top of page

Irish Literature 101: Romantic Nationalism


Irish Literature 101 is a fascinating and complete guide through the significant historical events that shaped Irish culture and literature. This series also introduces major figures in every literary movement from romanticism to modernism. In addition, it is packed with numerous interesting quotes and concepts, along with easy-to-understand accounts of famous authors' works and the rationales behind the transition from one literary era to another. So, whether you are looking to refresh the memory on elemental Irish literature proceedings or enjoy learning about it for the first time, Irish Literature 101 proves beneficial. This series offers an engaging read, written in plain English with meticulous attention to historical and cultural affairs during each era.

Irish Literature 101 is divided into the following chapters:

“I showed my appreciation for my native land in the usual Irish way: by getting out of it as soon as I possibly could,”- Bernard Shaw.

An illustration of the Great Parliament of Ireland by Henry Barraud, John Hayter; The House of Commons in session. Oil on Canvas

National Romanticism of Ireland was an imposing literary and art movement much inclined towards re-construction of the nation’s identity. It delved deeper into the pulp of impaired political understanding and extracted its essence through romantic expressions. Yet, it is only fair to mention its boundaries were limited; to intelligibly define and outline democratic legitimacy, the very nature of romantic apprehension leaves space to tractable interpretations- much in repugnant opposition to classical understanding of politics and its sharp territories. Therefore, romanticism of Ireland is often regarded as national romanticism. And similar to all romantics, it raises many questions on the grounds of true rationality.

What is Romantic Nationalism?

National romanticism is a branch of the magnificent tree of romanticism. The similarities lie in the synergic root of their definitions and the emphasis on the expression of emotions through individualistic perspectives. But the difference is embedded in their landscapes. While romanticism dwells on nature as a general landscape, romanticism insists on nature and its moods as a key motif. National romanticism observes mankind in its “natural” state in society. The latter also embraces social customs, politics and sensibly-touched boundaries of a people in social environments.

Just Moving Around, A depiction of the second wave of the French revolution in 1830. Eugène Delacroix, Oil on Canvas

Romantic nationalism was born along with its sub movement and established by written ideas of Rousseau, the father of romanticism. His notions were later incised and brightened by intellectual additions of the young poet and philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder. In consequence with the industrial growth of Europe and the fast-paced changes in social structures, conceptualize human nature seemed only inevitable to be regarded as an inseparable part of the human’s existence.

“The working of revolutions misleads me no more; it is as necessary to our race as its waves to the stream, that it may not be a stagnant marsh. Ever renewed in its forms, the genius of humanity blossoms.”- Johann Gottfried Herder

Herder observed that geography was ingrained in the social inclinations and economic formation of any society. Therefore, the very blueprint of a people’s past in their costumes, deeds and recognition of the good and bad was regarded as the core elements of Herder's social studies.

Therefore, romantic nationalism was benevolent to folkloric tales, mythological creatures and contemporary political upheavals in a drastic yet delightful contrast.

Romantic Nationalism in Ireland

Form its budding in the late 18th century to its full bloom in the mid-19th century, romantic nationalism in Ireland bore the elements of Celtic folklore, ethnic chivalries and romantic ideas of the contemporary society- including those of the last King of Ireland, George III, to the dissolution of the Irish parliament wholly into the colonial body of the Imperial Britain.

The literary romantic era of Ireland is not separated from the construction or rather re-modeling of the Irish identity. At the conjecture of the Irish Parliament and the Parliament of Great Britain was a major factor on the rise of political consciousness, which was, then, affected by deleterious lack of appropriate social understanding.

Cultural assertions became the vowels of Ireland’s romantics by philosophizing politics and highlighting ideologies such as that of Hagel’s “spirit of the age”; since the impassioned romanticism of the nation was an idea shared by almost all Europe.

Beneath the sweet hymns of the lovers of the past and unkind metaphors of modern life, there were murmurs of revolutions that whispered in the ear of the populus. The hints were of liberalization of the thought and self as a society, both to determine the antagonist and to free oneself from its burdens.

Romantic Nationalism & the Foundation of Irish Revival

Romantic nationalism in Ireland was the moment of looking into the past to only in an aspiration for a better future. It brought the bonfire tales on to the canvases and eloquently expressed through the bleeding of the ink on the page. Cultural heroism and the ideal of what society ought to be became the mental questions and emotional inspiration of the Irish artist and literary personas; the very instrumentalization of romantic interpretation of these ethnic keynotes was used to uplift the political consciousness.

A Painting by Francis Wheatley depicting the Dublin Volunteers on College Green, Oil on Canvas, 1779-1780.

However, the seed of the romantic idealization did not and could not germinate until the literary revivalism era. As Herder put it, the current state of a nation and its ideals had only evolved based on its past and historic identity. Since Ireland was so long oppressed under the influence of the British rulers, this was only possible after the true identity of the Irish heritage and current nations were revived along with the almost extinct Gaelic language- which occurred during the Irish Renaissance.

Image Sources:

Wikimedia, An illustration of the Great Parliament of Ireland by Henry Barraud, John Hayter; The House of Commons in session. Oil on Canvas

Just Moving Around, A depiction of the second wave of the French revolution in 1830. Eugène Delacroix, Oil on Canvas

Wikimedia, Painting by Francis Wheatley depicting the Dublin Volunteers on College Green, Oil on Canvas, 1779-1780


Jonathan Githens-Mazer, Cultural and Political Nationalism in Ireland: Myths and Memories of the Easter Rising, University of London, 2005

Dawn D, Romantic nationalism: history and illusion in Ireland, Cambridge University Press, 2015

Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, Romantic Period, Originally published as L'Irlande et le romantisme, Éditions universitaires, 1972

Author Photo

Pourandokht Mazaheri

Arcadia _ Logo.png


Arcadia, has many categories starting from Literature to Science. If you liked this article and would like to read more, you can subscribe from below or click the bar and discover unique more experiences in our articles in many categories

Let the posts
come to you.

Thanks for submitting!

  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
bottom of page