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  • Cited by 5
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: March 2008

5 - Literature in Irish, c.1550–1690: from the Elizabethan settlement to the Battle of the Boyne



As crown officials began to exercise more and more control over Ireland in the second half of the sixteenth century, the Tudor state considered the spread of Protestantism to be an essential element of its political and civilising role. Given the Protestant Reformation’s insistence on the vernacular for scripture and public worship, and its alacrity in exploiting the recently discovered resources of print technology to disseminate bibles and other religious material in the vernacular, it is not surprising that it was the Reformation that introduced printing to the Gaelic world. The first Irish book in print, however, did not appear until 1567, printed in Edinburgh and not in Dublin, and it was not until 1602 that an Irish translation of the New Testament was printed in Dublin.

The first section of this chapter examines the attempts of the state authorities to publish Protestant religious works in Irish and provides a context for their less than enthusiastic efforts. Catholic reaction to Protestant religious propaganda was not really organised on a systematic basis until the second decade of the seventeenth century. Spearheaded in particular by the Observant Franciscans who were fortunate to have a number of exceptionally talented members of the Gaelic literati join the order at this time, the campaign to counteract Protestant religious work in Irish was centred on the Irish Franciscan College which was founded in Louvain in 1607. The second section of this chapter deals with the religious works written and printed in Louvain, works which also led to the production of grammars and dictionaries as the use of print led the friars to engage in serious reflection on vernacular languages in general and on Irish in particular.