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Heroic Revivals from Carlyle to Yeats by Geraldine Higgins

By Geraldine Higgins

This booklet reassesses the cultural and political dimensions of the Irish Revival's heroic perfect and explores its implications for the development of Irish modernity. through foregrounding the heroic perfect, it indicates how the cultural panorama carved out via those writers is much from homogenous.

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Example text

O’Grady’s rediscovery of the landscape’s “nobler raiment, invisible but not the less real”102 combines his antiquarian obsession with the past with the cultural nationalist’s insistence on continuity and future greatness: The bardic literature of Erin stands alone, as distinctively and genuinely Irish as the race itself, or the natural aspects of the island. 103 This autochthonous cult identifies oral culture with the land itself and returns to the old Irish narratives where etymologies of place names, like genealogies, served as mnemonic lists.

It is the dread of democracy that draws Carlyle to Abbot Samson in Past and Present, extolling the virtues of English feudalism, and it is here too that Carlyle and O’Grady finally converge. Carlyle champions the old “noble devout-hearted Chevalier” against the “new ignoble Godless Bucanier,” pitching chivalry against the “Captains of Industry” in a battle that he refuses to see as already lost. In the medieval monastery at Bury St. Edmunds, Carlyle sought a feudal community practicing heroic values in defiance of the new world order of democratic equality.

The Red Branch are the Irish Knights of the Round Table who live by a code of nobility, bravery, and honor. ” 96 Throughout the novels, the society that emerges is unshakably two tiered, imbued with Carlyle’s sense that the rulers and the ruled are biologically distinct. 97 The forces of bourgeois capitalism are anachronistically portrayed as the chief threat to the heroic age and “Clann Cailitin” as the debased opponent of the Milesian aristocracy. 98 O’Grady seems to recognize that the age of heroism has been sullied by that “lesser stock” represented by Clann Cailitin and is accordingly anxious to provide a hero of unambiguous nobility.

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