1000 Years of Irish Prose - Vol. 1


When the publisher asked us to edit a two-volume collection modestly entitled 1000 Years of Irish Prose, we had no hesitation in ignoring the mathematics of the thing and deciding to devote the first volume to the period of the Literary Revival, as our subtitle indicates. Having temporarily disposed of approximately 930 of our 1000 years, we faced the question of what kind of book this would be. Would it be one of those Cabinets or Treasuries one can still pick up at secondhand bookstores in broken sets and faded grandeur--Irish harps on the cover and blind Carolan for a frontispiece-- designed to show the world what the Irish have always known, that half of the great writers in English literature, and a few other literatures besides, were Irishmen? If so, we had only to assemble snippets from as many writers as we could find who could safely be described as Irish, and our 'green branch hung with many a bell' would impress more by its length and variety than by the quality of its contents. Or would it be full of what Tom Broadbent in John Bull's Other Island called 'Irish charm,' which is to say saints, leprechauns, and 'the mist that does be on the bog'? If we scorned these conventional approaches, there was the chance that we might end up by thrusting at our readers one of those anthologies which present only what is unfamiliar and should have remained so.

Having scouted the terrain, in this instance an Irish bog where the ghost of Justin McCarthy dogged our footsteps, we came to the conclusion that we would be hanged for one thing as quickly as another and that we might satisfy more readers if we first satisfied ourselves. So our principles were formulated: first, no snippets. Second, we would offer what we considered the most readable and the most significant--if there is any distinction between the two-- in Irish prose writing from the point where the Literary Revival may be said to have begun to the present day. We also decided that we were dealing with a body of writing which for the greater part of our period, say up to the death of Yeats, was informed by certain ideals held in common by most of the men and women who were doing the writing, that in fact we were dealing with a movement.

We are aware of the fact that the Literary Revival has recently...

Additional information

  • 1
Includes content by:
  • Standish O'Grady
  • James Stephens
  • Douglas Hyde
  • James Joyce
  • Padraic Colum
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1952


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