Important Irish & International Events 1900-2000



In 1900 Ireland formed part of the British empire, ruled from Westminster, and subject to Queen Victoria. Ireland was, therefore, without her own parliament or constitution, and unable to exercise self determination. Politically and economically it was a subject nation, but culturally and artistically Ireland had its own character and had international contacts distinct from those of Britain. Throughout the centuries Ireland has played her part in international affairs mainly through the men and women who have ventured abroad to make their names in the world. In the 20th century, however, Ireland was in a position to influence and have a say in international affairs through her role in the United Nations and the European Union.

The 1901 census showed that Ireland had a population of 4,458,775, a decrease of over 5% since 1891. By 1911 the population had decreased by a further percentage point to 4,390,219. These figures covered the whole of the island of Ireland, the next census to take place, that of 1926, gave a population of 2,971,992 in the Free State, a further decrease of over 5% since 1911. The figures continued to decline in the censuses of 1936, 1946, 1951 and 1956, reaching a low of 2,818,341 in 1961. Population figures began to grow from 1966, reaching 3,537,195 in 1986, the 2001 census figure of 3,840,838 being the largest since 1871.

In the 20th century Irishmen and women began to gain accolades from abroad, the most prestigious of which are the Nobel Prizes. In 1923 W.B. Yeats became the first Irish Nobel Prize laureate. Three more Irish writers were to receive the literature prize: G.B. Shaw in 1926, Samuel Beckett in 1969, and Seamus Heaney in 1995. In 1951 the Nobel prize for physics was presented to Dr E.T.S. Walton, Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, TCD (it was shared with Sir John Cockcroft). Three peace prizes were awarded: to Seán MacBride in 1974, to Máiréad Corrigan and Betty Williams, founders of the Peace People, in 1976, and to John Hume and David Trimble in 1998.

Irish writers have achieved distinction in all branches of literature throughout the century. In poetry the outstanding names are W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Patrick Kavanagh, Austin Clarke, Thomas Kinsella, Derek Mahon, Eavan Boland and Michael Longley. Those who have gained worldwide success as novelists include James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Flann O'Brien and John McGahern. The best known names in drama are Samuel Beckett, Seán O'Casey, John Millington Synge, Brendan Behan, Brian Friel and Tom Murphy. The short story has proved a particularly popular form, with James Joyce, Frank O'Connor, Seán O'Faoláin, Liam O'Flaherty, Edna O'Brien, John McGahern and William Trevor all producing outstanding collections. The 20th century also saw a significant revival of writing in the Irish language with major works being published by poets Seán Ó Riordáin, Máirtín Ó Direáin, Máire Mhac an tSaoi and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, and prose writer Máirtín Ó Cadhain.

An Irish film industry was slow to develop, but indigenous Irish films began to be made during the 1980s and Irish film makers such as Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan won Oscars and established international reputations. Traditional music has always been a vibrant force in Irish culture. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed a major revival of popular interest spearheaded by Seán Ó Riada and Ceoltóirí Cualann and the establishment of record labels such as Gael Linn and Claddagh. Groups such as The Chieftains and Planxty brought Irish music to an international audience. The 'ballad boom' of the 1960s saw groups like the Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners touring the world. In rock music Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy and U2 became international superstars.

Irish athletes took part in the Olympic Games from their inception. Martin J. Sheridan from Bohola, County Mayo, won two gold medals at the London Olympic Games in 1908. In 1928 Pat O'Callaghan won a gold medal in Amsterdam, and in 1956 Ronnie Delany won gold in Melbourne. The Irish international soccer team first qualified for the World Cup finals in 1990 (Northern Ireland had qualified in 1982). Irish sports people have also distinguished themselves internationally in a variety of sports such as rugby, horse racing and show jumping.

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