The Arts in Ireland



There are a number of languages used in Ireland. Irish is the only language to have originated from within the island. Since the late 19th century, English has become the predominant first language having been a spoken language in Ireland since the Middle Ages. A large minority claim some ability to speak Irish today, although it is the first language only of a small percentage of the population. Under Constitution of Ireland, both languages have official status with Irish being the national and first official language. In Northern Ireland English is the dominant state language, whilst Irish and Ulster Scots are recognized minority languages.

Ireland has made a large contribution to world literature in all its branches, particularly in the English language. Poetry in Irish is the oldest vernacular poetry in Europe, with the earliest examples dating from the 6th century. In English, Jonathan Swift, still often called the foremost satirist in the English language, was wildly popular in his day for works such as Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal and Oscar Wilde is known most for his often quoted witticisms.

In the 20th century, Ireland produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for LiteratureGeorge Bernard ShawWilliam Butler YeatsSamuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Although not a Nobel Prizewinner, James Joyce is widely considered to be one of the most significant writers of the 20th century. Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses is considered one of the most important works of Modernist literature and his life is celebrated annually on 16 June in Dublin as “Bloomsday“. Modern Irish literature is often connected with its rural heritage through writers such as John McGahernand poets such as Seamus Heaney.

James Joyce one of the most significant writers of the 20th century.

The Irish traditional music and dance has seen a recent surge in popularity, not least through the phenomenon of Riverdance, a theatrical performance of Irish traditional dancing. In the middle years of the 20th century, as Irish society was modernising, traditional music fell out of favour, especially in urban areas. During the 1960s, inspired by the American folk music movement, there was a revival of interest in Irish traditional music led by groups such as The DublinersThe ChieftainsEmmet SpicelandThe Wolfe Tones, the Clancy BrothersSweeney’s Men and individuals like Seán Ó Riada and Christy Moore.

Groups and musicians including HorslipsVan Morrison and Thin Lizzy incorporated elements of Irish traditional music into contemporary rock music and, during the 1970s and 1980s, the distinction between traditional and rock musicians became blurred, with many individuals regularly crossing over between these styles of playing. This trend can be seen more recently in the work of artists like EnyaThe Saw DoctorsThe CorrsSinéad O’ConnorClannadThe CranberriesBlack 47 and The Pogues among others.

During the 1990s a sub-genre of folk metal emerged in Ireland that fused heavy metal music with Irish and Celtic music. The pioneers of this sub-genre were CruachanPrimordial, and Waylander. Some contemporary music groups stick closer to a “traditional” sound, including AltanTéadaDanúDervishLúnasa, and Solas. Others incorporate multiple cultures in a fusion of styles, such as Afro Celt Sound System and Kíla.

The earliest known Irish graphic art and sculpture are Neolithic carvings found at sites such as Newgrange and is traced through Bronze age artefacts and the religious carvings and illuminated manuscripts of the medieval period. During the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, a strong tradition of painting emerged, including such figures as John Butler YeatsWilliam OrpenJack Yeatsand Louis le Brocquy. Contemporary Irish visual artists of note include Sean ScullyKevin Abosch, and Alice Maher.


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