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The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature

The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature

Professor Marc C. Conner, Ph.D.
Washington and Lee University

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The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature

Course No. 8740
Professor Marc C. Conner, Ph.D.
Washington and Lee University
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4.8 out of 5
65 Reviews
93% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 8740
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  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. While the video version can be considered lightly illustrated, it does feature helpful photos, including pictures from the professor’s travels, to help orient you to specific scenes and locations, as well as period photos, maps, and timelines, as well as on-screen text to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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What Will You Learn?

  • Follow Irish history through the age of rebellions sweeping across Europe and America.
  • Examine how George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde navigated their Irish identity on the London stage.
  • Take a detailed look at Joyce's short stories, which reveal the dreariness and what Joyce perceived as the paralysis of Dublin.
  • Explore the complex events leading up to the Easter Rising, including the week of battles and skirmishes, and reflect on the aftermath-both political and artistic.
  • Meet some of Ireland's finest artists of the Irish Renaissance, including Jack Yeats (brother to the poet) and stained glass maker Harry Clarke.

Course Overview

1902: Yeats’s play Cathleen ni-Houlihan debuts in Dublin, spreading a mythic story that inspires Irish nationalists.

1916: A group of rebels takes over key landmarks throughout Dublin in a failed attempt to spark a revolution across the country.

1916: James Joyce publishes A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a deeply personal reflection of his own exploration of identity, mirroring Ireland’s struggle to define its national identity.

1921: Michael Collins returns from England with a treaty by which the transition to an independent Ireland can finally begin, but back home, nationalists are extremely displeased.

These are just a few of the monumental occurrences and artistic events that rocked the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as Ireland gradually shook off the shackles of British rule. Alongside a long and painful political process arose one of the greatest flourishings of literature in modern times—a spirited discourse among those who sought to shape their nation’s future, finding the significance of their bloody present intimately entwined with their legendary past. As nationalists including Charles Stewart Parnell, Patrick Pearse, and Michael Collins studied their political situation and sought a road to independence, writers such as W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, J. M. Synge, Lady Gregory, and many others took a close look at the emerging Irish identity and captured the spirit of the nation’s ongoing history in their works.

The Irish Renaissance—or Irish Revival—that occurred around the turn of the 20th century fused and elevated aesthetic and civic ambitions, fueling a cultural climate of masterful artistic creation and resolute political self-determination reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. Delve into this remarkable period with The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature. Over the course of 36 enthralling lectures, Professor Marc Conner of Washington and Lee University reveals the multifaceted story of the Irish Renaissance through an exploration of its complex history and remarkable literature.

After laying the groundwork of ancient Irish history and centuries of British rule—from the Norman invasion in the 12th century through the brutal Penal Laws and the Great Famine—Professor Conner brings you inside the Irish Revival, when a group of writers began taking a keen interest in the uniquely Irish culture, from its language to its art to its mythology. This fascination fed into the growing demand for Irish nationhood, for the arts, culture, and politics of the time are inextricable.

Uncovering Ireland’s mythic cultural history worked in tandem with promoting the power of a nationalist political movement. As a consequence of British rule, the Protestant Ascendancy had become the dominant land-owning and political class, leaving Catholics and Irish country folk to nurture their identity, history, and myths under strong—often brutal—oppression. As you’ll discover in these lectures, the formation of the Irish identity in the early 20th century was a fierce struggle—a story clearly captured in the literature of the era.

See How Art Meets Politics in the Irish Revival

The Irish Revival was a literary and cultural movement in which the Irish celebrated their history and heritage through sports, language, and literature. The movement emerged in parallel with the Home Rule efforts to free Ireland from British dominion. You’ll see how politicians such as O’Connell and Parnell pushed for reforms and championed Irish nationalism. Meanwhile, writers including Yeats and Lady Gregory were rediscovering myths and heroes such as Cuchulain and Finn MacCumhaill and bringing them to the center of national consciousness through poetry and plays. The result is some of the world’s most dazzling literature—with Irish political history never far below the surface.

Professor Conner unpacks a wealth of deep insights from this great literature:

  • Go inside George Bernard Shaw’s determination to dominate the London stage, and see how he used his platform to satirize British social classes.
  • Trace the development of W. B. Yeats, who is certainly the greatest Irish poet of the era, from his early explorations of Irish mythology to his later complex Modernism.
  • Find out why Lady Gregory is one of the period’s truly great masters—and consider how she reconciled her background in the Protestant Ascendancy with her love for Irish folk life.
  • Visit the Aran Islands with J. M. Synge and encounter the beauty and wonder of Ireland’s rural life that so captivated him—and then find out why Dublin theatergoers were not enamored of his portrayals of Irish country folk.
  • Survey the life and career of James Joyce, from his early mastery of the short story to his enigmatic Finnegans Wake. Discover a way into even his most complex works.
  • Witness the founding of the Abbey Theatre and see how a national theater empowered playwrights such as Synge, Sean O’Casey, and many others.
  • Meet Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Heaney, and other post-Revival poets who understood the intricacies of Irish history but who had different views of national identity that in some cases ran completely against the project of Yeats.

Great art is historical, and while this survey of great writers goes deep into both ancient myths and the modern aesthetic, this course presents historical context you wouldn’t find in an ordinary literature class. Likewise, this literary vantage presents a unique view of history that facts and figures alone wouldn’t cover.

Survey the Political and Aesthetic Quest for an Irish Identity

One central tension Irish writers faced was what language to write in. Did they express national solidarity by writing in Irish, and risk a career of provincial obscurity? Or did they choose to reach a wider audience in English, the language of the conqueror? This choice is fraught with complex political questions about freedom and identity—a long and complicated battle over many decades.

Here, Professor Conner unpacks the quest for an independent identity and introduces you to many of its key figures.

  • Meet Wolfe Tone and the other early revolutionaries who saw independence as a worthy goal.
  • Encounter Daniel O’Connell as he succeeded in achieving Catholic emancipation but failed to secure a repeal of the Act of Union.
  • Follow the rise and fall of Charles Stewart Parnell and his Home Rule Bill.
  • Witness James Connolly, Patrick Pearse, and other revolutionaries stage the Easter Rising of 1916.
  • Watch as Michael Collins led a guerilla campaign culminating in a treaty that laid the groundwork for a free Ireland.
  • Find out how Eamon de Valera re-entered politics after the Irish Civil War and eventually led the country to a complete break with Britain.

The literature of the period presents a unique window into this captivating story, because while the political leaders and revolutionaries were acting to carve out an Irish identity on the world’s stage, poets, playwrights, and novelists were creating the Irish identity in their works and capturing the essence of this epic struggle. For instance, Yeats’s great poem “Easter 1916” contains the famous lines, “All changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born.” Find out what Yeats meant and how he viewed the political turmoil of his day.

Another masterful Irish author, James Joyce, spent his career largely in exile and is often viewed as a primarily European-Modernist writer. But as you’ll discover in this course, it is impossible to separate his Irish identity from his fiction. The struggle for independence underlies all of his great works, from the citizens’ paralysis in the stories of Dubliners to the domestic concerns of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to his new notion of heroism in Ulysses. Stepping into the events contemporary with their writing deepens our understanding of these books, and engaging with these books deepens our understanding of history.

Gain New Appreciation for the Irish Identity

The course of Irish history is often a story of conflict, but it is also the story of endurance. The people of Ireland persevered through a centuries-long pursuit of independence, and the culmination of their political fight for self-determination also coincided with the flowering of their quest to define cultural identity.

Whether you’re studying the Dublin lockouts and Bloody Sunday or re-thinking the definition of heroism in Ulysses (written against the backdrop of World War I), the Irish Renaissance is a powerful, complex period—and Professor Conner’s unique approach in The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature brings this riveting history to life.

“Many monumental occurrences and artistic events rocked the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as Ireland gradually shook off the shackles of British rule. Alongside a long and painful political process arose one of the greatest flourishings of literature in modern times—a spirited discourse among those who sought to shape their nation’s future, finding the significance of their bloody present intimately entwined with their legendary past.

  • 1902: Yeats’s play Cathleen ni-Houlihan debuts in Dublin, spreading a mythic story that inspires Irish nationalists.
  • 1916: A group of rebels takes over key landmarks throughout Dublin in a failed attempt to spark a revolution across the country.
  • 1916: James Joyce publishes A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a deeply personal reflection of his own exploration of identity, mirroring Ireland’s struggle to define its national identity.
  • 1921: Michael Collins returns from England with a treaty by which the transition to an independent Ireland can finally begin, but back home, nationalists are extremely displeased.

As nationalists including Charles Stewart Parnell, Patrick Pearse, and Michael Collins studied their political situation and sought a road to independence, writers such as W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, J. M. Synge, Lady Gregory, and many others took a close look at the emerging Irish identity and captured the spirit of the nation’s ongoing history in their works.”

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36 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    Roots of Irish Identity: Celts to Monks
    The Irish Renaissance in the early 20th century was a remarkable period for arts, literature, and culture-and it sprang out of the legendary history of the nation. To help us understand this pivotal period, Professor Conner traces the course of Irish history starting with the ancient Celts and running through the Middle Ages. x
  • 2
    Gaelic Ireland's Fall: Vikings to Cromwell
    It is impossible to understand Irish history without reflecting on its relationship with the English. Here, go back to the 1100s, when Ireland lacked a central king, and witness the Norman invasions that were the start of England's dominion over Ireland. Trace several subsequent centuries of oppressive English rule. x
  • 3
    The Penal Laws and Protestant Ascendancy
    Continue your study of the Irish political context with an examination of the rise of William of Orange, who restored Protestantism to England and enacted severe penal codes that oppressed Irish Catholics and created the Protestant Ascendancy. See how writers such as Jonathan Swift championed the Irish poor by promoting political values through art. x
  • 4
    Ireland at the Turn of the 19th Century
    Follow Irish history through the age of rebellions sweeping across Europe and America, and find out how figures such as Wolfe Tone founded the quest for Irish republicanism. Delve into the cultural expressions of the 18th and 19th centuries, when poets and musicians kept ancient traditions alive. x
  • 5
    Daniel O'Connell and the Great Famine
    One of the most famous people in Ireland's struggle for independence is Daniel O'Connell, a 19th-century politician who led the charge for Catholic emancipation as well as the effort to repeal Britain's Act of Union. Learn about his activism, and then see how the Great Famine completely devastated the nation. x
  • 6
    The Celtic Revival
    The political tensions of the 19th century-from the Great Famine to Charles Stewart Parnell's attempts to pass a Home Rule Bill-set the stage for the Celtic Revival. As you will discover, the interest in ancient Irish language, sports, and literature was far more than mere appreciation of past achievements. x
  • 7
    Shaw and Wilde: Irish Wit, London Stage
    Irish playwrights faced a conundrum in the 19th century: they could write in Irish and remain relatively obscure, or they could find success by adopting English, the language of the conqueror. Examine how George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde navigated their Irish identity on the London stage. Professor Conner provides political and artistic context to their major works. x
  • 8
    W. B. Yeats and the Irish Renaissance
    If one person is at the heart of the Irish Revival, it is the great poet W. B. Yeats. In this first lecture about the bard, Professor Conner introduces you to the man and his quest for meaning in the two worlds of the Irish countryside and the English city. You'll then consider Yeats's connection to revolutionary leaders of the time. x
  • 9
    Yeats in the 1890s
    Continue your study of Yeats, who became fascinated with the occult and sought the society of fellow searchers. After reviewing the mystical aspect of his poetry and his view of transcendence through art, you'll consider the influence of his enduring and unrequited love for Maud Gonne. x
  • 10
    Lady Gregory: The Woman behind the Revival
    Lady Gregory was one of the most important figures of the Irish Revival, and she had an astonishing impact on the movement. Born into the Protestant landowner class and widowed at age 39, she took an anthropological interest in Irish folk life and stories. Here, review her major works and her influence on Yeats. x
  • 11
    J. M. Synge and the Aran Islands
    The Aran Islands lie on the western edge of Ireland and remain an isolated folk community. There, the playwright J. M. Synge found a fleeting sense of beauty and wonder, of life lived to the fullest. Explore this unique place, and then survey Synge's biography and his book about the islands. x
  • 12
    James Joyce: Emerging Genius of Dublin
    James Joyce is perhaps the towering figure of both Modernism and 20th-century Irish literature. This first lecture on Joyce places him in the context of turn-of-the-century Dublin and his role as an artist in exile. Learn about the city as you examine his short story technique in Dubliners. x
  • 13
    Joyce's Dubliners: Anatomy of a City
    Take a detailed look at Joyce's short stories Araby, "Ivy Day in the Committee Room," and "The Dead," each of which reveals the dreariness and what Joyce perceived as the paralysis of Dublin. Then reflect on the possibilities of love, joy, and redemption that Joyce presents at the end of the book." x
  • 14
    The Abbey Theatre
    Lady Gregory, Yeats, and others recognized the need for a national Irish theater. Witness the founding of this great project in 1897, and meet some of the Abbey Theatre's early playwrights. Professor Conner connects this beacon of Irish cultural heritage to the changing political landscape of the early 20th century. x
  • 15
    Lady Gregory as the People's Playwright
    Although perhaps not as famous as Yeats and Synge, Lady Gregory was one of the era's finest playwrights. By analyzing her plays The Rising of the Moon, The Gaol Gate, and others, you'll encounter her wit and intelligence-and gain a sense of her unique role in Irish history. x
  • 16
    Early Plays of J. M. Synge
    Revisit Synge and examine his role as a dramatist, which developed quickly after his experiences with the Aran Islands. Through studies of In the Shadow of the Glen and Riders to the Sea, you'll appreciate the impressive range of this playwright. Find out why his portrayals of Irish country life were not always well received. x
  • 17
    Synge's Playboy of the Western World
    The Playboy of the Western World is now regarded as a classic of Modernism and one of Ireland's defining plays, but when it premiered in 1907, it shocked Dublin and inspired riots. See what made this play so controversial to its original audience-and why the play is a truly great work of art. x
  • 18
    The Dublin Lockout and World War I
    Shift your attention back to the political sphere where, after the defeat of Parnell's Home Rule Bill, rebellious organizers began pushing for reforms of their own. Dig into the events surrounding the Dublin lockout, including the Bloody Sunday massacre, and then consider Ireland's role in World War I. x
  • 19
    The 1916 Easter Rising
    The Easter Rising is perhaps the definitive moment that led to Ireland as it exists today-but the event itself was something of a debacle. Professor Conner walks you through the complex events leading up to the Rising, sketches the details of the week of battles and skirmishes, and reflects on the aftermath-both political and artistic. x
  • 20
    Joyce's Portrait of the Artist
    In this first of two lectures about Joyce's first novel, encounter the ways that Parnell, the Home Rule movement, the Catholic Church, and other themes from the era's history are key to understanding his Bildungsroman. Review some of the most important scenes in the first half of the book. x
  • 21
    Joyce's Portrait as Modernist Narrative
    In this second lecture on Portrait, consider how the English language presents a great tension for Irish writers, and see how Joyce's solution was to conquer the language of the conquerors. Then watch as the book's hero, Stephen Dedalus, takes his first steps as an artist to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."" x
  • 22
    Yeats as the Great 20th-Century Poet
    While Joyce was sending his fictional hero off to become a great artist, Ireland's great real-life poetic hero Yeats was making his own transition from a mystic and romantic dreamer to a modernist poet, with a little guidance from Ezra Pound. As you watch this transition, reflect on the Protestant Ascendancy world from which Yeats emerged. x
  • 23
    Michael Collins and the War of Independence
    The years after the Easter Rising saw a dramatic fight for a free nation. Michael Collins led a guerilla war against the forces of British rule, which finally created a window for negotiations. The eventual treaty between Ireland and the British, however, would be far from ideal to the hardcore nationalists. x
  • 24
    The Irish Civil War
    After the controversial free-state treaty at the end of 1921, the country split into civil war, with republicans viewing the treaty as selling out their ideals. Trace the events of the yearlong civil war, including the tragic death of Michael Collins, and see how it finally resolved. x
  • 25
    Ulysses: A Greek Epic in an Irish World
    From 1914 to 1921, while Ireland faced revolution at home, James Joyce was abroad, slowly laboring on his great masterpiece, Ulysses. In this first of three lectures about this famous epic and its relation to Irish history, Professor Conner provides a lucid overview of the story, its characters, its style, and its structure. x
  • 26
    Three Episodes from Ulysses
    Unpack the complexity of Ulysses by looking at three of its episodes: Hades" (episode 6), "Nausicaa" (episode 13), and "Circe" (episode 15)-three of the most moving and compelling chapters in the novel. By studying these three episodes, you'll gain a sense of how the book as a whole forms a crucial portrait of Irish identity." x
  • 27
    Molly Bloom: Joyce's Voice of Love
    Round out your study of Ulysses with a look at Molly Bloom, who gets the last word in the novel and recasts the day presented in the preceding 17 chapters. Her perspective tells us much about how Joyce viewed character and our relationship to the world-and ends with his great theme of regeneration. x
  • 28
    Sean O'Casey's Dublin Trilogy
    As one of the true geniuses of Irish drama, Sean O'Casey is a master of the tragicomedy, bringing Ireland's working class to life. Here, you'll study three of his plays from the 1920s and find out not only what makes him a great writer, but also how history shaped the drama he produced. x
  • 29
    Life and Legacy of Lady Gregory
    Very few great artists were also great characters, but Lady Gregory was certainly outstanding on both counts. Reflect on her life and the tension she faced between her status among the Protestant Ascendancy and her love for the Irish peasantry. Follow her through World War I and the Irish civil war to the end of her life. x
  • 30
    Yeats: The Tower Poems and Beyond
    In his later years, Yeats created an enigmatic spiritual system, and his poetry continued to evolve. Take a tour of his later writing, including two books that became some of the most significant works of poetry in the 20th century-both for their artistic power and their lens on Irish history. x
  • 31
    Blasket Island Storytellers
    Journey to the rural southwest corner of Ireland, where the Blasket Islands lie on the edge of the wide Atlantic. There, a series of writers flourished in parallel with the high Modernism of Yeats, Lady Gregory, and Joyce. Meet several of these writers and learn about the region's vanishing mode of life. x
  • 32
    Finnegans Wake: Joyce's Final Epic
    Dive headfirst into the complex, confusing, circular dream world of Finnegans Wake, Joyce's final book. Professor Conner gives you a way into the work-which ostensibly tells the dream of a Dublin pub owner and family man-and you'll come away with an understanding of how Joyce tapped into the mythic patterns of life within Ireland. x
  • 33
    Patrick Kavanagh: After the Renaissance
    The Irish Renaissance had largely succeeded in bringing folk life to the center of cultural consciousness by the 1930s. At that time, the poet Patrick Kavanagh-hailing from the rural farmland-emerged with a critique of the sentimentality and nostalgia of Yeats's generation. Explore how the next wave of poets carved out their own views of Ireland. x
  • 34
    Modern Ireland in Paint and Glass
    By the time of the Irish Revival, Dublin had become a city of growing artistic merit, with a national gallery, famed Georgian architecture, and a burgeoning crop of visual artists. Meet some of Ireland's finest artists of the time, including Jack Yeats (brother to the poet) and stained glass maker Harry Clarke. x
  • 35
    De Valera's Ireland: The 1930s
    The 1930s were in many ways an era of disappointment, when the heady triumph of freedom met the mundane realities of self-governance. Trace the key events of this decade, including the gradual political break with England, the drafting of a new constitution, cultural isolation from the rest of the world, and economic malaise. x
  • 36
    Seamus Heaney's Poetry of Remembrance
    The work of Seamus Heaney, undoubtedly Ireland's best poet from the second half of the 20th century, provides a fitting end to this course. Born on a farm in 1939, he understood the world of the Irish Renaissance, as well as the movement's deep historical roots. Reconsider Irish identity while examining some of Heaney's finest poetry. x

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Your professor

Marc C. Conner

About Your Professor

Marc C. Conner, Ph.D.
Washington and Lee University
Dr. Marc C. Conner is the Jo M. and James M. Ballengee Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. Professor Conner earned his bachelor's degrees in English and philosophy at the University of Washington and his master's and doctoral degrees in English literature at Princeton University. At Washington and Lee, Professor Conner received the Anece F. McCloud Excellence in Diversity Award in...
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Reviews

The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 64.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Wonderful course, rich details, deep insights and wide scope of information. Prof. forced me to read and reread Shaw, Yeats, Syng and Joyce. I wish GC produce courses like that one about other culture Renaissance - The Roman Golden age of August, Silver Age in Russia, the age of German Genius - from Goethe to Romanticism and so on. It can be a new cycle: the best epochs of human culture.
Date published: 2017-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great so far after just a few sessions. A lot of good information on Irish History. Looking forward to learning more.
Date published: 2017-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Irish Identity, great lessons and lecturer. We enjoyed all 36 lessons and have watched some twice to learn something we missed the first time. The guidebook is a good reference and we plan to take it with us on our 14 day tour of Ireland.
Date published: 2017-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An accurate description of the material. I enjoyed the topic and thought the professor was fairly entertaining. The course had numerous graphics but I think that your best courses have lots of maps, photos and other graphics. This course was ok in that regard.
Date published: 2017-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Irish Identity I am loving this course! It is not only history, but weaves the history and arts into one holistic picture.
Date published: 2017-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Comrehensive glimpse at Irish Literature I have been to Ireland three time and have studied the archaeology and historic venues. This course is presented in a very clear, concise manner and touches on all of the important moments of Irish identity. I would recommend it to any student of Irish literature.
Date published: 2017-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Combination of History & Literature This course is an excellent combination of history and literature. Professor Connor provides an interesting and informative mixture of the Irish history and the Irish literature; especially poetry. In the course, Professor Connor explains the history of the Irish and their path to independence. Professor Connor examines how the history of the times influenced the literature of that era and the literature of the times, e.g., plays & poems, inspired the historical events. Most of the The Great Courses history courses may contain a lecture or two on literature and arts but this course delves much deeper into the interrelationship between history and literature. This course is highly recommended.
Date published: 2017-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2017-03-31
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