Major changes in institutional religion had already taken place at the beginning of this period. For most congregations this was a time of consolidation. Pastoral, spiritual, and missionary activity reflected the dynamic nature of Irish religious life. Churches were deeply involved in influencing and directing the social and moral lives of their flocks. They also provided leadership in the political arena, supporting or challenging proposals for constitutional change. While there were many rich and distinct areas of secular cultural activity, religion also had a major impact on leisure time and intellectual activities. At the end of the period, as political movements helped shape expanding nationalist and unionist traditions, cultural life in Ireland became sharply divided along religious lines.
1. Religious Denominations in Ireland, 1870–1914
While telling us little about the practice of faith, census statistics allow us to outline the religious make-up of Ireland’s population in the post-Famine era. A little over three-quarters (76.9%) of the Irish population belonged to the Catholic Church, 12.34% were Anglican, and 9.2% were Presbyterian. The most important of the minority religions were Methodists at 8%, and ‘others’—Baptists, Brethren, Quakers, etc.—together amounted to less than 1%. By the time of the First World War in 1914, there had been a slight decrease in the number of Catholics (73.86%), and a slight increases in Anglicans (13.13%) and Presbyterians (10.04%). There were also important changes in other congregation sizes: Methodists by 1914 made up 1.42% of the population, and others accounted for 1.55%.
However, the most important aspect of the religious make-up of Ireland remained the concentration of Protestants in the North-East. Although their majority in the nine counties of Ulster as a whole was minimal (they were, in fact, in a minority in Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Fermanagh), they were particularly strong in Antrim and Down. The decline of southern Protestantism was well under way even before the First World War. The geographical trends in religion affected, and were affected by, wider trends in the political, social and cultural arenas.
2. The Church of Ireland
The Church of Ireland before 1871 had been the official state church although its members made up only one-eighth of the population. Both Catholics and Presbyterians resented this privileged position. Following the Fenian insurrection of 1867, Gladstone made Disestablishment part of his programme for pacifying Ireland. Census returns and a series of parliamentary inquiries confirmed the image of an establishment whose wealth and political power contrasted sharply with its minority position. Despite strong objections by the Queen, the opposition parties and the Church of Ireland itself, Gladstone’s Irish Church Act became law on 26 July 1869.
In the period immediately following the separation of Church and State, the Church of Ireland embarked on a process of administrative and financial reconstruction, and a reassessment of its place in Irish society. Disestablishment had been imposed by Gladstone’s Act of 1869, and its swift passage through parliament caused much anxiety. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that the hierarchy, clergy, and laity of the Anglican Church in Ireland proceeded to implement their new regime with what has been described as ‘cautious conservatism’. Financial concerns were uppermost in the minds of the first General Convention, which met at the beginning of 1870, and were the concern of the new Representative Church Body (RCB), an unknown and untested organisation. However, a majority of the clergy agreed to commute the annuities to which they were entitled to lump sums. These funds were then placed with the RCB, which was, in turn, responsible for the payment of clerical salaries. A Sustentation Fund was established to meet the long-term needs of the Church, and by 1906 it had raised £6,500,000. A mixture of generosity and sound investment, reflecting the willingness of the Anglicans to accept responsibility for their religious institutions, thus ensured the Church of Ireland’s financial security.
New administrative arrangements included the election of bishops by diocesan synods and voting arrangements that gave the laity a strong say in church matters. Within a decade of its legal separation from the state, the Church of Ireland stood independent and stronger. Subsequent change was slow, more a matter of consolidation than reform. Attempts were made to standardise clerical salaries and the number of curates in smaller parishes was reduced. Although there was some rebuilding and renovation of church buildings, the major work in this area took place in Belfast, which was rapidly outgrowing the old parochial structure. By 1914 the city had a total of 34 parishes, with 37 churches.
In both rural and urban congregations, Bible and Sunday school classes were supplemented by organisations such as Friendly Societies, Bands of Hope, ladies organisations, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). A Social Services committee was established in 1899, and in 1911 the General Synod united with the Presbyterian General Assembly to deal with issues such as temperance and industrial schools.
The Ne Temere decree issued by the papacy in 1908 insisted that the children of mixed marriages should be brought up in the Catholic religion. This ensured that Protestant-Catholic relations continued to be tense in this area. Foreign missions were also important, and the Church of Ireland was able to claim in 1914 that 266 of its members had answered the call to service abroad. By the end of this period the Church of Ireland had demonstrated its renewed spiritual strength but, like the other Protestant denominations, a major focus for its energies, from the 1880s onward, was the new and more dangerous threat posed by Home Rule.
3. The Roman Catholic Church
Disestablishment affected all religious institutions in Ireland and while Catholics rejoiced in the ending of Anglican privilege, the loss of the Government grant to Maynooth seminary was a less satisfactory consequence. Members of the Catholic hierarchy were also disappointed in their hopes for a redistribution of original church lands which had become the property of the Established Church in the course of the Reformation. However, this was, in the main, a period of continued growth and consolidation for the Irish Catholic Church. Held in high regard by the majority of its community, its income and place in society was secure. Religious life in towns, and increasingly in villages and rural areas, was centred on the chapel. Individuals and families depended on the Church for the celebration of the rites of passage—baptism, marriage and death. Sunday mass and a range of sodalities, societies and devotions provided a wide range of opportunities for the cultivation and expression of religious faith and strengthened the links between priest and people.
The Catholic Church was an important social, cultural, and political institution and its views and its values, expressed by a united hierarchy, informed all levels of Catholic experience. The influence of the numerous religious orders was particularly strong. The number of nuns, for example, which had already greatly increased during the earlier nineteenth century, more than doubled in this period, from 3,700 in 1870 to 8,000 by 1900. Held in high regard by the people generally, the clergy were in a strong position to influence the younger generation through their work in schools. Nuns and brothers played an important role in teaching Catholic social and moral values. Their emphasis on the traditional place of women in family life and on sexual modesty, if not repression, ensured that those who stepped beyond the boundaries of a rigid moral code were condemned by the whole community.
In the world of politics the influence of the hierarchy ebbed and flowed, but the informal alliance between the Catholic bishops and Parnell’s Irish Parliamentary Party strengthened both. Archbishop Walsh’s support for the Plan of Campaign was strong enough to withstand papal objections, and the Church’s influence on political life would continue even after the political, episcopal, and popular condemnation of Parnell when the scandal of his relationship with Mrs Katharine O’Shea became a public issue.
During the cultural revival of the 1880s, Archbishop Croke recognised the potential for popular national games to replace the apathy, drunkenness, and less acceptable activities of the ordinary people. The Church thus aligned itself with the emerging nationalist movement, helping to shape its religious and spiritual thinking.
4. The Presbyterian Church
The process of Disestablishment also affected the Presbyterian Church. Many were glad to witness the end of Anglican privilege, though they were resentful that the name ‘Church of Ireland’ was retained, and keenly aware of the overwhelming presence of its church members in official positions in law and local government. But others saw the separation of church and state as a threat to Protestantism, left even more vulnerable in a country with a large Catholic majority. There was also a financial consideration: the regium donum, an annual payment made by the Government to the Presbyterian Church, was discontinued. This meant a complete reorganisation of the Church’s income and resources. As with their Anglican counterparts, the Presbyterian clergy received compensation, and they, too, in the interest of the Church, gave an overwhelming endorsement to the ending of their annual payments in return for a lump sum.
Internal disputes within Irish Presbyterianism in this period reflected wider changes in religious, social and political life. In public worship, for example, particularly after the 1859 Revival, the singing of hymns and the use of instrumental music were becoming popular. The General Assembly, the Church’s ruling body, was bitterly divided on these issues and many ministers and congregations continued to reject their use.
A range of missions, stretching from the west of Ireland to embrace a range of Jewish, Colonial and Continental outposts, had been in operation for some considerable time. However, the General Assembly’s role in founding the World Presbyterian Alliance in 1873 further demonstrated their commitment to looking beyond their own provincial situation. In the same year, the formation of the Zenana Mission encouraged young middle-class women to travel as missionary teachers, nurses or doctors first to India, and then China, thus opening a new chapter in Irish Presbyterian missionary history.
5. Protestantism and the Problem of Home Rule
Politically, though supportive of reform on land issues, disillusionment with the Liberal Party following Gladstone’s conversion to Home Rule impacted strongly on the Presbyterian community. A small number of Gladstone’s supporters remained committed to an older tradition of Protestant nationalism. But the Irish Protestant Home Rule Association, divided between north and south, and composed of a minority of prosperous, forward-looking individuals, was both ineffective and unrepresentative of wider Protestant opinion. Indeed, for most Presbyterian clergy and laity, anti-Catholic and anti-Home Rule arguments were not seen to mark any departure from traditional Presbyterian liberalism. On the contrary, the Home Rule Bill was thought to be giving in to forces which were not in the least liberal—namely the Irish Parliamentary Party and agrarian campaigners, extremists who would threaten Protestant freedoms. The Church of Ireland Synod and the Presbyterian General Assembly were totally united, and clergymen of both traditions preached opposition to the measure from their pulpits.
The response of Irish Methodism, which had opposed in turn Catholic Emancipation, national education, the Repeal Campaign, the Maynooth grant, and the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, was predictable. Irish Methodism was strengthened by the union of Wesleyan Methodists with its main body in 1878 and the vast majority of societies and churches were based in Ulster. Irish Methodists, like most evangelicals, remained convinced that the Roman Catholic religion was the primary cause of all other Irish problems.
There was, therefore, much that united the major Protestant denominations in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ireland. All were concerned with social problems such as poverty, and immoral behaviour, particularly that connected with alcoholic consumption. Support of foreign missionary work was central to churches and meeting halls, with the World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh in 1910 providing a significant stimulus. All were involved in church extension movements in Belfast, and support for popular gospel missions such as that led by Americans Moody and Sankey in 1874 was demonstrated by the presence of clergy of all denominations on crowded platforms.
Although the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland marked a major shift in church-state relations, the political uncertainties of the following decades clearly demonstrated that many Ulster Protestant men and women still looked to their clergy for leadership in times of crisis. Through a wide range of organisations and services, charities, soirées, fêtes, fairs and excursions, or choral festivals, such as that held by the Church of Ireland in 1866, the churches reached deep into their local communities. Central to all the major rituals of the life cycle, and marking the passing of the seasons with harvest or watch-night services, they represented a central aspect of a rich and vibrant culture, even for those who rarely entered their doors. Church-centred meetings could be occasions of sociability and entertainment, and provided an opportunity for the sexes to mix. In addition to the Catholic agencies already mentioned, Pioneer Societies, temperance associations, Friendly Societies, the YMCA and YWCA, Girls’ and Boys’ Brigade were all popular. By the 1890s, Gospel Hall and Salvation Army bands had also become part of this lively religious heritage.
6. Irish Popular Culture
Drink, ‘the national curse of Ireland’, was under sustained attack from religious quarters, but the reported reduction in alcohol consumption was also part of a wider reform of manners and the development of a busy working life. Also important were legislative measures aimed at lessening the opportunities for excessive drinking. The Intoxicating Liquors (Ireland) Act of July 1902 reduced the number of pubs and introduced 10.30 p.m. closing. A bill banning Sunday opening was passed on 29 November 1906.
Traditional activities did not disappear in the late Victorian period, but took on a different form. Entertainment, sports, and recreations were more tightly organised and disciplined, moved indoors and provided sources of revenue for their promoters. Since hours of work had become more rigidly fixed, so too leisure time was largely confined to weekends and recreations were organised accordingly. Thus, spectator sports such as boxing or horse racing were commercially arranged for the recreation of the masses. Commercialisation was also obvious in such trends such as the change of public houses from the old transport-based coaching houses to social centres. Entertainers and spectators alike moved in from the village green, to circuses, such as Batty’s in Belfast, which had seating for over 1,000. Music hall and theatres such as Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre (founded 1871) were also popular. There were touring song-and-dance acts, visiting companies, and light opera performed by local amateurs. Of course, the transition was by no means complete and in urban areas in particular, street entertainment would continue—hurdy-gurdy men, horse-drawn carousels, Punch and Judy shows, performing dogs, bears and monkeys, ballad singers, fire-eaters, jugglers and the like. A wide range of clubs and organisations were formed during the final decades of the nineteenth century to meet the demand for activities that combined instruction and relaxation for adults. Photographic societies were a particularly popular example.
Changes in transport were important. People were able to travel to venues outside the areas where they lived and worked. Cheap excursion tickets encouraged weekend trips to the zoo, the seaside, or the countryside. Tramways, running in Belfast, Dublin and Cork by 1872, and electrified in the early twentieth century, greatly facilitated local travel while cycling clubs demonstrated the popularity of a machine which could quickly transport young couples to a romantic day in the country. Although cost at first confined this activity to the middle-classes, bicycles were becoming more accessible to the general public by the end of the period. Wealth was particularly visible when the motor car arrived, and the Royal Irish Automobile Club was formed in 1901 to cater for this new phenomenon. Touring motor enthusiasts flocked to Ireland’s empty roads. The arrival of the charabanc (a large bus, typically used for sightseeing) from 1905 also catered for what was to become an important industry.
The wealthy, of course, ventured further afield. When not travelling abroad, much of the leisure time of the social elite revolved around sports such as yachting, racing, and hunting. Irishwomen excelled at golf, and won the British Open Championship in 1899, 1900, 1902, and 1903. Bridge, tennis, balls, garden parties and selective rounds of social visits, provided young women with time on their hands with opportunities to show off the latest fashions and enabled both sexes to keep in touch with events. Young middle-class women were given the opportunity to widen their intellectual horizons with the passage of the 1879 Universities (Ireland) Act which established the Royal University of Ireland as an examining body, and which opened its degrees and scholarships to women on the same terms as men. By the end of the century 25% of the Royal University candidates were women. Further progress was made in 1908 when the Royal University was dissolved and replaced by the National University in Dublin and Queen’s University in Belfast. The central aim of these Acts was, of course, to further dismantle Anglican and indeed Protestant privilege.
The spread of ‘improving’ and instructional societies, which had began in the mid nineteenth century, together with the church-based educational activities, continued to popularise an expanding range of reading materials. Apart from books on religion and instruction, the removal of taxes on newspapers by 1861 brought an increase in the amount of local and national news available to the reading public. The publication of cheap editions of quality books made the classics available, while the Public Libraries (Ireland) Act of 1894 prompted the first stirrings of a universal free library service. Writers such as Somerville & Ross and George Moore described and commented on different aspects of the contemporary Irish life. Moore’s A Drama in Muslin (1886), The Lake (1905) and his realistic short stories were of particular literary significance. Many aspects of Ireland’s diverse cultural heritage were, however, to be overshadowed by the emergence and promotion of cultures more distinctively linked to nationalist traditions.
7. Cultural and Religious Politics
The capacity for conflict between the religious cultures in Ireland had already been well demonstrated in preceding decades, and sectarian violence was to become a recurring feature of life in Belfast and in some Ulster country towns in the late nineteenth century. Open-air sermons, Orange parades, election platforms, funeral processions, the great Protestant Protest meetings in the city’s Botanical Gardens, Catholic festivals (such as the feast day of the Assumption), and celebrations of historical events brought the tensions of the countryside into towns and cities. All contributed to riots at one time or another. In parades and processions people flaunted their effigies, slogans, party tunes, banners, and rituals. To a remarkable extent, clubs and processions became a way of life and parades marked out what was perceived as ethnic and religious territory. In the final decades of the nineteenth century, however, political events greatly deepened and intensified the link between culture and identity.
8. Unionist Culture
Long rejected, or ignored, by social historians, Unionist cultural identity was inextricably bound up with the wider British and Imperial world to which most Irish Protestants pledged their political and emotional allegiance. Links to this broader culture were particularly evident on the occasions of royal anniversaries or visits, such Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations in 1897, and her three-week visit in 1900 when demonstrations of enthusiastic flag-waving loyalty were deemed particularly important in offsetting nationalist hostility. The industrialisation of the North-East, which set it apart from much of the rest of Ireland, also strengthened its links with the towns and cities of Britain. It has been argued, however, that popular Unionism predated, and indeed helped generate popular imperialism.
The Liberal Party’s support for Home Rule caused a major crisis of identity for many Unionists. A range of societies and loyal associations were formed to oppose it. The Orange Order, with its parades, sashes and banners, was the most potent and visible expression of Unionism. Satirical half-penny postcards lampooning the claims of nationalism, lapel badges, the constant display of the Union flag and mass public demonstrations reflected the emotion and anger of a people whose heritage seemed to be under threat from both the British and the Irish. In this context the promotion of Empire became a matter of critical importance in terms of influencing English opinion. Empire Day in 1895, for example, was mainly promoted by organised Unionism and by the Protestant churches and youth associations. The Boer War was also significant in rousing popular enthusiasm for the Empire, The sensationalist images of the popular press struck a chord amongst a people whose patriotism was also reflected in the many memorials erected to those who had ‘sacrificed’ their lives. Ulster Day in 1912 generated particular emotion as thousands of men and women gathered around their churches and public buildings to sign, often in blood, a Covenant or pact.
Despite appearances, Ulster Protestant culture was not monolithic. The individualistic and austere heritage of Scots Presbyterianism was evident throughout the north-eastern counties, particularly in Antrim and Down, where place names and local dialects reflected a link, which was both ancient and ongoing. Nonetheless, denominational and traditional differences were buried when Protestantism as a whole was believed to be under threat. The local church or meeting house provided a focal point in which political aspirations were accepted as an important aspect of a broader religious, social and cultural identity.
9. Cultural Nationalism
The creation of an Irish identity, which was Catholic and nationalist, was not the result of a unified campaign, but of several different strands operating together. Now that the politicians’ rhetoric was stale and clichéd and the major social and economic grievances largely under control, the time was ripe for a fresh approach to the problem of Ireland’s identity. In the twenty years before the Easter Rising, a refreshingly romantic and idealistic nationalism attracted the youth of Ireland, stimulating intellectual activity and directing attention to the wealth of Irish culture and traditions, which were in danger of being swamped by the influences of her dominant neighbour. Irish language, literature, history, and sport were revived (or re-invented) with enthusiasm in the quest for an ‘Irish Ireland’.
The Gaelic cultural revival owed much to the groundwork of scholars and antiquarians—George Petrie, John O’Donovan, Eugene O’Curry, William Reeves, Whitley Stokes, William Maunsell Hennessy and others—who had investigated the literature and antiquities of Ireland. The work of some of these had been popularised in the 1840s by Thomas Davies. Standish James O’Grady (1846–1928) is another link in the chain; his two-volume History of Ireland (1878–80) has versions of the early mythological and heroic tales and inspired a new generation of writers and poets with the vividness of its legends. There had been cultural clubs and societies in late nineteenth-century Ireland, but it was only with the formation of the Gaelic League (July 1893) that a cultural transformation was clearly evident.
The decline of the Irish language—only 18% of the population is recorded as Irish-speaking in 1881—was of particular concern to those wishing to de-anglicise Ireland. The Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language had been founded in 1876 (and it had less influential predecessors), but the Gaelic League, founded by Eoin MacNeill, would prove most effective in arresting the decline of the language. The Gaelic League widened and strengthened the Irish consciousness of the lower and middle classes, and gave Irish a respect and status it had lacked. Building on foundations laid by Young Ireland during the 1840s, they aimed to give the nation ‘a soul’. Although the League never succeeded in making Irish the everyday language of a majority of people, it was an important nation-wide pressure group, with 600 registered branches by 1908. As a result of its activities Irish was being taught in 3,000 schools by 1909, compared with only 100 a decade earlier, and in 1908 it became a necessary qualification for admission to the new National University of Ireland. Apart from language classes and summer schools, members of the League organised Irish music, dancing, singing, and literary competitions, and festivals. It had an extremely active publishing programme; it encouraged new writers and made a wide range of contemporary and older literature in Irish available to a growing and enthusiastic readership. These activities were to influence a whole generation of nationalists.
The Gaelic Athletic Association, formed in 1885, focused on replacing English games such as soccer, cricket and tennis with Gaelic football, hurling and handball. It further discouraged ‘foreign’ sports by barring Protestants and members of the British military establishment. The GAA was strongly supported by the Catholic clergy and by Irish nationalists of all shades and, as a result, was extremely popular in rural Ireland where sporting competition at county level enlivened local life.
10. Anglo–Irish Literary Revival
While the GAA stirred feelings of national pride and the Gaelic League concerned itself with reviving Irish and Irish culture, a small tightly knit group of Anglo-Irish writers also turned to the Gaelic past. Inspired by Irish myths and heroic tales, they set about creating a literature, which ‘would move men’s minds and imaginations anew’. Writers such as William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), J. M. Synge (1871–1909), and Lady Gregory (1852–1932), had been prompted by the political and social changes of the times to review their situation and to search for an identity in the new Ireland that was coming into being. They found such an identity in Irish myths and legends, the ancient sagas (many made available in English in Standish Hayes O’Grady’s Silva Gadelica, published in 1892 and in the work of a new generation of Celtic scholars), and in folklore, which was now beginning to attract serious attention, in Ireland as in other countries. Their writings lifted Dublin from provincial obscurity to become a lively new literary centre with a theatre that attracted European critical acclaim.
Yeats founded the Irish Literary Society in London in 1891, the National Literary Society a year later, and in 1898 the Irish Literary Theatre. Together with Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn (1859–1923), Yeats’s intention was ‘to build up a Celtic and Irish school of dramatic literature’. Performances were first held in the Ancient Conference Rooms in Dublin. Yeats’s The Countess Kathleen attracted large audiences and, more ominously, sharp criticism as a ‘slanderous caricature’. An important step forward came with the involvement of the Fay brothers, who had been putting on plays in Irish in a small hall in Dublin. Yeats offered them Cathleen Ni Houlihan, and they joined forces to form the Irish National Theatre Society in 1903. The building, which would become the Abbey, was acquired in 1904. Although early works such as Cathleen Ni Houlihan were acceptable to nationalist opinion, Yeats was soon embittered by attempts to make art subservient to the wider national cause.
The outrage which greeted the Abbey’s production of Synge’s plays is well known and reflects the extent to which the romantic ‘Irish Ireland’ movement had taken hold. Contemporary nationalist feeling demanded an idealised and pious peasantry and rejected any taint of coarse realism. Synge’s interpretation of rural Catholic Ireland in Riders of the Sea (played in the Abbey in 1904) incensed nationalist feeling. More serious, however, was his portrayal of the peasantry of the West in The Playboy of the Western World (1907). The writer’s imaginative realism was regarded as a crude defamation of the Irish character. Sensitivity to national pride, particularly where morality was concerned, ensured that Synge, acknowledged as the ‘genius of the Irish theatre’, provoked the anger of the puritans of the Gaelic revival.
With the exception of Lady Gregory, the role of women in this cultural revival has often been ignored, but they were very much at the heart of the movement. They were, for example, active in the Gaelic League, teaching Irish language and dance, and in the productions of the Abbey Theatre and the Ulster Literary Theatre (1902). Ellen Duncan, Curator of Hugh Lane’s Art Gallery, was secretary of the Dublin United Arts Club. Sarah Purser, like Lady Gregory, frequently played hostess to local and visiting intellectuals at Dublin literary gatherings. Women, therefore, fulfilled a range of important functions in the world of higher culture—whether as patrons, contributors or participants.
11. Arts & Crafts Movement
Another important dimension of the new national culture was the arts and crafts movement. The Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland was founded in 1894 to foster artistic industries and, from 1896, it held regular exhibitions of clothes and other items of Irish manufacture. It was important in reviving the economy. It was not overtly political, and even the ladies of the Vice-Regal lodge were able to participate in these activities. The wives of the Lord Lieutenants, Lady Cadogan, Lady Dudley, Lady Londonderry, and Lady Aberdeen all encouraged local arts and crafts. Lady Aberdeen was particularly active as President of the Irish Industries Association. Standards were greatly improved by the work of the Dun Emer Guild, founded in 1902 by Lily and Elizabeth Yeats and their English friend Evelyn Gleeson. The Guild was an important centre of Irish embroidery, printing, and bookbinding. Though the partnership between the Yeats’ sisters and Gleeson was brief, Dun Emer trained young women in many artistic skills, supplied churches with vestments and banners and contributed to the annual exhibitions. The Guild of Irish Art Workers, founded in 1910, focused on jewellery, enamel and metalwork. The intricate metal work of Mia Cranwill, and the ecclesiastical decorative work of Sr Concepta Lynch were particularly notable. The artist Sarah Purser, a prolific portrait painter, established An Túr Gloine (‘the Tower of Glass’) in 1903, an important studio from which came superb designs and works in stained glass, including those of Michael Healy and Wilhelmina Geddes and the magnificent east window in Eton College Chapel by Evie Hone. The glass, fittings, banners and furnishings of Loughrea Cathedral demonstrate how well Irish-produced work had developed and the high standards it had reached. Many of the leading contemporary literary and artistic figures were captured in the work of the portrait painter, John Yeats, while his son, Jack B. Yeats, focused on the people of the West of Ireland, in highly acclaimed works such as At the Feis (1912) and The Man from Aranmore (1905).
The revival of cultural nationalism was the result of a combination of circumstances and influences. The movement was a reaction against the rise of the slums and factories, which came with industrialisation—a recoil from machines and commerce to the ‘world we had lost’, a romantic world of myth and legend. This rejection of modern civilisation by poets and thinkers was a worldwide phenomenon, one which saw the commercialism of the modern age as an evil threat to individualism and the aesthetic life. For the majority, ‘evil’ in Ireland, however, was most often linked with ‘England’, and the battle of the nationalists was almost always against English morals, influence, religion, and rule. As the period drew to a close, collective nationalist and unionist cultural and religious identities were moving along ever-diverging paths.
The trend towards violence between these distinctive nationalist and unionist identities in the immediate pre-War period should be seen in the context of a broader European militarism. Demands made by suffragettes and unionised workers, by nationalists and unionists, by political radicals and revolutionaries, challenged the social and political status quo. Noisy and often violent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations contributed to the conviction that, in more ways than one, an era was coming to an end.