Culture in Ireland

Irish Language and Gaeltacht areas

Irish is the first official language of Ireland according to the Irish Constitution. It is believed that the Irish language was brought over to Ireland with the Celts in the first half of the last millennium and that it derived from a larger family of languages known as Indo-European. Scholars have divided the language into four distinct periods.

1. Old Irish:  600-900 CE
2. Middle Irish: 900-1200
3. Early Modern Irish or Classical Irish: 1200-1650
4. Modern Irish: 1650-present day


             The gaeltacht (Irish speaking regions) covers extensive parts of counties

                 - Donegal

                 - Mayo

                 - Galway

                 - Kerry

                and parts of Cork, Meath and Waterford

Great Literary Traditions

Irish writers are amongst the major contributors to the world of literature, in both the English and Irish language. Irish literature reflects many societal changes that echo Ireland’s turbulent past and captures the transition from a mainly rural life to a more urban one. Writers such as William Butler Yeats were particularly inspired by modernism and created a type of ‘renaissance’ in Irish writing, influencing writers such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett with many of their works becoming modern day classics, most notably, Ulysses written by Joyce. Poet of rural realism, Patrick Kavanagh, created works very different to the likes of Yeats yet inspired a new generation of writers with rural backgrounds, giving them a platform and a voice including Seamus Heaney, a Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1995. Earlier playwrights such as Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw dominated the Irish theatre scene with their quick witted and comical writing style and established the beginnings of an Irish institution now known as the Abbey Theatre.

Irish Art

Irish art has a long history that can be traced back to carvings on megalithic tombs found at sites such as Newgrange, dating back to 3500 B.C. The Celts then went on to produce detailed and intricate manuscripts and bibles such as The Book of Kells. Invasions from the Vikings and Normans saw Irish art absorb Scandinavian, Romanesque and Gothic styles, constructing elaborate stone crosses and producing art imbued with religious mythology and themes, denoting the stronghold of the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. Irish art in the 17th century yielded decorative works from goldsmithery, plaster work and glass. The late 19th century and early 20th century saw a revival in the visual arts and was a period inspired by French impressionism to expressionism and produced artists such as William Leech, Walter Osborne and Jack B. Yeats. The 20th century also saw the likes of Francis Bacon’s graphic and emotional, modernist pieces sell for substantial amounts with the Triptych, 1976 bought for an astounding €55.4 million in 2008. Contemporary Irish art has produced witty and satirical sculptures from artists like Edward Delany, John Behan and Kathy Prendergast.


Irish Music

Irish music is deeply entrenched in Irish culture and has always been a large part of many social events. Originally Irish music consisted of the harp and tabor then transformed over time to include instruments like the fiddle, flute and banjo along with many more. Traditional (trad) music is usually characterised by a fast and energetic pace. Slow ballads with sentimental lyrics were made popular by the Clancy Brothers and the Dubliners in the late 1950s that invigorated the Irish diaspora about tales from home. This was also reinforced with the production of Riverdance in the 1990s which showcased Irish music as well as its connection to traditional Irish dancing, deriving from céili and step dancing. Ireland has delivered a number of high profile acts that have had tremendous international success such as U2, Enya, Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, The Cranberries, Thin Lizzy and The Pogues.

Irish Film

The Irish film industry is an expanding and dynamic enterprise, employing over 6000 people due to its advocacy by the Irish Film Board and generous tax incentives introduced over the last few years. This has stirred international interest and critical acclaim with Irish films receiving awards at high profile film festivals such as Cannes and Sundance. This has also generated a growing reputation for producing great films, the most recent success being The Guard. Other Irish film successes have been The Commitments, My Left Foot, The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Once. Not only has Ireland produced a string of successful films but also acting talent such as Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne and many more. Irish directors such as Neil Jordon (The Butcher Boy, The Crying Game, Michael Collins) and Jim Sheridan (In the Name of The Father, In America) are now being joined by equally creative talent making the Irish film industry a formidable one. Ireland also hosts its own film festivals which are becoming more popular each year, the most notable being the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival and Corona Cork Film Festival which attracts many of Hollywood’s established talents.


There is a keen interest in sport in Ireland and there is a vast selection of sporting activities ranging from equestrian and water sports to more traditional ones such as Gaelic football, camogie and hurling. Many of the traditional sports are played are exclusive to Ireland as they are played by Irish communities aboard too. Popular sports in school are football, hurling, camogie and rugby. These also attract large audiences when big games are played at both local and national levels, for example the All Ireland hurling, football and camogie championships. The Irish rugby team play at an international level  and participate in events such as the Six Nations and are regular contenders for the Rugby World Cup which is held every four years.  The Irish landscapes makes for popular sporting interests such as fishing, shooting and particularly equestrian sports such as show jumping and horse racing. Boasting the world’s largest horse stud farm, Coolmore Stud, Tipperary, has a thriving horse breeding industry and has produced many winners on the international racing circuit.