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While the attempt to recover or revive a traditional native culture was a key element of Irish cultural nationalism since the late eighteenth century, the moment of the so-called Celtic Revival, at around the turn of the twentieth century, remains distinctive and significant for a number of reasons.
In no other period has Ireland produced so many writers of such extraordinary quality. Moreover, the reputations and achievements of W. B. Yeats and J. M. Synge are inextricably bound up with the revivalist features of their Irish subject matter, and those of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett are at least in part moulded by their rejection of the aesthetics and politics of the revival. The contemporary ‘branding’ of the Irish cultural heritage continues to exploit the fame of these literary stars. The works of Yeats, Joyce and Beckett, of course, are all also central to the history of European modernism. Indeed, it could be argued that this unique instance of a modernist movement in a colonial setting presents an important challenge to theorists of modernism; certainly, this literature demands from its critics a nuanced understanding of modernity in relation to Irish history.
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