The Loss of the Irish Indigenous Voice and the Rise of the English Imperial Influence

The English presence in Ireland was invasive, as seen with its clear control of Irish plantation ownership (which has been referenced on another blog post!). I would like to take this article to focus on the English influence on Irish culture and literature. This concept serves as the core argument in Duffy, Segerson, and Hyde’s “The necessity for de-Anglicising Ireland” and furthermore underlies Kilfeather’s second chapter.

The graphic above showcases the gradual weakening of the indigenous Irish language throughout past centuries. Specifically, you can see Ireland in 400 AD and 1000 AD used mostly Irish language. With the rise of 1600 AD though, English and Scottish language heavily invaded Ireland and began to move into the country’s entirety. This is just one example of England’s infiltration into Ireland’s voice and indigenous culture.

Duffy et. al points out a stark irony in the fact that “the Irish race is at present in a most anomalous position, imitating England and yet apparently hating it. How can it produce anything good in literature, art, or institutions
as long as it is actuated by motives so contradictory?” (118). In other words, despite England’s oppressive rule over the country, the traditional Irish culture has succumbed itself to English influence.

Literature serves as a pillar of national culture, exemplifying a country’s authentic ideals and values. Yet, Kilfeather writes that the Act of Union established a regulation system over Dublin publishing and books under British copyright laws. As a result, the Irish voice has not been allowed to fully authentically flourish– instead, it has been molded by British control and influence. One can even point to Dublin writers’ engagement with England: Oscar Wilde himself spent most of his life in England, despite being born in Dublin. The author’s influence from England can spur us to consider the prevalence of English culture upon Irish authors and thinkers.

One can see this underlying argument throughout Kilfeather’s second chapter, with its subtle references to the prevalence of English culture in Ireland. Kilfeather discusses the Irish audience’s fascination for The Messiah, which was an English-language oratorio written by British composer Handel who spent most of his career in London. The author writes that “The Messiah became one of the sounds of Dublin,” showing that English influence assimilated quickly into Dublin’s core (Kilfeather 60). To accompany this fact, Duffy et. al declares that the Celtic Irish voice was stripped away, including that voice which is in music (121). Here is a video performance of Handel’s The Messiah; it is rather long, so it may be best to just select a few minutes to watch!

In the same way, Kilfeather references London-based Francis Wheatley’s A View of College Green with the Meeting of the Volunteers on the 4th November, 1779, to Commemorate the Birthday of King William. This painting received tremendous success in Ireland as well. You can see a picture of the painting below.

Ultimately, both mediums of art reveal England’s power in the gradual, subtle hinderance of Ireland’s indigenous and authentic voice. While Hyde is explicit about this weakening of Irish Celtic culture, Kilfeather subtly reveals the invasion of English influence.

I hope that perhaps we can take Duffy et. al’s advice, which is to embrace Ireland’s indigenous voice and encourage it in the modern day. As the authors state, Ireland can slowly return to its roots if it has the opportunity to fully develop along its own Irish lines and voice.

2 Comments

  1. The Irish are trying to reclaim their language. It is being taught in schools again and while it is still only spoken regularly by a minority of the Irish population, the instruction of it will lead to it being more widely used. I also think that while the Irish did somewhat assimilate to English rule, Duffy, et al. also points out that the Irish retained too much of their own identity to be fully English either. Either way it will be interesting to see the future of Ireland in the coming years.

  2. I love how you added the “History of British and Irish Languages” map alongside your discussion of indigenous Irish language! I think it’s interesting how both your map, as well as the plantation maps, showing that it wasn’t simply just an invasion of Irish land, but of Irish culture as well.

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