Sport, literature, tradition…: these cultural markers that forge Ireland’s identity

Rock, voice of protest

From the group Them (Gloria, Here Comes The Night…), Belfast singer Van Morrison was one of the first to give an identity to Irish rock in the late 1960s, with songs that combined mysticism and sensuality. In 1995, his hit Days Like This will even become the unofficial anthem of the peace movement. With the birth of U2 in the early 1980s, Irish rock held its flag: the group’s first planetary hit in 1983, Sunday Bloody Sunday denounced the repression of the civil rights marches in 1972. The Dublin group continued to sing for their country by organizing a concert in their hometown in 1986 to denounce social misery. They will be joined on stage by the Pogues, who integrate traditional music with their punk rock. At the turn of the 1990s, other pop figures would get involved, such as Sinéad O’Connor who did not hesitate to publicly support the IRA in 1988, or the Cranberries, whose hit zombie (1994) denounces the violence of the “Troubles” which have shaken the country for thirty years.

Rugby, a whole people behind the XV of clover

What if rugby had brought Ireland together? In Ovalia, the green Erin, usually symbolized by her three-leafed shamrock, forms a four-leaf clover uniting each province: the three of Eire (Leinster, Munster and Connacht) and Ulster, with its six counties attached to the UK. Thus, at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, the stadium of the “national” team inaugurated in 2010, whether the supporters are Republicans or Loyalists, Nationalists or Orangemen, Catholics or Protestants, all are Irish, wearing a jersey, a top hat or a green wig, sometimes a red beard. A lasting sporting miracle, a century after the 1922 split: today it is the only team in the world to bring together two different political entities. To avoid any controversy, a hymn was specially created in 1995: Ireland’s Call. With a record of fourteen victories, including three Grand Slams, at the Six Nations Tournament, the Irish team is considered one of the best national teams in the world.

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St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration without borders

It is undoubtedly the most important celebration of Irish identity, even if it is not a national holiday. Every year, on March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day is the occasion for large parades and parades throughout the country but also abroad. For a long time, however, this day was considered a religious holiday: the date falling in the middle of Lent, it was impossible for the Irish to drink to the health of their patron saint during this period of fasting. It was in the United States, in Boston, that the first celebration of St. Patrick’s Day took place as an Irish holiday, in 1737. As for the first parade, it was held in New York in 1762. Ireland, the law of 1961 allowing bars to open on March 17 helped give it a more convivial and uninhibited turn, symbol of the unity of a people.

Music and dance, with real roots

Popularized by the harpists of the Gaelic clans around the 9th century, traditional Irish music has gone through all eras until today. A longevity which is explained in particular by the oral tradition which prospers in an essentially agricultural country, but also by the distribution of scores of ballads in Dublin in the 19th century. Long confined to private places, it was brought to the fore after the war, first by the singer Delia Murphy (1902-1971), then by the creation, in 1951, of the traditional music association Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and the Fleadh Cheoil Festival. A few years later, the Clancy Brothers popularized Irish folk in the United States and inspired a whole wave of folk singers, notably Bob Dylan, before groups took over in Ireland, such as the Dubliners or the Chieftains, who collaborated with Stanley Kubrick for the soundtrack of Barry Lyndon (1975). In 1995, the theatrical show Riverdance and his impressive tap numbers (tap dancing) will help bring Irish music and folklore to the world.

Irish Gaelic, a legacy of two millennia

It was a symbol of resistance to the English invasion: Irish Gaelic, a Celtic language that appeared on the island in the first millennium BC, experienced its maximum influence in the 5th century when the influence of the Irish monasteries spread the literature In Occident. It is spoken today by nearly 40% of the population, or 1.8 million people. First official language of the country, ahead of English, it has been recognized since 2007 by the European Union. Some rural areas, the Gaeltacht, have even made it the sole language of education and that of road signs and advertising. As with folklore or traditional music, Gaelic owes its survival in part to nationalist initiatives at the end of the 19th century, such as the Athbheochan na Gaeilge movement, “Gaelic revival”, in which the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language (1876), the Gaelic Union (1880) or the Gaelic League (1893), founded by Eoin Mac Néill and Douglas Hyde, future first president of Ireland.

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Tales and legends, the soul of the green “Erin”

What feats does Cuchulainn, the Irish Hercules with the lightning javelin? Why were the children of Lir turned into swans? How Fionn mac Cumhaill, giant of Ulster, built a causeway across the sea to fight the giant of Scotland? All these characters are part of the legends and tales from Celtic mythology as well as from the Christian religion, and which have been transmitted orally for centuries. Today, they are still firmly rooted in Irish culture thanks to movements to revalorize Irish literature such as the Celtic Revival, founded in 1896 by Lady Gregory, John Millington Synge and William Butler Yeats. This fabulous world populated by leprechaunsthese little red-haired and bearded elves dressed in green, fairies or even pookas, polymorphic creatures often represented on horseback and whose mane floats in the wind, constitute one of the cultural bases of the island.

James Joyce, the myth of the cursed writer

James Joyce (1882-1941) had a long and tumultuous relationship with Ireland, his native country. At 20, he had decided to leave it, to escape the conservative influence of the Church. In Portrait of the artist as a young man (1916), he described his motherland as “an old sow that devours its litter”. And in 1922, when his book was published in Paris Ulysses, a monumental tribute to Dublin, the work was banned in Ireland, which deemed the work obscene. It was not until the second half of the 20th century that Joyce was recognized for his genius in his country. So much so that today, Dublin is dotted with places reminiscent of the writer, from the James Joyce Center museum to the James Joyce Room tearoom, passing by a bust bearing his effigy in St. Stephen’s Green park or even the plaques of bronze enshrined in the sidewalks of the city. They represent his silhouette next to quotations from Ulysses.

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