Ireland Culture

Ireland Culture

Irish culture in the 21st century has achieved a level of diversity never seen before. Over many centuries the people of Ireland have developed a typical culture that is constantly changing under various historical conditions. In times of colonial existence, Irish culture asserted itself mainly by preserving its own traditions in the face of English oppression. It gave the Irish a sense of community and common origin. This was especially true of those who left Ireland to settle elsewhere in the world: they took a large part of their culture with them to foreign countries. From the second half of the 19th century, the understanding of ancestry and tradition changed again. The Celtic Revival made Irish culture the personal vision of the individual, especially the individual artist. In the context of mechanization and globalization as well as immigration, Irish culture is now influenced by many other cultures and traditions from around the world. Many new topics and suggestions have emerged here, which art, in particular, as an important part of Irish culture, is increasingly grappling with.

The term “culture” is extremely complex and controversial, and a detailed interpretation of Irish culture in terms of its institutional, technical, material and political aspects is beyond the scope of this article. See the other articles on Irish history, economy and society. In the following, the term “culture” is more focused on the spiritual and artistic aspects of Irish culture. This is justified to the extent that, under different historical conditions, the arts have contributed to the preservation of Irish culture and society.

National identity

Culture in Ireland, as in most other countries, always borders on questions about one’s own origin and traditions. Due to the very complex relationship with neighboring England, to whose colonial territories Ireland belonged, the concept of culture in Ireland was tied to the question of identity for centuries. England’s policy consisted in large part of suppressing Irish culture, as this always meant a threat to English supremacy (e.g. through the enactment of the Statutes of Kilkenny in the late Middle Ages, or the Penal Laws of the 17th century). But such official procedures often did the exact opposite: especially traditional Irish music became a vehicle for political resistance. Ballads with anti-English lyrics were, for example, on the lips of many people during the rebellion in 1798 and songs with political content are still in circulation today. But now they are sung pint in hand in the local pub for fun.

Personal identity

With the beginning of the Celtic Revival at the end of the 19th century, the idea that Irish culture must be an expression of Irish ancestry also changed. The best example of this is the Irish-born writer WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS, who was descended from English settlers. For him the old Irish-Celtic myths and legends were material to express himself and his art. Nonetheless, at a certain stage of his life he was just as interested in Japanese culture, which he combined with traditional Irish motifs and themes in many theater plays.

Tradition and present

In this regard, YEATS has been a pioneer in dealing with Irish traditions today. Culture that originated in or lived in Ireland has now taken many forms. One of these are the Irish festivals and holidays that are practiced in many countries around the world. The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 17th in honor of the Irish national saint St. Patrick is not only held in Ireland, but is also celebrated in places in the USA where many Irish-born Americans live (as part of the so-called Irish diaspora) . The most famous festival is Halloween,an old, pagan festival of the Celts that is celebrated every year on October 31st and was held in honor of the deceased. Nowadays, however, even Irish children are more after candy and money when they ring the doorbell and ask for trick or treat.


Among the performing arts, the changing influence of traditions is particularly evident in music. The folk revival was significant for the interest in traditional Irish music that still exists todayMusic in the 1960’s by bands like THE DUBLINERS, THE CHIEFTAINS, PLANXTY, MOVING HEARTS and singers like CHRISTY MOORE and DONAL LUNNY. Unlike in many other countries, traditional folk is still popular, especially among young Irish people. Elements of folk are creatively combined with other modern genres. In the 1970’s, folk and rock’n’roll from America and Great Britain mingled with the sound of bands like HORSLIPS and singers like VAN MORRISON. In the 80’s, bands like THE POGUES and singers like GAVIN FRIDAY and BOB GELDORF succeeded in combining traditional folk with punk rock, and musician ENYA began to compose New Age music with Celtic undertones. The traditional solo singing (sean nòs)In addition to other elements, it still plays an important role with artists like SINEAD O’CONNOR. A song that is often interpreted here is She moves through the Fair, which has meanwhile become cult status . Other important bands from the 1980’s are DE DANNAN, ALTAN, RELATIVITY, THE BOOMTOWN RATS, THE UNDERTONES and of course U2. In the late 1980’s and 1990’s, bands like MY BLOODY VALENTINE and ASH began to develop Irish punk into new styles. In the 1990’s, pop bands such as THE CORRS, BOYZONE, WESTLIFE and THE CRANBERRIES achieved international success.

Irish musicians are influenced by other traditions as well. The most well-known examples here are probably AFRO-CELT SOUND SYSTEM. As in other countries, all kinds of styles are present in Irish music these days. The most important music festivals include the annual Guinness Jazz Festival Cork, Lisdoonvarna and Witnness.

Dance and theater

The most famous dance show from Ireland is Riverdance with MICHAEL FLATLEY and JEAN BUTLER in the original line-up. Performed as part of the European Schlager Festival, Irish folk and tap dance gained worldwide attention and sparked renewed interest in Irish culture. Tap dance, also called Irish dance, can be danced in groups or solo. There are a wide variety of time types to which people dance (e.g. reel, slipjig, jig, hornpipe), the dances also differ from region to region. Irish tap dancing is practiced around the world, especially in the USA and Canada. Modern dance and ballet are becoming increasingly popular. The historically most important theater is the Abbey Theater . This is where the roots of modern Irish theater lie, now innovatively approaching the Irish dimension of home and family, death and the past, often influenced by contemporary theater in Great Britain.

Visual arts

The fine arts from Ireland are currently still relatively poorly known; Ireland is still overshadowed by the British art scene. However, Irish art has always been influenced by international developments, which may in large part be due to the fact that many Irish artists were trained abroad. Themes in Irish art, as in the other arts, are Ireland’s mythological past and present, and in painting, works by artists such as JACK B. YEATS and CAMILLE SOUTER are inspired by the Irish landscape. Other important painters are FRANCIS BACON and LOUIS LE BROCQUY. In the past few years, Irish art has been mostly in the field of multimedia and installation further developed, with which it follows global trends from a typically Irish point of view. An example of multimedia installations is the work of WILLIE DOHERTY, who deals intensively with the Northern Ireland conflict.


Over the past two decades, Irish films and Irish filmmakers and actors have grown in renown. While in earlier times the residents and landscape of Ireland were still made into a clichéd setting in films like The Quiet Man, Irish films have long since found their own voice. This is not least due to government funding from the Irish Film Board and institutions such as the Irish Film Center. Probably the best-known directors from Ireland are JIM SHERIDAN (My Left Foot, 1989; The Boxer, 1997; In America, 2002) and NEIL JORDAN (The Crying Game, 1992; Interview with the Vampire,1994; Michael Collins, 1996).

Ireland Culture

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