Gaelic culture

Cork City Libraries hold books, periodicals, and sound recordings of material relating to Gaelic culture. Many out-of-print books and older published articles are available from our stocks. Material relating to Gaelic Cork is available in our Local Studies department in the Central Library, Grand Parade.

Gaelic culture is native to Ireland and Scotland and is associated with the Gaelic languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx). Celtic, in the sense that Gaelic languages are branches of the Celtic language family. Gaelic culture has also been influenced by peoples such as the Vikings, the Normans, the English and the Lowland Scots, by political ideologies such as Jacobinism, by the political context of the British state, by Christianity, especially in its modern Roman Catholic and Presbyterian forms, and by capitalist development. Once spoken throughout Ireland, through most of Scotland, and in the Isle of Man, the Gaelic languages have gradually receded to the western fringes of Ireland and Scotland. There is a rich Gaelic heritage in these islands: the vast majority of placenames in Ireland and Scotland are Gaelic, for example, and the majority of Irish and a significant proportion of Scots have Gaelic surnames. The especially rich Gaelic literary heritage is a millennium and a half old and of international importance. In the modern period, the Gaelic heritage was reinterpreted in various ways - e.g. the early 19th century conversion of the kilt and the bagpipes into conventional symbols of Scottish identity, and 19th and 20th century nationalism in Ireland that assimilated Gaelic heritage to national identity.

Conquest and colonization are the major factors in the decline of the Gaelic languages and in the 16th and 17th century disruption of Ireland's cultural life. Since the end of the 18th century, scholars began to gradually reconstruct Ireland's Gaelic heritage in history, archaeology, linguistics, literature, music, folklore and other domains, and this body of scholarship continues to grow. The 19th and early 20th century nationalist movement succeeded in making most Irish people identify with the Gaelic heritage as a central or at least important part of Irish national identity. The cultural revival movement succeeded in creating a national literature in English that in part reworked the medieval aristocratic and the modern folkloric heritage of Gaelic Ireland into contemporary forms, and simultaneously began the work of building a modern literature in Irish.

Today, library sources on Gaelic Ireland are quite extensive. There is a large body of literary work - novels, poetry, plays - as well as criticism and journalism in Irish, the evidence of dynamic cultural production that also extends into radio and film, and a proportion of this work is available in English translation. There is also written work in English that deals with, is influenced by, or originates in Gaelic Ireland (e.g. John Millington Synge's plays or Liam O'Flaherty's short stories). Scholarship in Irish or in Gaelic culture but written in English or other languages is very large, and appears in numerous monographs and in scholarly journals, and covers Early Modern Irish literature, folklore, mythology, Early and Modern Irish linguistics, dialectology, music, archaeology, history and other disciplines. There is also a popular non-fiction literature in Irish dealing with a variety of subjects.

Cork city and county have a particularly strong Gaelic tradition, from the numerous 18th and 19th century scribes to poets such as Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill and Máire Bhuí Ní Laoghaire. Cork was particularly active in the Gaelic Revival, with figures such as Fr Peadar Ó Laoghaire often setting the agenda and the standards for a new literature in Irish. That other branch of the Gaelic Revival, the Gaelic Athletic Association, has shown an identification with at least one aspect of the Gaelic heritage to be a defining element in Cork's identity. Daniel Corkery's The Hidden Ireland (1924) had a huge influence on perception of Gaelic Ireland. Corkery became Professor of English in UCC, and that institution has given an important voice to a Gaelic tradition in 20th century Ireland, in the work of figures such as the poet Seán Ó Riordáin, the composer Seán Ó Riada, who helped to revitalize traditional music in Ireland, and the poet and critic Seán Ó Tuama and the Innti poets, who invigorated poetry in Irish. Cork has for a long time also been an important centre for research into the Irish language and Gaelic Ireland, while cultural institutions such as Dámhscoil Mhúscraí and Eigse Dhiarmuidín point to the continued importance of a Gaelic tradition in West Muskerry.

(Diarmuid Ó Giolláin, 2006, for Cork City Libraries)

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