Ireland has a rich cultural past and present. The traditional lore
preserved by the early Irish poets has left a colourful heritage of
mythical and historical stories. Modern writers in turn have drawn
on these stories to enrich their own work.
The Irish Language
Most people spoke Irish until the early nineteenth century but by
1891 the majority spoke English only. It is one of the Celtic
family of languages and is closely related to Scots Gaelic, Welsh
and Breton. Since Independence the State has actively encouraged
the use of Irish and it is the first official language with English
as the second.
The latest figures show that 41% of all adults declare a knowledge
of Irish. It is widely spoken in areas known as the
Gaeltacht, situated mainly along the western seaboard. The
Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has responsibility
for promoting the cultural, social and economic welfare of the
Gaeltacht through Údarás na Gaeltachta
(Gaeltacht Authority). The Irish Language Agency (Foras
na Gaeilge) has responsibility for the promotion and
encouragement of the use of Irish as a vernacular throughout the
island of Ireland. Irish is a core subject in primary and secondary
schools and a growing number of schools offer tuition exclusively
through Irish (Gaelscoileanna). There is an Irish language
national radio service (Raidió na Gaeltachta) and an Irish
language television service (TG4). On 1 January 2007, the
Irish language became the 23rd official language of the
Irish Literature and Theatre
Irish writers have long made a significant contribution to world
literature in both the Irish and English languages. Written
literature in the Irish language dates from the sixth century. With
the end of the Gaelic order in the seventeenth century and its
tradition of patronage of poets, Irish writers began to preserve a
record of the old civilisation. Through the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries members of the clergy, teachers and poets
continued to write in Irish. One of the best known poets of this
time is Brian Merriman (1747–1805) author of the frequently
translated Cúirt an Mheán Oíche (Midnight Court). In the
twentieth century writers such as Patrick Pearse (1879–1916) and
Pádraic Ó Conaire (1882–1928) opened Irish literature to European
influences. Distinguished writers in Irish in the modern period
include such diverse voices as Liam Ó Flaitheartaigh (1896–1984),
Mairéad Ní Ghráda (1896–1971), Máirtín Ó Cadhain (1906–70), Máirtín
Ó Direáin (1910–88), Seán Ó Ríordáin (1916–77), Michael Hartnett
(1941–99), Críostóir Ó Floinn (b. 1927), Gabriel Rosenstock (b.
1949), Liam Ó Muirthile (b. 1950) and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (b.
In the English language, the satirist Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)
authored Gulliver’s Travels (1726). Oscar Wilde’s
(1854–1900) plays, prose and poetry continue to be performed and
read worldwide. Irish Nobel laureates include the playwright and
novelist George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) and the poet and dramatist
William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), whose work inspired the modern
renaissance in Irish writing. James Joyce (1882–1941) wrote the
pioneering modernist novel, Ulysses (1922) — widely
recognised as one of the greatest novels ever written. Joyce
inspired the work of satirist Brian O’Nolan (Flann
O’Brien)(1911–66), who also wrote in Irish. Nobel laureate Samuel
Beckett (1906–89) wrote in a minimalist vein, often in French. His
play, Waiting for Godot (1953) has become a twentieth
century classic of absurdism.
The generation of poets after Yeats included Patrick Kavanagh
Kavanagh’s example as a poet of rural realism inspired Seamus
Heaney whose vision of the redemptive power of poetry earned him
the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.
Irish fiction continues to be internationally recognised. In recent
years, several Irish writers have won the Man Booker Prize
including Anne Enright in 2007, John Banville in 2005 and Roddy
Doyle in 1993. Writers shortlisted for the prize include Colm
Tóibín (1999, 2004 and 2009), Sebastian Barry (2008) and Emma
Donoghue (2010). Colum McCann’s novel, ‘Let the Great World Spin’
won the National Book Award in the USA in 2009.
Irish theatre companies such as the Abbey, the Druid and the Gate
regularly tour their productions to international venues and host
the work of visiting theatre companies to Ireland.
The earliest Irish art consists of carvings on megalithic monuments
dating from 3500 B.C. Celtic art reached its apogee in the
manuscripts of the gospels such as the books of Durrow and Kells.
After the ninth century Irish art absorbed Viking, Romanesque and
Gothic influences producing, for example, richly carved stone High
From the mid-seventeenth century decorative arts such as
goldsmithery, plasterwork and glass flourished in conjunction with
the large-scale public buildings of the time. In the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Irish painters looked to
the French Impressionists for a new idiom. These include William
Leech (1881–1968), Walter Osborne (1859–1903), John
Lavery(1856–1941) and Roderic O’Conor (1860–1940). Crossing from
Impressionism to Expressionism, Jack B. Yeats (1871–1957) towers
over his contemporaries much as his brother, the poet W.B. Yeats,
was pre eminent among his peers.
For a country of its size, the global influence of Irish
architects, both historically and contemporary, is considerable.
The Irish landscape is one of the oldest man-made landscapes in the
world, dating back to 3500 B.C. when megalithic tombs were
constructed. These include dolmens and passage graves such as
Newgrange, Co. Meath. During the Iron Age (after 500 B.C.), large
circular stone forts were built, usually on hilltops such as Dun
Aengus on the Aran Islands. In early Christian times, Ireland’s
architecture once more flourished – for example in the Round
Towers, which are considered unique to Ireland and formed part of
important monastic sites such as Glendalough or Clonmacnoise. The
most spectacular surviving early Christian site is Skellig Michael
(c. 6th-8th c A.D.), on the Great Skellig Island in the Atlantic
Ocean, which was inhabited by Irish monks. Irish architecture is
world-renowned for its Georgian period (1714-1830), during which
many architectural masterpieces were constructed such as the
Palladian-style Castletown House (1729) in County Kildare and
Dublin’s neo-classical Custom House (1791). Dublin’s elegant
Georgian townhouses, generous squares and leafy parks also come
from this period. Many masterpieces can be found on the university
campus of Trinity College Dublin, such as the Old Library (1712)
and the Provost’s House (1759). Irish architects also made
important international contributions in the 18th and 19th
centuries. In 1792 James Hoban (1758-1831) won the competition to
design The White House for U.S. President George Washington.
One of Ireland’s most famous architects from the early 20th century
is Eileen Gray (1878-1976). A pioneer of the Modern Movement, Gray
lived in Paris where she designed furniture as well as her house
E1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The National Museum of Ireland
holds many of Gray’s iconic furniture designs and architectural
models. Today, the work of Irish architects is transforming cities
all over the world – from Europe to China and South America where
Grafton Architects’ design for a new university campus in Lima won
them a ‘Silver Lion’ at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale.
Music has always been an important part of Irish culture, from the
traditional accompaniment to festivals and funerals in the form of
playing and ballad singing, to Irish dancing which is very much
alive in Irish communities around the world. The harp was the
dominant instrument in early historical times. One of the earliest
Irish composers whose work survives is Turlough O’Carolan (1670–
1738), the blind harpist and one of the last of the ancient bardic
There is also a classical tradition in the forms pioneered by other
European composers. Eighteenth century Dublin was an important
musical centre and Handel chose to premiere his Messiah
there in 1742. In the twentieth century traditional Irish music
inspired modern composers such as Seán Ó Riada
Traditional Irish music is now popular in many countries through
the influence of groups as diverse as Clannad, Enya, the
Chieftains, the Dubliners, Altan,
Dervish, Lúnasa and Anúna, all of whom perform in a modern context
without compromising the integrity of the original sound.
Reflecting this versatility is the phenomenon of Riverdance,
with music composed by Bill Whelan, combining the best of Irish
song, music and dance.
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann a non-profit cultural movement
with hundreds of local branches around the world plays a prominent
part in the development and preservation of Irish traditional music
There are three full–time professional orchestras performing in
Ireland, the largest of which is the RTÉ National Symphony
Orchestra, as well as a National Opera Company.
Ireland also has made a huge contribution to the history of rock
music with world famous acts such as U2, Rory Gallagher, Thin
Lizzy, the Boomtown Rats/Bob Geldof and the Pogues followed more
recently by bands such as the Cranberries, Snow Patrol and the
Frames and up and coming groups like The Script and Two Door Cinema
Club. Ireland is also known for its singer-songwriters with Van
Morrison in particular achieving global fame while Paul Brady,
Christie Moore and more recently Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan have
also reached global audiences. Ireland can also claim to have been
at the forefront of pop music, with Boyzone and Westlife achieving
fame and selling tens of millions of records worldwide.
Films have been made in and about Ireland since the Lumiére
Brothers filmed in Sackville (now O’Connell) Street in 1897. Dublin
born Rex Ingram was a Hollywood silent film director in the early
20th century. In 1910 the American, Sidney Olcott, filmed The
Lad from Old Ireland in New York and Kerry, the first film ever
made on two continents.
Throughout the last century Irish film makers were prolific in
their production of amateur films, newsreels and documentaries, the
most famous of which was Mise Éire (1960) directed by George
Morrison. It was not until the 1970s however that a new wave of
indigenously produced fiction films began to provide a striking
alternative to foreign produced representations of Ireland. The
Irish film industry has grown significantly, over the last decade
and Ireland is now becoming known for our film making talent in the
same way as we are known for our theatre and literature. Following
in the footsteps of Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan, we now have a new
generation of filmmakers including directors like Lenny Abrahamson,
Conor McPherson, Martin McDonagh and Kirsten Sheridan.
In recent years, Irish films have won almost every major
international award such as the Palm D’Or at Cannes - won by The
Wind That Shakes The Barley, the Golden Bear in Berlin won by
Bloody Sunday and the Golden Lion in Venice won by The
Magdalene Sisters. Once won the prestigious Best Foreign
Film Award at the Independent Spirit Awards and Garage took
home the C.I.C.A.E. Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. Two
Irish films have won the Oscar for best short film in recent years:
Six Shooter in 2006 and The Shore in 2012.
The Abbey Theatre: www.abbeytheatre.ie
National Concert Hall: www.nch.ie
Irish Museum of Modern Art: www.imma.ie
National Gallery of Ireland: www.nationalgallery.ie
National Library of Ireland: www.nli.ie
National Museum of Ireland: www.museum.ie
Chester Beatty Library: www.cbl.ie
Bord Scannán na hÉireann: www.filmboard.ie
Among the most popular sports are Ireland’s traditional games,
gaelic football, hurling and camogie, which are played almost
exclusively in Ireland and in Irish communities abroad. Games in
the All-Ireland hurling and football championships attract large
attendances throughout the summer months culminating in the finals,
the highlight of Ireland’s sporting year, which are held in Croke
Park in Dublin.
Soccer is popular at all ages from school to senior level in
domestic competitions.The Irish International team, which plays as
the Republic of Ireland, has over thepast number of years enjoyed
some success and is well supported by enthusiastic and friendly
fans. The team has qualified for the World Cup on 3 occasions -
1990,1994 and 2002 - with their best finish in 1990 when they
reached the quarterfinals. Ireland has also reached the finals of
the European Championships twice in 1988 and 2011. Rugby is also
popular in Ireland at international, club and schools level. The sport is managed by the Irish
Rugby Football Union (IRFU).
Ireland competes in the international annual Six Nations
Championship, winning the tournament on a total of 11 occasions,
most recently in 2009. Ireland has reached the quarter finals of
the Rugby world cup on 5 occasions.
Ireland has a strong reputation for field sports such as shooting,
fishing and also for equestrian events, show jumping and horse
racing. The Irish bloodstock industry is considered one of the
finest in the world.
As Ireland has over 3,000 kilometres of coastline and numerous
inland waterways, sailing and boating are long-established sports.
A wide range of marine leisure activities such as fishing,
water-skiing, canoeing, wind-surfing, diving and swimming are also
Over 400 golf courses offer facilities throughout the country.
All-Ireland teams compete in international amateur golfing
competitions with the major Irish tournaments on the international
professional circuit being the Irish Open and the Irish PGA
Championship. Ireland hosted the September 2011 biennal
professional women golfers’ Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle Golf
Resort, County Meath. The Ryder Cup was last held in Ireland in
2006 and Irishman
Paul McGinley will lead the European team as captain in the 2014
tournament. 2010 and 2011 were remarkable years for golfers from
Northern Ireland: Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke
won three major tournaments – the US Masters 2010, the US Open 2011
and the British
Open 2011 - respectively. McIlroy went on to win his second major
at the US PGA in 2012 and is now considered one of the best golfers
in the world.
Ireland also has a rich Olympic history from the 2 gold medals won
by Pat O’Callaghan in the hammer in 1928 and 1932 to the London
Olympics where Ireland won 5 medals in total, including the gold
won by Katie Taylor in the first ever Olympic women’s boxing
tournament.In between, great athletes such as Ronnie Delaney, Sonia
O’Sullivan and Michael Carruth have competed and won medals for
Ireland. Ireland also saw great success in the 2012 Paralympics in
London, winning 16 medals including 2 golds each for Michael
McKillop (athletics) and Mark Rohan (cycling).
Ireland hosted the Special Olympics in June 2003. Over 7,000
athletes from countries came to Ireland to participate in
what was the largest sporting event ever to take place in Ireland.
Over 400 golf courses offer facilities through the country.
All-Ireland teams compete in international amateur golfing
competitions with the major Irish tournaments on the international
professional circuit being the Irish Open and the Smurfit European
Open. The Ryder Cup was held in Ireland in 2006, with top
Irish golfers Pádraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley
contributing to the European team’s victory over the United States.
Harrington later went on to become a three times ‘Majors’ winner,
winning the British open championship in July 2007 and in 2008, and
the US PGA in 2008.
Ireland has a history of successfully hosting prestigious sporting
events and hosted the special olympics in June 2003. This was the
largest sporting event ever to take place in Ireland. Over 7,000
special athletes from 160 countries came to Ireland to participate
in this unique sporting achievement.
The Irish Sports Council: www.irishsportscouncil.ie
Football Association of Ireland: www.fai.ie
Irish Rugby Football Union: www.irfu.ie
Gaelic Athletic Association: www.gaa.ie
Horse Racing Ireland: www.goracing.ie
Golfing Union of Ireland: www.gui.ie
Special Olympics Ireland: www.specialolympics.ie
Olympic Council of Ireland: www.olympicsport.ie