The Context and Development of Irish Literature:
History, Poetry, Landscape

Chapter V, continued:  Ireland 1922-present

Ireland between 1932 and 1948 was characterized by an extreme social conservatism.  The Catholic Church held such sway that the state was a virtual theocracy.  Divorce was outlawed and the list of censored or banned books soon numbered in the thousands.  The enduring political conflict between Unionist and Nationalist, Protestant and Catholic, and even Free Stater and Republican, found continued focus on the border issue and dominated Irish political reality to such an extent that other political parties, most notably Labour, found little purchase on Irish soil during this time.

Culturally, the most defining aspect of Ireland was its policy of language revival.  The government committed itself to restoring the Irish language, making its study compulsory in all government schools, and required of all civil servants and government documents and publications.  Yet despite this effort, the language continued to decline, as immigration drained the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) areas dramatically and as popular culture began to infiltrate Irish society.

Politically, Ireland's most notable action was its decision to remain neutral during what it termed "The Emergency," what the rest of the world termed World War II.  De Valera, with admirable diplomatic dexterity, avoided dragging Ireland into the conflict on either side.

Economically, Ireland had little industrial development, and its economy remained largely rural, tied to the small family farm and the rural town.  The Irish economy remained inevitably tied to that of its domineering neighbor, Great Britain.  Migration was a dominant facet of Irish life, with many of its young people seeking better employment and a higher standard of living in England and America.  Gradually, as popular culture in the form of radio and film, and eventually television, brought images of the larger world to Ireland, awareness of the relative poverty of Ireland brought about increasing dissatisfaction with its status.

Economic revival began in the late 1950's and early 1960's.  Sean Lemass took over as de Valera's successor in the leadership of Fianna Fail and initated several economic and cultural reforms that moved Ireland closer to late 20th century European life.

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