ireland and independence for 26 of its 32 counties. A failed attempt was made to gain separate independence for Ireland with the 1916 Easter Rising, an insurrection in Dublin. Though support for the insurgents was small, the violence used in its suppression led to a swing in support of the rebels. In addition, the unprecedented threat of Irishmen being conscripted to the British Army in 1918 (for service on the Western Front as a result of the German Spring Offensive) accelerated this change. In the December 1918 elections Sinn Féin, the party of the rebels, won a majority of three-quarters of all seats in Ireland, its MPs assembled in Dublin on 21 January 1919, to form a thirty-two county Irish Republic parliament, Dáil Éireann unilaterally, asserting sovereignty over the entire island.

2.8 Irish independence: The Irish free state

The repression of the Rising aroused Irish public opinion against the moderates. In the British general election of 1918 the moderates were defeated by the republicans of Sinn Fein led by Eamon de Valera, a surviving leader of the Rising. Republicans set up a provisional government, elected by the Irish members of Parliament at a meeting in Dublin called Dáil Éireann, the “Irish Assembly”. British government was breaking down except in the north-eastern counties. Simultaneously, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was organised to resist British administration and to secure recognition for the Republican government. In this situation of virtual civil war Britain gradually lost any support from the Irish public opinion and was forced to pass the Government of Ireland Act (1920). By this measure Ireland was divided into two self-governing areas, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Both were to enjoy within the United Kingdom limited powers of self-government. In mid-1921, the Irish and British governments signed a truce that halted the war. In December 1921, representatives of both governments signed an Anglo-Irish Treaty. The Irish delegation was led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. This abolished the Irish Republic and created the Irish Free State, a self-governing Dominion of the British Empire in the manner of Canada and Australia. Under the Treaty, Northern Ireland could opt out of the Free State and stay within the United Kingdom: it promptly did so. In 1922, both parliaments ratified the Treaty, formalising independence for the twenty-six county Irish Free State (which went on to become the Republic of Ireland in 1949); while the six county Northern Ireland, gaining Home Rule for itself, remained part of the United Kingdom. For most of the next 75 years, each territory was strongly aligned to either Catholic or Protestant ideologies, although this was more marked in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

2.9 The civil war

The Anglo-Irish treaty provided that the Irish Free State should have the same constitutional status in the British Empire as the dominions, with a parliament with powers to make laws and an Executive. But most republicans were still against the treaty, because of the oath of allegiance to the British crown and the exclusion of Northern Ireland from the new state. So war broke up in 1922 between the Irish government and the republicans, but a constitution of the Free State was drawn anyway and armed resistance against the government finally disappeared. From then on Irish politics were divided according to the acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. For a few years the supporters of the treaty remained in power, with the party known as Fine Gael. On the other hand de Valera formed the Fiana Fail, a republican party, and he achieved the power in the 30’s and through the 40’s.

2.10 The Irish Republic and its relationship with the United Kingdom

The distance between Ireland and the United Kingdom became greater during World War II, due to Ireland’s neutrality. In 1948 Fine Gael won the elections. The new prime minister, John A. Costello, fearful of de Valera’s prestige, introduced in the Dáil the Republic of Ireland Act ending the fiction of Commonwealth membership. Britain recognised the status of Ireland but declared that cession of the six counties could not occur without consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. After the full independence followed a few years of stability. The IRA had some activity during the 50’s and 60’s, but this did not affect much the relations between the North and the South. The Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom even formed a trading partnership, and they would end up joining together in 1973 the EEC. In 1949 the state was formally declared the Republic of Ireland and it left the British Commonwealth. However, unemployment and emigration were high. The population declined to a low of 2.7 million recorded in the 1961 census.

The Roman Catholic Church had a powerful influence over the Irish state for much of its history. The clergy’s influence meant that the Irish state had very conservative social policies, banning, for example, divorce, contraception, abortion, pornography as well as encouraging the censoring of many books and films. In addition the Church largely controlled the State’s hospitals, schools and remained the largest provider of many other social services.

2.11 The present situation in Northern Ireland

During the 1970s British policy concentrated on defeating the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) by military means including the policy of Ulsterisation (requiring the RUC and British Army reserve Ulster Defence Regiment to be at the forefront of combating the IRA). Although IRA violence decreased it was obvious that no military victory was on hand in either the short or medium terms. Even Catholics that generally rejected the IRA were unwilling to offer support to a state that seemed to remain mired in sectarian discrimination, and the Unionists plainly were not interested in Catholic participation in running the state in any case.

In the 1980s the IRA attempted to secure a decisive military victory based on massive arms shipments from Libya. When this failed – probably because of MI5‘s penetration of the IRA’s senior commands – senior republican figures began to look to broaden the struggle from purely military means. In time this began a move towards military cessation. In 1986 the British and Irish governments signed the Anglo Irish Agreement signalling a formal partnership in seeking a political solution.

More recently, the Belfast Agreement (“Good Friday Agreement”) of April 10, 1998 brought a degree of power sharing to Northern Ireland, giving both unionists and nationalists control of limited areas of government. However, both the power-sharing Executive and the elected Assembly have been suspended since October 2002 following a breakdown in trust between the political parties. Efforts to resolve outstanding issues, including “decommissioning” of paramilitary weapons, policing reform and the removal of British army bases are continuing. Recent elections have not helped towards compromise, with the moderate Ulster Unionist and (nationalist) Social Democrat and Labour parties being substantially displaced by the hard-line Democratic Unionist and (nationalist) Sinn Féin parties.

On July 28, 2005, the Provisional IRA announced the end of its armed campaign and on September 25, 2005 international weapons inspectors supervised the full disarmament of the IRA.


3.1 Literary panorama of Ireland

For a comparatively small island, Ireland has made a disproportionate contribution to world literature in all its branches. Irish Literature encompasses 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, Oscar Wilde, and Ireland’s four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature; William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney.

From the older tradition, many Irish writers in English inherited a sense of wonder in the face of nature, a narrative style that tends towards the deliberately exaggerated or absurd and a keen sense of the power of satire. In addition, the interplay between the two languages has resulted in an English dialect, Hiberno-English, that lends a distinctive syntax and music to the literature written in it.

During the late Middle Ages, the old Gaelic order that had supported the old professional bards broke down, and Irish language poetry started to become marginalized and by the 19th century had entered the realm of folk art.

The 18th century witnessed both a late flowering of bardic poetry and song and the first major Irish poets in English, Jonathan Swift and Oliver Goldsmith.

In the 19th century, Irish poets writing in English set out to reinvent the Gaelic tradition in the new language, frequently translating bardic and other early Irish poets and retelling stories from Celtic mythology in Victorian verse. This trend resulted in the early work of W. B. Yeats.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Yeats’ style changed under the influence of his contact with modernism. The generation of Irish poets that followed Yeats were, to simplify, divided between those who were influenced by his early Celtic style and those who followed such modernist figures as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, both of whom wrote poetry as well as their better known fiction and drama.

In the 19th century, Dion Boucicault was an extremely popular writer of comedies. However, it was in the last decade of the century that the Irish theatre finally came of age with the emergence of George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde and the establishment in Dublin in 1899 of the Irish Literary Theatre.

Joyce is often regarded as the father of the literary genrestream of consciousness” which is best exemplified in his famous work, Ulysses. Joyce also wrote Finnegans Wake, Dubliners, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Joyce’s high modernist style had its influence on coming generations of Irish novelists.

With the rise of the Irish Free State and the Republic of Ireland, more novelists from the lower social classes began to emerge. Frequently, these authors wrote of the narrow, circumscribed lives of the lower-middle classes and small farmers. Exponents of this style range from Brinsley McNamara to John McGahern.

3.2 Sean O´Casey´s life and works

Sean O’Casey was born in the year 1880 in the slummy area of Dublin. Like George Bernard Shaw, he is a Protestant, although he grew up in a poor Catholic district of Dublin. He knows the lower class milieu which features prominently in his plays by experience, trying to earn a living as a candle-maker, dock-worker, or stone-breaker. O’Casey’s father, Michael Casey, died as the result of a spinal injury. The family lived a peripatetic life thereafter, moving from house to house around north Dublin. As a child, Sean suffered from poor eyesight, which interfered somewhat with his early education. He left school at the age of fourteen and worked at a variety of jobs, including a nine-year stint as a railwayman. Sean O’Casey grew up as John O’Casey in the slums of North-Dublin as the son of Protestant parents. His father, Michel O’Casey, acted as caretaker for a house in Upper Dorset Street, where the family was allowed to live rent-free. Sean was just one of thirteen children, eight of whom died in childhood. When Michael O’Casey died of a disease the family was forced to move to cheaper lodgings. In the meanwhile, Sean, who was suffering from a severe eye disease (which would keep troubling him for the rest of his life), had left school at the age of fourteen and was doing all sorts of jobs to bring in some money. Together with his older brother Archie he developed a taste for the theatre and both brothers often staged plays of the Irish playwright Dion Boucicault and William Shakespeare for their family. Eventually Sean also got to play a small part in Boucicault’s play The Shaugraun in the Mechanics Theatre (the place where later the renowned Abbey Theatre would be).

Although O’Casey initially identified with the Irish national movement, he soon discovered that this movement was bourgeois in character and neglected the interests of the working classes. Consequently, O’Casey became a socialist. The transport workers’ strike of 1912/1913, organized by James Larkin, played a decisive role in his life. Together with James Larkin, O’Casey had founded the Irish Citizen Army, which, together with the Irish Volunteers, was to take part in the Easter Rising. However, because of a conflict with Larkin’s successor James Conolly, O’Casey had left the Irish Citizen Army before. Disillusioned by Irish reality, O’Casey turned his back on politics. In his plays, he emphasizes the senselessness and brutality of armed fighting and false heroism and propagates a pacifist attitude which concentrates on man and deems political differences unimportant.

Next to Boucicault O’Casey’s near-contemporary J. M. Synge has probably been the single most important source of influence on the early, realistic work of the Irishman. Synge and O’Casey shared the same passion for the Irish language and dialect and wanted to turn Irish culture into art. Whereas Synge focussed on rural Ireland, however, O’Casey zoomed in on Dublin’s lower social classes, an environment he had experienced first-hand when he was young.

O’Casey’s first accepted play, The Shadow of a Gunman, was performed on the stage of the Abbey Theatre in 1923. This was the beginning of a relationship that was to be fruitful for both theatre and dramatist, but that ended in some bitterness. To performe in the Abbey Theatre had its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Advantage was that it was an important Irish theatre. Disadvantage was that it was a very important Irish theatre. The Abbey Theatre actually was the former Irish National Theatre, which was, as its name implies, a nationalistic institute. Even though the political situation had started to stabilize when The Shadow of a Gunman went into production, still, criticism on Irish society wasn’t something a national theatre was supposed to do. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what O’Casey did. His plays fought against the meaninglessness of violence and the false rhetorics of heroism that were connected to it.

The play is set during the confrontation between the Irish Republican Army and the British forces. The protagonist is mistaken with a revolutionary and people admire him. However, eventually it is a woman who pays with her life for masculine politics and vanity. In The Shadow of a Gunman, which is autobiographic in character, O’Casey draws a realistic picture of one of the bloodiest periods in Irish history. The events involving the play’s protagonists, the poet Donal Davoren, the salesman Seumas Shields, and the girl Minnie Powell, reflect the bloody conflicts between the IRA and the English troops climaxing in the year 1920.

It was followed by Juno and the Paycock (1924). It deals with the impact of the Irish Civil War on the working class poor of the city. It has been considered his masterpiece. The setting chosen is again the same, but the political background is now the Civil War of 1922.

Through an apparently comic plot, the play tells the story of a poor family, the Boyles, leading by the dominating figure of Juno, the mother who tries to solve the pregnancy of her single daughter, the arrest of her son who is involved in the civil disturbances, and the difficult relationship with her husband, the Peacock, an unemployed Dubliner who spends his money and time in the pubs of the city. Her charity and fortitude shine nevertheless in contrast to all the tragedies that happen to her. Juno and the Paycock was successfully filmed by Alfred Hitchcock. In 1959 O’Casey gave his blessing to a musical adaptation of the play by American composer Marc Blitzstein. The musical, retitled Juno, was a commercial failure, closing after only 16 Broadway performances. It was also panned by some critics as being too “dark” to be an appropriate musical, a genre then almost invariably associated with light comedy. However, the music, which survives in a cast album made before the show opened, has since been regarded as some of Blitzstein’s best work. Although endorsed by O’Casey, he, at age 79, made no effort to cross the Atlantic to contribute any input to the production or even to view it in its brief run prior to its closing. Despite general agreement on the brilliance of the underlying material, the musical has defied all efforts to mount any successful revival of it.

Next came The Plough and the Stars (1926), which is set during the Easter Rising of 1916. This play contrasts again the vanity of fanatical revolutionaries with the suffering of their women. The protagonist tries to keep her husband away from the battles, but he is too vain and too stubborn. Eventually he dies, and she looses her child and goes insane. Once again O´Casey presents strong women who work, suffer and sacrifice herself to keep their homes together in contrast to men who tend to be mock-heroic. After the riots of the patriots against this play and the rejection by the Abbey of his following play The Silver Tassie, contributed to O’Casey’s disappointment and his emigration to England. where he lived the rest of his life. Henceforward, O’Casey turned his back on realistic drama and experimented with quite a number of dramatic forms. However, he did not succeed in repeating the success of his Dublin Trilogy.

These early plays are marked by mixing feelings about the Irish working class: on the one hand, he admires his compatriots for the unconquerable spirit; on the other hand, he rejects them because they are unable to give a solid direction to the Irish cause.

Once in England he married an American actress and didn’t want anything to do with Ireland or Dublin anymore. Most of his next plays, all of which were experiments with expressionism, would be premiered on a London stage. In 1958 O’Casey even imposed a ban on all productions of his plays in Ireland – a move that was probably also inspired by his recent turn to communism and his aversion to Catholic Ireland.

The new stage in O´Casey´s drama production was pervaded with Expressionist and Symbolist techniques he did not win the same acceptance as before. Expressionism is opposed to realism because it tries to express the problems of society by the use of stylised characters and by movement, chants, dance and symbols. Ernst Toller and Georg Kaiser, who also influenced Eugene O’Neill, Elmer Rice and a little later also Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, were O’Casey’s new heroes. The mix of tragedy and comedy remained an important part of his work, but it became a little more abstract and also didactic, which according to many critics, was the reason for the diminished dramatical impact of his plays. He first used this kind of elements in The Silver Tassie (1929), an anti-war drama.

The plays he wrote after this, including the darken, allegorical Within the Gates (1934); his Communist extravaganza, The Star Turns Red (1940); the “wayward comedy” Purple Dust (1942); and Red Roses for Me (1943), saw a move away from his early style towards a more expressionistic and overtly socialist mode of writing.

These plays have never had the same critical or popular success as the early trilogy. After World War II he wrote Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), which is perhaps his most beautiful and exciting work. From The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955) O’Casey’s late plays are studies on the common life in Ireland, “Irish microcosmos”, like The Drums of Father Ned (1958). They are mainly satirical expositions of the conservative forces in Irish society. Critics were divided on O’Casey’s conversion, but the author himself thought it to be the ideal way for the theatre to embrace more than just the realistic aspect of life.

In these late years, O’Casey put his creative energy into his highly entertaining and interesting six-volume Autobiography too. It is a work of great contribution for the understanding of the works and beliefs of O´Casey this six volumes of autobiography that were written as stream of conciousness in a brilliantly subjective style of a third person named Johnny Casside. In later life O’Casey stopped writing for the theatre and focussed on his autobiography, which would eventually consist of six parts. The book clearly shows how O’Casey wanted to imitate James Joyce Ulysses and „Finnegans Wake, in which Joyce innovates style (stream of consciousness, bric-a-brac) as well as content (mythology mixed with history), inspired O’Casey to do the same. Critics, however, tend to argue about the success of the playwright’s endeavours.

O’Casey’s plays must be understood with regard to the political conflicts of his time.The plays reflected O’Casey’s changed opinions on politics. He had begun propagating an apolitical stance in matters concerning Ireland (he didn’t actually take part in the Easter Rebellion, but was nevertheless arrested for stirring the crowd) and thought the theatre to be the perfect place to propagate his pacifistic views.

O’Casey’s work is very much tainted by his socialistic and feministic opinions. In many of his plays he displays an anti-patriotic tone, which ridicules the absurdity of a hero cult in times of war. His sharp criticism of the romantic ideal of „pro patria mori dulce et decorum est“ was also meant as a way to deal with his own past, in which he watched those ideals clash with reality.

Modern critics are still not sure what to think about the quality of O’Casey’s later plays. Some, like Roger McHugh, are convinced that the expressionistic plays don’t have the dramatic impact of the early, naturalistic ones. Others, such as Robert Hogan, tend to say that the later plays are strongly underestimated. 

Without any doubt, Sean O´Casey is the most important dramatist of the Irish Literature in the period of Inter-wars of the twentieth century.

3.3 James Joyce´s life and works

James Joyce was born in Dublin as the son of John Stanislaus Joyce, impoverished gentleman, who had failed in a distillery business and tried all kinds of professions, including politics and tax collecting. Joyce’s mother, Mary Jane Murray, was ten years younger than her husband. She was an accomplished pianist, whose life was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and her husband. In spite of the poverty, the family struggled to maintain solid middle-class facade.

From the age of six Joyce, was educated by Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College, at Clane, and then at Belvedere College in Dublin (1893-97). Later the author thanked Jesuits for teaching him to think straight, although he rejected their religious instructions. At school he once broke his glasses and was unable to do his lessons. This episode was recounted in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). In 1898 he entered the University College, Dublin, where he found his early inspirations from the works of Henrik Ibsen, St.Thomas Aquinas and W.B. Yeats. Joyce’s first publication was an essay on Ibsen’s play When We Dead Awaken. It appeared in Fortnightly Review in 1900. At this time he began writing lyric poems.

After graduation in 1902 the twenty-year-old Joyce went to Paris, where he worked as a journalist, teacher and in other occupations in difficult financial conditions. He spent in France a year, returning when a telegram arrived saying his mother was dying. Not long after her death, Joyce was travelling again. He left Dublin in 1904 with Nora Barnacle, a chambermaid (they married in 1931), staying in Poland, Austria-Hungary, and in Trieste, which was the world’s seventh busiest port. Joyce gave English lessons and talked about setting up an agency to sell Irish tweed. Refused a post teaching Italian literature in Dublin, he continued to live abroad.

The Trieste years were nomadic, poverty-stricken, and productive. Joyce and Nora loved this cosmopolitan port city at the head of the Adriatic Sea, where they lived in a number of different addresses. During this period Joyce wrote most of Dubliners (1914), all of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the play, Exiles (1918), and large sections of Ulysses. Several of Joyce’s siblings joined them, and two children, Giorgio and Lucia, were born. The children grew up speaking the Trieste dialect of Italian. Joyce and Nora stayed together although Joyce fell in love with Anny Schleimer, the daughter of an Austrian banker, and Roberto Prezioso, the editor of the newspaper Il Piccolo della Sera, tried to seduce Nora. After a short stint in Rome in 1906-07 as a bank clerk ended in illness, Joyce returned to Trieste.

Joyce also published a number of books of poetry. His first mature published work was the satirical broadside “The Holy Office” (1904), in which he proclaimed himself to be the superior of many prominent members of the Celtic revival. In 1907 Joyce published a collection of poems, Chamber Music. The title was suggested, as the author later stated, by the sound of urine tinkling into a prostitute’s chamber pot. The poems have with their open vowels and repetitions such musical quality that many of them have been made into songs. “I have left my book, / I have left my room, / For I heard you singing / Through the gloom.” Joyce himself had a fine tenor voice; he liked opera and bel canto. Other poetry Joyce published in his lifetime includes “Gas From A Burner” (1912), Pomes Penyeach (1927) and “Ecce Puer” (written in 1932 to mark the birth of his grandson and the recent death of his father). It was published in Collected Poems (1936).

In 1909 Joyce opened a cinema in Dublin, but this affair failed and he was soon back in Trieste, still broke and working as a teacher, tweed salesman, journalist and lecturer. In 1912 he was in Ireland, trying to persuade Maunsel & Co to fulfil their contract to publish Dubliners. The work contained a series of short stories, dealing with the lives of ordinary people, youth, adolescence, young adulthood, and maturity. The last story, ‘The Dead’, was adapted into screen by John Huston in 1987. It was Joyce’s last journey to his home country. However, he had became friends with Ezra Pound, who began to market his works.

In 1916 appeared Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, an autobiographical novel. It apparently began as a quasi-biographical memoir entitled Stephen Hero between 1904 and 1906. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a nearly complete rewrite of the abandoned novel Stephen Hero, the original manuscript of which Joyce partially destroyed in a fit of rage during an argument with Nora, in which she asserted that it would never be published. A Künstlerroman, or story of the personal development of an artist, it is a biographical coming-of-age novel in which Joyce depicts a gifted young man’s gradual attainment of maturity and self-consciousness; the main character, Stephen Dedalus, is in many ways based upon Joyce himself. Some hints of the techniques Joyce was to frequently employ in later works — such as the use of interior monologue and references to a character’s psychic reality rather than his external surroundings — are evident in this novel. Only a fragment of the original manuscript has survived. The book follows the life of the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, from childhood towards maturity, his education at University College, Dublin, and rebellion to free himself from the claims of family and Irish nationalism. Stephen takes religion seriously, and considers entering a seminary, but then also rejects Roman Catholicism. At the end Stephen resolves to leave Ireland for Paris to encounter “the reality of experience”. He wants to establish himself as a writer.

At the outset of the First World War, Joyce moved with his family to Zürich, where Lenin and the poet essayist Tristan Tzara had found their refuge. Joyce’s WW I years with the legendary Russian revolutionary and Tzara, who founded the dadaist movement at the Cabaret Voltaire, provide the basis for Tom Stoppard’s play Travesties (1974).

In Zürich Joyce started to develop the early chapters of Ulysses, which was first published in France, because of censorship troubles in the Great Britain and the United States, where the book became legally available 1933. The theme of jealousy was based partly on a story a former friend of Joyce told: he claimed that he had been sexually intimate with the author’s wife, Nora, even while Joyce was courting her. Ulysses takes place on one day in Dublin (June 16, 1904) and reflected the classic work of Homer. The main characters are Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising canvasser, his wife Molly, and Stephen Dedalus, the hero from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. They are intended to be modern counterparts of Telemachus, Ulysses, and Penelope. Barmaids are the famous Sirens. One of the models for Bloom was Ettore Schmitz (Italo Svevo), a novelist and businessman who was Joyce’s student at the Berlitz school in Trieste. The story, using stream-of-consciousness technique, parallel the major events in Odysseus’ journey home. However, Bloom’s adventures are less heroic and his homecoming is less violent. Bloom makes his trip to the underworld by attending a funeral at Glasnevin Cemetary. The paths of Stephen and Bloom cross and recross through the day. Joyce’s technical innovations in the art of the novel include an extensive use of interior monologue; he used a complex network of symbolic parallels drawn from the mythology, history, and literature: the Catholic religion: the identification between God and the artist (like in The Portrait ) or the name of one of his characters Stephen like Saint Stephen – the first martyr who dies because of his Christian faith; and the most important parallelism, the lost of the father and the eventual encounter with him. The “Odyssey”: a direct relation to the myth, dozens of characters are the modern counterparts of Homer´s myth: Circe´s episode is in a brothel, the sirens are barmaids, etc. Dublin itself: although he left very young the Irish capital, it is meticulously described in his books. It represents the microcosms of the human race in Dubliners, It is named Cnossos in The Portrait, and Elsinore in Ulysses and in the next work, Finnegans Wake the main characters are parts of the city.

From 1917 to 1930 Joyce endured several eye operations, being totally blind for short intervals. (According to tradition, Homer was also blind.) In March 1923 Joyce started in Paris his second major work, Finnegans Wake, suffering at the same time chronic eye troubles caused by glaucoma. The first segment of the novel appeared in Ford Madox Ford‘s Transatlantic Review in April 1924, as part of what Joyce called Work in Progress. Wake occupied Joyce’s time for the next sixteen years – its final version was completed late in 1938. A copy of the novel was present at Joyce’s birthday celebration on February 1939.

After the fall of France in WWII, Joyce returned to Zürich, where he died on January 13, 1941, still disappointed with the reception of Finnegans Wake. Reaction to the work was mixed, including negative comment from early supporters of Joyce’s work, such as Pound and the author’s brother Stanislaus Joyce. In order to counteract this hostile reception, a book of essays by supporters of the new work, including Beckett, William Carlos Williams and others was organized and published in 1929 under the title Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. At his 47th birthday party at the Jolases’ home, Joyce revealed the final title of the work and Finnegans Wake was published in book form on 4 May 1939.

Joyce’s method of stream of consciousness, literary allusions and free dream associations was pushed to the limit in Finnegans Wake, which abandoned all conventions of plot and character construction and is written in a peculiar and obscure language, based mainly on complex multi-level puns. This approach is similar to, but far more extensive than that used by Lewis Carroll in Jabberwocky. If Ulysses is a day in the life of a city, then Wake is a night and partakes of the logic of dreams. This has led many readers and critics to apply Joyce’s oft-quoted description in the Wake of Ulysses as his “usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles” to the Wake itself. However, readers have been able to reach a consensus about the central cast of characters and general plot.

Much of the wordplay in the book stems from the use of multilingual puns which draw on a wide range of languages. The role played by Beckett and other assistants included collating words from these languages on cards for Joyce to use and, as Joyce’s eyesight worsened, of writing the text from the author’s dictation.

The book was partly based on Freud’s dream psychology, Bruno’s theory of the complementary but conflicting nature of opposites, and the cyclic theory of history of Giambattista Vico (1668-1744).

Finnegans Wake was the last and most revolutionary work of the author. There is not much plot or characters to speak of – the life of all human experience is viewed as fragmentary. Some critics considered the work masterpiece, though many readers found it incomprehensible. When the American writer Max Eastman asked Joyce why the book was written in a very difficult style, Joyce replied: “To keep the critics busy for three hundred years.” The novel presents the dreams and nightmares of H.C.Earwicker (Here Comes Everywhere) and his family, the wife and mother Anna Livia Plurabelle, the twins Shem/Jerry and Shaun/Kevin, and the daughter Issy, as they lie asleep throughout the night. In the frame of the minimal central story Joyce experiments with language, combines puns and foreign words with allusions to historical, psychological and religious cosmology. The characters turn up in hundreds of different forms – animal, vegetable and mineral. Transformations are as flexible as in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The last word in the book is ‘the’, which leads, by Joyce’s ever recurrent cycles, to the opening word in the book, the eternal ‘riverrun.’

Although the events are set in the Dublin suburb of Chapelizod, the place is an analogy for everywhere else. Wakes´s structure follows the three stages of history as laid out by Vico: the Divine, the Heroic, and Human, followed period of flux, after which the cycle begins all over again: the last sentence in the work runs into the first. The title of the book is a compound of Finn MaCool, the Irish folk-hero who is supposed to return to life at some future date to become the saviour of Ireland, and Tim Finnegan, the hero of music-hall ballad, who sprang to life in the middle of his own wake.


The English have been in Ireland, both as peaceful settlers and conquerors, since the 12th century. It was not until Henry VIII (king 1509-1547) that English interference took its toll on the Irish people. In order to subdue and rule Ireland, Henry sent Protestants to “plant” or colonize Ireland and wrest control of her from the Gaelic and Catholic native population. Additionally, non-Conforming Protestants often went to Ireland where they could worship as they chose with minimal interference from the Anglican church. Subsequent kings and queens, notably Elizabeth I, increased the efforts to install plantations across the island, claiming land for England and forcing the Irish to rent their own land back from their conquerors. This effort to “re-colonize” an already thriving civilization was largely successful, particularly in the area around Dublin and in the province of Ulster, and this began the period in Irish history known as the “Protestant Ascendancy”. All action on the part of the Irish to resist the incursions were soundly defeated by English forces.

In the early years of the 18th century the ruling Protestants in Ireland passed a series of “Penal Laws” designed to strip the “backwards” Catholic population of remaining land, positions of influence and civil rights. Towards the end of the century some of the disabilities suffered by Catholics were abolished. In 1793 the British government, seeking to win Catholic loyalty on the outbreak of war against France, allowed their admission to most civil offices. But an unsuccessful rebellion in 1798 revived the Irish question. To control Irish matters directly the British and Irish Parliaments were united and the Great Britain and Ireland became the United Kingdom in 1801.

After emancipation of the Roman Catholics the movement against the Union increased. In the first half of the 19th century this movement was represented by O’Connell and the Young Ireland movement. For about 20 years after the Great Famine, political agitation was subdued, while emigration continued to reduce the population. Among the exiles the Fenian movement started to spread favouring new revolutionary risings. Soon afterward the Home Rule League was founded. A return of bad harvests also brought new fears of famine and the Irish Land League was founded to achieve for tenants security of tenure, fair rents, and freedom to sell property. Charles Parnell, a young landowner and member of Parliament in the Home Rule Party, was the main representative of these demands. The Home Rule issue and the progressive transfer of land ownership to the tenants brought Ireland at the beginning of this century to a level of independence from England unknown for centuries.

During the years right before World War I there was great agitation about the Home Rule, which was finally accepted by the English Parliament in 1914. However, Ireland was in the brink of civil war due to the opposition of the Ulster protestants, which wanted to remain within the United Kingdom, therefore Ulster was excluded from the Home Rule. There was also opposition to this law from radical republicans because it remained very pro-British. The revolutionary outbreak finally took place on Easter Monday 1916. The General Post Office and other parts of Dublin were seized and street fighting continued for about a week until the Republican leaders were forced to surrender.

But the developments in Northern Ireland lead to new confrontations. The population of Northern Ireland was still mainly protestant and the local government was dominated by the Unionist party. However, the economic and welfare reforms taking place in the United Kingdom were seen with preoccupation by the Unionists. Furthermore, radical Unionists drew attention to the growth of Catholic population and presented it as a threat to the interests of the protestants. Therefore a period of confrontations started between protestant and Catholic interests. The British government intervened and they sent troops. In January 1972 a civil rights march in defiance of a government ban on marches resulted in the shooting by the army of thirteen civilians known as “Bloody Sunday”. Finally London resumed direct control of the affairs of Northern Ireland and appointed a secretary of state over the province.

In 1991 the British government and the Irish one held an assembly with the main political parties of the Northern Ireland, and although there have been some achievements, the problem seems to be unsolved: Protestant extremists who want to dominate and Catholic extremists who want the North to be incorporated to the Irish Republic.

From 1921 to 1971, Northern Ireland was governed by the Ulster Unionist Party government, based at Stormont in East Belfast. The founding Prime Minister, James Craig, proudly declared that it would be “a Protestant State for a Protestant People” (in contrast to the anticipated “Papist” state to the south). Discrimination against the minority nationalist community in jobs and housing, and their total exclusion from political power due to the electoral system, led to the emergence of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in the late 1960s, inspired by Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement in the United States of America. A violent counter-reaction from right-wing unionists and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) led to civil disorder, notably the Battle of the Bogside and the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969. To restore order, British troops were deployed to the streets of Northern Ireland at this time.

Tensions came to a head with the events of Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday, and the worst years (early 1970s) of what became known as the Troubles resulted. The Stormont parliament was prorogued in 1971 and abolished in 1972. Paramilitary private armies such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army, the Official IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force fought each other and the British army and the (largely Unionist) RUC, resulting in the deaths of well over three thousand men, women and children, civilians and military. Most of the violence took place in Northern Ireland, but some also spread to England and across the Irish border.

Regarding the cultural panorama, in 1830 the Trinity Collage of Dublin became the cultural and political centre of the Irish life and the works of Sean O´Casey in drama and James Joyce in the novel were the main representations of a changing concept of literature and art.

On the one hand O´Casey gave a voice to a social class never heard seriously on the stage before, the Dublin poor. On the other hand, Joyce explored the new lands in fictional narrative and was the father together with the English novelist Virginia Woolf, of the so-called “stream of conciousness” , although he died without noticing the success of his achievements.

Sean O’Casey was born into a poor protestant family of the Dublin´s slums He had a grim childhood of poverty, poor eyesight and ill health that forced him to stay away from school, although in his youth he widely read the classics and the Bible. His poor eyesight tormented him all his life which he lived with the fear of total blindness. O´Casey was an idealist with a strong sense of justice that marked his life and work. In his early years he was influenced by the Irish nationalism and also by socialism and he belonged to some independent movements such as the Gaelic League and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, but he got disillusioned with politics and did not participate in the 1916 Easter Rising or in the later confrontations against the British. Eventually he turned to drama to express his ideas, and the Abbey, the Irish national theatre produced his most famous plays, those dealing with the Irish independence, from the Easter Rising to the Civil War.

O’Casey is renowned for his realistic dramas of the Dublin slums during the years of war and revolution. In his plays of the 20’s tragedy and comedy are juxtaposed in a way new to the theatre of his time and they had an explosive effect on the Irish audience. These tragicomedies reflect his mixed feelings about the Irish working class, unable of giving a socialist direction to the Irish cause, but admirable for their unconquerable spirit. He especially presents strong women, who work, suffer and sacrifice to try to keep their homes together, in contrast with men, who tend to be mock-heroic. After moving to England he was influenced by Expressionism and Symbolism, but he kept writing plays concerned with Ireland. O’Casey’s first play, The Shadow of a Gunman is set during the confrontation between the Irish Republican Army and the British forces. It was followed by Juno and the Paycock (1924). It deals with the impact of the Irish Civil War on the working class poor of the city. It has been considered his masterpiece. The setting chosen is again the same, but the political background is now the Civil War of 1922. Next came The Plough and the Stars (1926), which is set during the Easter Rising of 1916. This play contrasts again the vanity of fanatical revolutionaries with the suffering of their women.

After dealing with the problems of the modern world in Within the Gates and with fascism in The Star Turns Red, he went back in his later plays to dealing with Ireland in Red Roses for Me, Purple Dust, Cock A Doodle Dandy, etc.

The other great writer of this time was James Joyce. He suffered from rejections from publishers, suppression by censors, attacks by critics, and misunderstanding by readers. From 1902 Joyce led a nomadic life, which perhaps reflected in his interest in the character of Odysseus. Although he spent long times in Paris, Trieste, Rome, and Zürich, with only occasional brief visit to Ireland, his native country remained basic to all his writings.

In 1914 he published Dubliners, a book of short stories. On the surface they were realistic, but they also carried a deeper symbolic meaning. They deal successively with events of childhood, youth and adulthood, and they show the nullifying effect of the Dublin social and mental environment on characters whose dreams, hopes and ambitions are pathetically or tragically unfulfilled.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man presents Joyce himself in the character of his hero, Stephen Dedalus. However, he at the same time shows sympathy for the hero and distances from him with irony. Stephen is formed by the powerful forces of Irish national, political and religious feelings, but he gradually frees himself from the influence of these forces to follow his own nature and his own fate and become an artist. Stephen Dedalus also appears in Ulysses, a book which is regarded as one of the most important novels in English of the 20th century. In it Joyce created a completely new style of writing that allows the reader to move inside the minds of the characters, presenting their thoughts and feelings in a continuous stream. For this reason the language breaks all the rules. This is known as “interior monologue” or “stream of consciousness”, and it has had a powerful influence of many later novelists. Actually Ulysses has no real plot. It rather follows the three main characters, Stephen, Leopold Bloom and his wife Molly, through a day in Dublin. The characters and the elements of the novel are connected with and reflect characters and events of ancient Greek stories as the title suggests. In this book Joyce is again concerned with the artist and the act of artistic creation, and also with the relationship between mind and body, especially when he attempts to show the half-formed thoughts that go through the characters’ minds.

Finnegans Wake took one step further the new kind of language that Joyce was starting to create in Ulysses. This work occupied Joyce´s time for 16 years. Here not only the sentences are mixed up, but the forms of the words themselves are transformed. In the frame of a minimal central story, Joyce experiments with language, combines puns and foreign words with allusions to historical, psychological and religious cosmology. The new technique of verbal ambiguity allows for the accumulation of meanings at a new level of complexity. The difficulty of the language, in which he forced as many associations as possible into each word gives readers many problems of understanding. He justified this method on the grounds that the world of Finnegans Wake is the dream world where shifting identities and multiple significances are common.


James Joyce: the Citizen and the Artist by C. Peake (1977);

James Joyce by Patrick Parrinder (1984);

Joyce’s Anatomy of Culture by Cheryl Herr (1986);

Joyce’s Book of the Dark: ‘Finnegans Wake by John Bishop (1986);

Reauthorizing Joyce by Vicki Mahaffey (1988);

‘Ulysses’ Annotated by Don Gifford (1988);

An Annotated Critical Bibliography of James Joyce, ed. by Thomas F. Staley (1989);

The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, ed by Derek Attridge (1990

James Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ by David Seed (1992);

Critical Essays on James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake ed. by Patrick A. McCarthy (1992);

James Joyce and the Language of History: Dedalus’s Nightmare by Robert E. Spoo (1994);

A Companion to James Joyce’s Ulysses, ed. by Margot Norris (1999);

Watson, G. J. 1979. Irish Identity and the Literary Revival: Synge, Yeats, Joyce and O’Casey. London: Croom Helm.

Ayling, Ronald. 1969. Sean O’Casey: modern judgments. London: Macmillan.

Mikhail, Edward Halim and Ronald Ayling. 1972. Sean O’Casey: a bibliography of criticism. London: Macmillan.

Kilroy, Thomas (ed.). 1975. Sean O’Casey: a collection of critical essays. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

McHugh, Roger. „The Legacy of Sean O’Casey“ in: Kilroy, Thomas (ed.). 1975. Sean O’Casey: a collection of critical essays. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Hogan, Robert. “In Sean O’Casey’s Golden Days” in: Kilroy, Thomas (ed.). 1975. Sean O’Casey: a collection of critical essays. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

McHugh, Roger. „The Legacy of Sean O’Casey“ in: Kilroy, Thomas (ed.). 1975. Sean O’Casey: a collection of critical essays. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.