Twenty-five years before the civil war that separated most of Ireland from the United Kingdom, three friends got together over coffee one day and had a chat about the state of their homeland. William Butler Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, and Edward Martyn decided that Irish culture had been given a bad rep and something should be done about it.
Here's the wacky idea they had: what if there was an Irish theater in Dublin, that produced plays by Irish writers, about Irish people? Not just stereotyped characters who made an appearance for laughs, but real people who also happened to be Irish?
We propose to have performed in Dublin, in the spring of every year certain Celtic and Irish plays, which whatever be their degree of excellence will be written with a high ambition, and so to build up a Celtic and Irish school of dramatic literature.Believe it or not, at the time it was a radical idea. James Joyce thought it was a waste of Yeats' talent, and when the plays were performed, some of them were so controversial that they caused rioting in the theater.
With its county-by-county tour of the areas that inspired the writers of this period, this book could serve as either an introduction to the literature, or a way to connect favorite works to their specific settings. Felton takes us from County Galway, where the seeds of the Revival germinated, to County Mayo, where John Millington Synge's play The Playboy of the Western World was set, to the streets of Dublin where playwright Sean O'Casey was raised. Annotated maps guide the way for anyone close enough to visit the sites in person; full color pictures allow the rest of us to sit back and dream of the Ireland that goes beyond the shamrocks and leprachauns we're inundated with at this time of year.
The soundtrack: Gaelic culture is alive and well, in large part due to the vision of the founders of the Irish Literary Revival. Cuach Mo Lon Dubh Bui, like many of the songs performed by modern Irish folk group Altan, is sung in Gaelic. Listen to it by clicking on the playlist in my sidebar.