THIS book is a history of Irish poetry from the English invasion of 1167 to the closing years of the eighteenth century. My purpose is twofold: to tell the story, from the English invasion to the abortive rebellion of 1798, of the poetry written in English in Ireland that can with justice be called "Irish"; and to show how the stories of Irish mythology and the material of Gaelic poetry were put into English during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, thereby bringing about an Irish poetry more distinctively Irish than anything that had gone before and ultimately giving to William Butler Yeats and his fellow poets much of their inspiration.
The likelihood of a confusion of meaning is ever-present in a title such as "Irish Poetry." And yet that title seems a logical one in view of the other chief possibilities: "Irish Poetry in English" and "Anglo-Irish Poetry." The first of these is open to a number of interpretations; it can mean, for example, poetry written by anyone using the English language who was born in Ireland and lived most or part of his life there. Under this head would come Swift, Tate, Goldsmith, and others--poets who unquestionably belong to English poetry. The second possibility, "Anglo-Irish Poetry," is open to the objection of the limitation of its definition. "Anglo-Irish" means, according to Webster, either persons of English origin or descent living in Ireland, or persons of English and Irish ancestry. No place is left for the native Irishman who learned English and whose descendants knew and spoke English only. It might be pointed out that the numbers of this group increased tremendously during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
We come back, then, to "Irish Poetry"; this term I have used on the precedence of Andrew Malone's Irish Drama,