Yeats and de Valera: the Old Poet in the New Ireland

  • Paul Scott Stanfield
Part of the Macmillan Studies in Anglo-Irish Literature book series


Irish writers of the late twenties and early thirties almost habitually thought their country a barren, constricted place. Older writers, in the way of older writers, felt keenly that something had changed for the worse. ‘What is it all now but a bitther noise of cadgin’ mercy from heaven, an’ a sour handlin’ o’ life for a cushion’d seat in a corner?’, complained a character in Sean O’Casey’s Purple Dust, echoing the complaints in O’Casey’s own autobiographies.1 In Oliver St John Gogarty’s loosely autobiographical works of the thirties, As I Was Going Down Sackville Street and Going Native, the writer’s natural charm and grace are frequently tossed aside by eruptions about ‘the havoc and destruction’ brought to ‘the comely life in Ireland’ by ‘the common man’s malevolence’.2 George Russell complained in a letter to Yeats of ‘a nation run by louts’3 and once, in the company of Frank O’Connor, stopped in the street to raise his fists and cry, ‘I have to get out of this country before it drives me mad.’4 The young writers, their imaginations formed in the terror and excitement of war, saw little in the routines of post-war Irish life save what was drab or painfully circumscribed. To Yeats, at least, it seemed that such novels as Francis Stuart’s The Coloured Dome, Frank O’Connor’s The Saint and Mary Kate and Liam O’Flaherty’s Mr Gilhooley and The Puritan looked directly at ‘the actual Ireland of their day’ (as his own generation of writers had not, preferring the heroic past) and ‘attacked everything that had made it possible …’.5


Irish People Hunger Striker Young Writer Irish Language Final Defeat 
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Copyright information

© Paul Scott Stanfield 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Scott Stanfield
    • 1
  1. 1.University of NebraskaLincolnUSA

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