The Cultural Milieu

Ireland in 1904 was in the midst of a golden age of cultural activity. The country was buzzing with exciting developments in the realm of the arts and Dublin was at the centre of most of the action. The year saw two highly significant cultural events, both in December. The Irish Literary Theatre found its first permanent base with the opening of the theatre which was to become the world-famous Abbey on 27th December. Earlier that month an exhibition of paintings by modern artists had opened to the public and heralded a controversy which was to continue for many years.

Title Banner from An Claidheamh Soluis newspaper, 26 March 1904
Dublin City Public Libraries

By this time, those involved in writing already thought of themselves as part of a great revival in Irish literature. George Bernard Shaw was as prolific as ever: John Bull's Other Island was first performed in London in 1904. Writers such as W.B. Yeats, George Moore, George Russell (A.E.) and John Millington Synge were already established. James Joyce kept himself apart from the mainstream of Gaelic revivalism but still knew many of the main players involved; in true Joycean style he even managed to borrow money from Lady Gregory for his flight with Nora Barnacle. Lady Gregory herself embodies the versatility and creativity of so many of the figures that made up the central coterie of the Revival. In addition to becoming one of the main movers behind the establishment of the Abbey Theatre and the patron of many young writers, Lady Gregory was in her own right an accomplished playwright and a collector of folklore.

By this time, those involved in writing already thought of themselves as part of a great revival in Irish literature. George Bernard Shaw was as prolific as ever: John Bull's Other Island was first performed in London in 1904. Writers such as W.B. Yeats, George Moore, George Russell (A.E.) and John Millington Synge were already established. James Joyce kept himself apart from the mainstream of Gaelic revivalism but still knew many of the main players involved; in true Joycean style he even managed to borrow money from Lady Gregory for his flight with Nora Barnacle. Lady Gregory herself embodies the versatility and creativity of so many of the figures that made up the central coterie of the Revival. In addition to becoming one of the main movers behind the establishment of the Abbey Theatre and the patron of many young writers, Lady Gregory was in her own right an accomplished playwright and a collector of folklore.

In terms of the Irish language, the movement of recording and validating the experiences of native Irish speakers from the western seaboard had begun. Collectors travelled to remote outposts, such as the Aran Islands and the Blaskets, to hear stories of life as it was lived, in a language that was beginning to seem in danger of extinction. Patrick Dinneen published his first Irish/English dictionary in 1904. The weekly newspaper, An Claidheamh Soluis, not only included Irish lessons for beginners, but gave listings of the activities of the Gaelic League, which had over 500 branches at this time. These activities included the Feiseanna, the competitions for music, drama and dance. At a Dublin Feis in 1904, Joyce was awarded a medal for singing.

There are two particularly striking aspects about the period: one is the smallness of the world those involved in cultural activity inhabited and the other, the large scale of what was produced during the period by a relatively small number of people. These people read the same journals, went to the same plays, and visited the same houses - most particularly that of A.E., whose Sunday "At Home" was a famous gathering places for aspiring talents. A.E. was also the moving force behind the publication of some of Joyce's earliest short stories in The Irish Homestead.

In terms of the Irish language, the movement of recording and validating the experiences of native Irish speakers from the western seaboard had begun. Collectors travelled to remote outposts, such as the Aran Islands and the Blaskets, to hear stories of life as it was lived, in a language that was beginning to seem in danger of extinction. Patrick Dinneen published his first Irish/English dictionary in 1904. The weekly newspaper, An Claidheamh Soluis, not only included Irish lessons for beginners, but gave listings of the activities of the Gaelic League, which had over 500 branches at this time. These activities included the Feiseanna, the competitions for music, drama and dance. At a Dublin Feis in 1904, Joyce was awarded a medal for singing.

There are two particularly striking aspects about the period: one is the smallness of the world those involved in cultural activity inhabited and the other, the large scale of what was produced during the period by a relatively small number of people. These people read the same journals, went to the same plays, and visited the same houses - most particularly that of A.E., whose Sunday "At Home" was a famous gathering places for aspiring talents. A.E. was also the moving force behind the publication of some of Joyce's earliest short stories in The Irish Homestead.

In the visual arts, artists such as Walter Osborne (who had died the previous year) and Sarah Purser played a major part in educating the visual sense of the Irish public. They paved the way for later talents such as Evie Hone, Harry Clarke and Paul Henry. Hugh Lane, although not a practitioner of the arts, should also be remembered for his introduction of artists such as Manet and Corot to the Irish public. Yet he, like many of those involved in literary activity, found difficulty in gaining support from the mainstream elements of society. A long controversy was to break out in 1905 over the establishment of a gallery of modern art, while that voice of the establishment, The Irish Times, could dismiss 1904 as an unexciting year in terms of literary achievement, and mention only the recent publications of Kipling, Marie Corelli and Hall Caine as being worthy of mention.

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Gallery


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