Cathleen ni Houlihan

Happy, Vigorous, Spiritual; De Valera’s Fantasy in the Abbey Theatre College

Ireland has, through the arts and its cultural heritage, often been perceived as a fantasy country; fantasy in the sense that it is often depicted in a simplified, romanticized fashion. This can be seen in William Butler Yeats’s and Lady Gregory’s rendition of Ireland as the romantic heroine Cathleen Ni Houlihan, or in the prevalence of Celtic culture, exemplified by organisations such as the Gaelic League. Eamon de Valera’s 1943 St Patrick’s Day speech, ‘On Language & the Irish Nation’, is yet another example of a romanticized, simplified, and idyllic Ireland, this time used for political, rather than artistic or cultural, purposes. It is clear to see through a large bulk of Irish literature, specifically the drama of the Abbey Theatre, however, that the Ireland de Valera depicted in this speech, a “happy, vigorous, spiritual” Ireland, never truly existed in the past or present; de Valera exploited Ireland’s romantic imagination to create political propaganda.

De Valera’s speech created an image of Ireland that was inconsistent with realistic literary portrayals of the country. In the speech, de Valera stated that his idyllic Ireland “would be home to people who valued material wealth only as a basis for the right of...

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