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Sacred Violence: W. B. Yeats, Patrick Pearse, and The Revival of Ireland

Lyall, Scott



This paper frames the Irish Revival as a meta-symbolical attempt to reinterpret and reimagine the cultural and political narrative of Irish history. It focuses on the manner in which religious and spiritual beliefs and ideas were utilised by key Irish writers of the period. R. F. Foster notes ‘the language of religion’ as a popular lexis in the justification of violence from the 1916 Easter Rising, while pointing also to the ‘antipathy’ in which many of that revolutionary generation held W. B. Yeats and the Irish Revival. However, the paper argues that one of the primary literary modes of spiritual expression of the Irish Revival was symbolist and that the symbolist resonances of the Revival, often apocalyptic and violent in tone, are very much present in various forms in the writings of some of the leaders of the Easter Rising. The paper points to the manner in which writers of the Rising, such as Pearse and Plunkett, were influenced by the symbolical modes of the Revival, and how the likes of Yeats and George Russell would subsequently ponder the influence of the Revival on the Rising. This is not to say that there is a straightforward causal relationship between the Revival and the Rising; but it is to argue that the spiritualisation of the Irish cultural realm during the Revival, with its aim to resacralise the land, helped to create the cultural conditions in which occurred a violent insurrection against the British state. This paper analyses the language of sacrifice and redemption in Ireland and in Europe more broadly in the period leading up to the Rising.

Presentation Conference Type Presentation / Talk
Conference Name 'Crossing Borders', School of Humanities Seminar Series 2022/23
Start Date Sep 28, 2022
Deposit Date Sep 24, 2022
Public URL