Everything Irish

The History, Literature, Art, Music, People, and Places of Ireland, from A to Z

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Here, in one complete volume, is the depth and breadth of the great island nation and its people represented in an easily browsed, friendly format. From the Abbey Theatre to the Dublin storyteller Zozimus; from the origin of the Troubles to the origin of the limerick; from the stunning beauty of Connemara to the shattering tragedy of Bloody Sunday; from the greatest writers of the English language to the “confrontational television” of Gay Byrne’s The Late Late Show–every aspect of Irish culture, geography, and history is collected and annotated in more than 900 entries from A to Z. Readers will encounter heroes and terrorists, poets and politicians, all of Ireland’s counties, ancient myths, and pivotal events–all expertly and succinctly described and explained.

With entries written by some of the world’s leading authorities on Ireland, Everything Irish is perfect for everyone, from the inquiring reader to the serious student. You can spend a few minutes learning about the much-maligned Travelers and then move on to the equally contentious (in its time) medieval tithe. Visit the majestic Cliffs of Moher and then delve into an analysis of paramilitary groups like the Irish Republican Army and the Ulster Volunteer Force. Explore the ruins of a Romanesque castle or experience the piercing light of the winter solstice inside prehistoric Newgrange, a passage grave older than the pyramids.

Across centuries and across counties, the rich landscape of Irish life and heritage springs to life in these pages. An indispensable source of fascinating information and captivating anecdote, this is one book that will never be far from the hands of those with curious minds or an adventurous spirit.

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Everything Irish


Abbey Theatre, the. Ireland’s national theater. Considered one of the most prestigious theater companies in the world, the Abbey is one of the important institutions to emerge from the *Irish Revival of the late nineteenth century. In 1899, Lady *Gregory, W. B. *Yeats, and others created the Irish Literary Theatre, which became known as the Abbey Theatre in 1904. As a writers’ theater, its main objective was to encourage the staging of Irish plays for Irish audiences at a time when *theater in Ireland was dominated by the offerings of British touring companies. The Abbey also aimed to uphold the highest artistic principles and to provide an alternative to the melodrama and vaudeville of the commercial theaters. Early on, the movement produced a crop of talented playwrights, including Yeats, Lady Gregory, J. M. *Synge, and Seán *O’Casey, whose contribution to world drama has been widely acknowledged. The Abbey’s initial success was considerably enhanced by the acting talents of *Frank and Willie *Fay. Some of the early productions became embroiled in the politics of the day, causing dis- turbances in the theater. Most notoriously, J. M. Synge’s Playboy of the Western World (1907) and Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars (1926) caused riots because of their iconoclastic attacks on idealized cultural nationalism. Destroyed by fire in 1951, the theater was redeveloped to include a smaller auditorium (the *Peacock) and reopened in 1966. Although criticized for its conservatism at times, the Abbey continues to be the most important institution in Irish theater. In 1990, the Abbey triumphed with a production of Brian *Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa, which toured to great acclaim in London and New York. The best of contemporary playwrights continue to work at the Abbey, including Marina *Carr, Conor *McPherson, and Eugene O’Brien. p.j.m.

Adams, Gerry (1948– ). Politician, president of *Sinn Féin (1983–present), Member of Parliament (MP) for West *Belfast. Gerry Adams was born on October 6, 1948, into a working-class *republican

Gerry Adams

family in West Belfast. Educated in local *Catholic schools, Adams joined the republican movement in 1964. When Sinn Féin split in 1969/70, he sided with the Provisional wing, and became active in the *Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) campaign. By early 1970, he was suspected of playing a leading role in the Ballymurphy unit of the Provisional IRA (*Irish Republican Army) in Belfast. He is credited with devising the “economic targets” bombing campaign. In 1972, Adams was interned without trial, but briefly released to participate in secret peace talks with the British government. The talks failed, but Adams reputedly became Adjutant for Belfast and important in the “middle leadership’’ of the IRA. He was interned again in 1973–76 and 1978, and was officially charged with membership in the IRA but was never convicted.

As a northern leadership of the IRA emerged in the late 1970s, Adams pressed for its political wing, Sinn Féin, to be more involved in electoral politics in *Northern Ireland. He consolidated his leadership role as Sinn Féin vice president during the republican prisoners’ *hunger strikes of 1981, and in 1983 he became president of Sinn Féin.

A member of the United Kingdom Parliament since 1983 (except for 1992–97 when *SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) representative Dr. Joe Hendron defeated him), Adams has refused to take his seat at Westminister in keeping with party policy.

Following talks with SDLP leader John *Hume (started in 1988), and overtures to the British and Irish governments, Adams helped to secure an IRA cease-fire in August 1994, which lasted until February 1996. In September 1997, after the declaration of a second IRA cease-fire in July of that year, Adams and his negotiating team joined multiparty talks to end the conflict. The resulting Belfast (or *Good Friday) Agreement, April 1998, fell well short of republican objectives, but Adams hoped it could be used as a base for further negotiations and campaigned vigorously for its acceptance. In May 1998, 95 percent of the people in the *Republic and 71 percent of those in Northern Ireland accepted the agreement. In June 1998, Adams won a seat in the new Northern Ireland Assembly. He led Sinn Féin to an electoral peak of 21.7 percent in the Westminster election in the summer of 2001, narrowly overtaking the SDLP as Northern Ireland’s largest *nationalist party. In the fall of 2001, he helped to secure an IRA decommissioning of part of its arsenal and, early in 2002, spoke Harvesting at Traditional Irish Farm, Muckross Estate, Killarney, County Kerry openly of the need to secure the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland for a united Ireland. Although he has largely been successful in unifying the republican movement behind the *peace process, Adams has not been able to prevent splits in the IRA, though they have been limited in significance. His immediate ambition, it seems, is to make Sinn Féin the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland and a more significant force in the Republic, as well. m.m.

Aer Lingus. Ireland’s national airline. In April 1936, Aer Lingus Teoranta, which comprised of one six-seat aircraft, was registered as a private airline by the Irish government. After providing the vital *Dublin to Liverpool air link during World War II, Aer Lingus greatly expanded its fleet and services over the next two decades. Routes to numerous British and European cities were opened between 1945 and 1960 and services from Dublin and Shannon to *New York, *Boston, and *Chicago were inaugurated between 1958 and 1966. In 2000, Aer Lingus operated a fleet of thirty-eight aircraft carrying close to seven million passengers and made a profit of 79.9 million. As a consequence of the events of Septem- ber 11, 2001, the airline lost 50 million dollars in 2001. Aer Lingus adapted to the worldwide fall in demand for air travel by restructuring and reducing its workforce by one-third. s.a.b.

agriculture. Ireland’s *economy has traditionally been based on agriculture. Sixty-four percent of the land of Ireland (17 million acres) is used for agriculture, with forestry accounting for a further 9.4 percent in 2001. Ireland’s maritime climate, with high rainfall and relatively low summer but high winter temperatures, is suitable for grass growing and animal production, but makes growing crops difficult. The percentage of grassland (80 percent) is the highest of any *European Union (EU) country. Therefore, agricultural production is dominated by livestock, with beef, dairy products, and sheep meat accounting for about three-quarters of overall production. Minor commodities include grain, sugarbeet, potatoes, pigs, and poultry. Around two-thirds of total production is exported, and access to lucrative export markets has always been a government priority.

Some of the earliest farming settlements in Europe, circa 3000 b.c., were discovered at the *Céide Fields in County *Mayo. The *Celts who arrived about 300 b.c. introduced the *Brehon system of tribal land tenure, which survived up to the time of *Elizabeth I, much longer than elsewhere in Europe, where crop production favored the individual possession of land. The arrival of the *Normans in the twelfth century had no long-term impact on agricultural practices or structures. However, the *plantations in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries rudely disrupted the old order. Not only was tribal tenure replaced by the feudal system, but ownership of land passed completely into the hands of the old *Anglo-Irish families or the new English and Scottish settlers. By the end of the eighteenth century, about 95 percent of Ireland’s land was owned by settlers (who constituted less than 0.5 percent of the population), many of them absentee *landlords.

During the nineteenth century, livestock became firmly established as the preferred mode of farming because it was more profitable than tillage. A numerous tenantry, once an asset, now became a liability, leading to a sharp increase in *emigration. The *Land Act of 1885 introduced a voluntary purchase scheme to enable tenants to own their land. Land purchase was subsequently made compulsory in the first Land Act passed by the *Free State government in 1923. The owner-occupied family farm became the fundamental unit of agricultural production.

In the first five decades of independence, the Land Commission enforced a program of land purchase and redistribution to maximize the number of families working the land. However, technological progress in farming, together with rising incomes outside of agriculture, has increased the minimum size for farm viability. While the number of family farms has declined steadily from 398,000 in 1900 to 144,000 in 1999, average farm size has increased from 31.4 acres to 72.4 acres. With the growth of nonagricultural employment in rural areas, part-time farming has become common. It is now estimated that on 45 percent of farms, either the farmer and/or his or her spouse has an off-farm job.

Agriculture, traditionally the backbone of the economy, is becoming less important as Ireland’s economic structure diversifies. In 1922, the agricultural sector in the Irish Free State accounted for about one-third of gross domestic product, just over half of total employment, and almost three-quarters of merchandise exports. By 2001, agriculture’s share of national output had fallen to just over 3 percent, while its share of national employment was 6.5 percent.

Farmers reacted to their declining importance by lobbying hard for protection and support. They enthusiastically supported Ireland’s membership in the European Economic Community (as the *EU was then called) in 1973 not only because it guaranteed market access to the high-priced EU market, but, more significantly, because the cost of supporting farm prices was transferred from the Irish to the much larger EU budget through the operation of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

However, the CAP itself became subject to pressures for reform on budgetary grounds. Milk quotas were introduced in 1984, and in 1992, on the proposal of Agricultural Commissioner Ray MacSharry, support prices were reduced for some commodities while farmers were compensated through increased direct payments. Direct payments now account for 57 percent of farmers’ total income and this will rise in the next few years.

Agriculture has had both negative and positive environmental impacts. Fertilizer runoff contributes to the eutrophication of waterways and rising nitrate levels in groundwater. Silage effluent spillages have been responsible for killing fish. Agriculture in Ireland contributes one-third of total greenhouse gas emissions of all EU countries. On the other hand, agriculture has shaped the natural environment and produced much of Ireland’s breathtaking landscape. Integrating environmental considerations into agricultural policy is a major challenge for the industry in the new millennium. Whether agriculture’s future lies in being a competitive producer of food or a supplier of amenities and environmental goods is now the key question for debate. a.m.

Ahern, Bertie (1951– ). Politician, *Taoiseach (prime minister), leader of *Fianna Fáil. Born in *Dublin, Ahern worked as an accountant before becoming a full-time public representative. Member of the *Dáil (Parliament) since 1977, he was minister for labour (1987–91) and minister for finance (1991–1994). Leader of Fianna Fáil since 1994, Ahern became Taoiseach in 1997. He developed a reputation as an excellent constituency worker early in his career and soon became the dominant politician in his inner-city Dublin community. He came to national prominence as minister for labour as a negotiator and mediator in labor disputes. Ahern played a major role in the development of the model of social partnership between the government and the main national interest groups, which has become the dominant policy model in Ireland since 1987 and which is credited with the rapid growth in the Irish *economy since then. He has established excellent relations with the Irish *trade union movement. His political skills were used by Fianna Fáil as they negotiated their first coalition government agreement in 1989 and also in the peace talks leading to the *Good Friday Agreement signed in *Belfast on April 10, 1998. In May 2002, Ahern led Fianna Fáil to a major victory (eighty-one seats) in a general elec- tion. j.d.

Aiken, Frank (1898–83). Politician, government minister, IRA (*Irish Republican Army) leader. Born in County *Armagh, Aiken joined the Irish *Volunteers in 1913 and was an IRA commander during the *War of Independence. Opponent of the *Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, he succeeded Liam Lynch as chief of staff of the IRA in April 1923, after Lynch was shot by *Free State troops. He immediately sought an end to the *Irish Civil War, which officially ceased in May 1923. Aiken was a founding member of *Fianna Fáil and served under Éamon *de Valera and Seán *Lemass, most notably as minister for defense in 1932–45, finance 1945–48, and foreign affairs 1951–54, and again in 1957–69. p.e.

aisling. A common motif in *Celtic mythology that takes its name from the Gaelic word for a dream or a vision. From the eighteenth century onward the word was associated with a form of allegorical poetry—most commonly practiced in *Munster—in which a beautiful woman (Ireland) bemoans being forsaken by her husband in the aftermath of the Jacobean wars. The poems often ended on a positive note with hope of French, Spanish, or papal deliverance from British rule. b.d.

Allgood, Molly (1887–1952). Actress, stage name Máire O’Neill. Born in *Dublin, Molly was sent to an orphanage, along with her sister Sara *Allgood, after their father’s death, and subsequently apprenticed to a dressmaker. In 1905, she joined the *Abbey Theatre Company, where, with Sara and the *Fay brothers, she developed the understated Abbey style of acting. Also in 1905, Molly became engaged to J. M. *Synge, who died four years later. She played Pegeen Mike in Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World (1907); the play caused riots in Dublin, but subsequent performances in London were a personal triumph. In 1911, she married George Herbert Mair, and continued her successful acting career in England. After Mair’s death in 1926, she married an Abbey actor, Arthur Sinclair. With him and her sister Sara, she appeared many times in plays by Seán *O’Casey. Her later years were troubled by divorce and financial problems. j.c.e.l.

Allgood, Sara (1883–1950). Actress. Born in *Dublin, Sara and her sister *Molly Allgood were raised in an orphanage. In the first years of the century, Sara acted in plays performed by Maud *Gonne’s women’s *nationalist group, Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland). The stage manager of these plays, William* Fay, invited her to join the National Theatre Society in 1903. Sara acted in *Yeats’s The King’s Threshold (1903) and played Maurya in *Synge’s Riders to the Sea (1904). With her sister Molly and the Fay brothers, she was instrumental in developing the *Abbey Theatre’s acting style. Her interpretation of Maurya, modeled on her own grandmother, was praised for its naturalness and intensity of emotion. On the opening night of the Abbey Theatre in 1904, she played Mrs. Fallon in Lady *Gregory’s Spreading the News. She joined John Hartley Manner’s touring company in 1915, and married another actor, Gerald Henson, while on tour in Australia. He and their son died of influenza in 1918. Allgood returned to the Abbey in 1920 and gave memorable performances as Juno in Seán *O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, and as Bessie Burgess in the London production of The Plough and the Stars. After an American tour she settled in Hollywood in 1940, but her transition to film acting was not successful. She died in poverty. j.c.e.l.

Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI). Political party. The APNI, a moderate, cross-community party, was formed in April 1970 by activists who had campaigned for *Unionist Prime Minister Captain Terence *O’Neill in the Febru- ary 1969 “Crossroads” election. Though in favor of the union with Britain, the party advocates a united community within *Northern Ireland. Largely middle-class in composition, it draws support from both *Catholics and *Protestants—the only significant party to do so. Currently aligned with the Liberal Democrat Party in Britain, the APNI, while supporting union with Britain, would accept formal links with the *Republic of Ireland. The party appears to be in long-term decline, because moder- ates and liberals are joining mainstream unionist parties. m.m.

Allingham, William (1824–89). Poet. Allingham was born in Ballyshannon, County *Donegal. While working as a customs officer, he frequently visited London, where he befriended many writers, including Leigh Hunt, Carlyle, the Brownings, Tennyson, and members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. Rossetti and Millais illustrated his poetry collection Day and Night Songs (1854). Allingham retired to London in 1870, where he became the editor of Fraser’s Magazine. His poetry was inspired by philosophical, social, and psychological ideas. He also published an anthology of ballads, and wrote poems about the fairy world, which profoundly influenced the young W. B. *Yeats. His most ambitious work was Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland (1864), a long narrative poem addressing the tensions between *landlords and tenants during the *Land War. j.c.e.l.

Everything Irish

The History, Literature, Art, Music, People, and Places of Ireland, from A to Z


Everything Irish

— Published by Ballantine Books —