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The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature

Guided by great works from Yeats, Joyce, Lady Gregory, and others, discover the dazzling world of the Irish Renaissance-led by an award-winning professor.
The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 155.
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Rated 1 out of 5 by from A Great Disappointment This course was very disappointing. The problem was not in the content which matched the course description but in the presentation. The major problems with the presentation were the purple prose (excessive use of adjectives), the novel pronunciation of many words which left me wondering what word was being used and his obvious anti-protestant and anti-English bias so strong that I would characterize it as racist. This strong bias is especially jarring given that most of the artists and political reformers covered by course (who worked to preserve Irish culture and promoted self government) were protestant descendants of English immigrants. A discussion of why the protestant minority were the main preservers of Irish culture and promoters of self rule would have been a welcome addition.
Date published: 2024-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Irish identity I thought this series was excellent, it’s obvious Dr.Connor has a passion for Irish history and culture. He is very engaging, however if you are as immersed in Irish history as he obviously is, even attempting to speak Irish, an incredibly difficult language to pronounce even for those of us who grew up there, it is unforgivable to mispronounce one of irelands most famous patriots , Padraig Pearce!!! I am married to an American so I understand that some Irish names are difficult.. but Pearce should not fall into that category. I think it undermines his obvious vast knowledge of the subject. Pearce is pronounced PIERCE not PURSE. Otherwise it was an incredibly detailed course which I enjoyed immensely.
Date published: 2024-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazingly good I read a lot of Irish literature and I've always been a bit confused by all the historical references. This put everything into perspective. I think Prof Conner is wonderful. I love his passion for his subject.
Date published: 2022-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Haven’t finished the course yet, but am thoroughly enjoying it. Dr. Conner is quietly impassioned. His lectures are riveting but free of gimmickry. He strikes just the right balance between the academic and the general. As an English teacher and writer, just back from a short stay in Ireland, I had read many of the works discussed here and was familiar with the basic facts of the history. Dr. Conner took me deeper into the literature, showing for example the evolution of Yeats’ work from airy lyricism to profound intellectual strength. Context is all. That such disparate figures as James Joyce and Michael Collins arose at the same time in the same place is no accident. Dr. Conner cracks the shell of the modern Irish conundrum and reveals the wealth of the substance within. At the beginning of this course, I had many questions. Dr. Conner is answering them all. A thoroughly professional course on every level.
Date published: 2022-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Absorbing I just returned from Ireland and have been totally absorbed in this series of lectures. Prof Connor is a dynamic lecturer and really pulls one into the history of Ireland with it's many tragedies and it's fine writers and poets. I find myself turning to Yeats and Synge and now hoping to tackle Ulysses with a greater insight.
Date published: 2022-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well organized and presented information Dr. Connor covers this subject in a very organized fashion and his presentation is polished. It is fun to study the material with his leadership,
Date published: 2022-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hibernia This is the very best of the several Great Courses I have purchased and others I have watched with friends. The instructor is magnificent and integrates all aspects of the Irish cultural & historical narrative into a fascinating presentation.
Date published: 2022-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Enjoyable I was not sure if this would be too much to take in but it's broken up into easily understood and informative segments. I am very glad I bought it and am enjoying his lectures.
Date published: 2022-01-20
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As Ireland shook off the shackles of British rule, it produced one of the greatest flourishings of literature in modern times-a spirited discourse that found the significance of the present intimately entwined with the legendary past. Discover the dazzling arts and bloody struggles of the Irish Renaissance and fight for independence, guided by great works from Yeats, Joyce, Lady Gregory, and others.


Marc C. Conner

We see that the story, properly understood, reveals multiple layers of history and experience.


Skidmore College

Marc C. Conner is the President of Skidmore College. He earned degrees in English and Philosophy at the University of Washington (Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude), followed by master’s and doctorate degrees in English at Princeton University. He was previously the Jo M. and James Ballengee Professor of English at Washington and Lee University and served as provost and chief academic officer from 2016 to 2020. He also taught at Princeton University and the University of Notre Dame.

Professor Conner is a specialist in modern literature, particularly Irish and American literature. He is a regular presenter at the major Irish studies gatherings, including the Lady Gregory–Yeats Autumn Gathering in Galway, the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo, and the Trieste Joyce School. He serves as secretary/treasurer of the Ralph Ellison Society and presents regularly at the American Literature Association annual conference. At Washington and Lee University, he created a study abroad program in Ireland, and he has led adult education programs to Ireland and other Celtic lands. He also received the university’s Outstanding Teacher Award and the Anece F. McCloud Excellence in Diversity Award.

Professor Conner’s books include The Poetry of James Joyce ReconsideredThe New Territory: Ralph Ellison and the Twenty-First CenturyThe Selected Letters of Ralph EllisonScreening Modern Irish Drama and FictionScreening Contemporary Irish Drama and Fiction; and Global Ralph Ellison.

By This Professor

How to Read and Understand Shakespeare
The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature
The Great Tours: Ireland and Northern Ireland
The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature


Roots of Irish Identity: Celts to Monks

01: Roots of Irish Identity: Celts to Monks

The Irish Renaissance in the early 20th century was a remarkable period for arts, literature, and culture-and it sprang out of the legendary history of the nation. To help us understand this pivotal period, Professor Conner traces the course of Irish history starting with the ancient Celts and running through the Middle Ages....

35 min
Gaelic Ireland's Fall: Vikings to Cromwell

02: Gaelic Ireland's Fall: Vikings to Cromwell

It is impossible to understand Irish history without reflecting on its relationship with the English. Here, go back to the 1100s, when Ireland lacked a central king, and witness the Norman invasions that were the start of England's dominion over Ireland. Trace several subsequent centuries of oppressive English rule....

34 min
The Penal Laws and Protestant Ascendancy

03: The Penal Laws and Protestant Ascendancy

Continue your study of the Irish political context with an examination of the rise of William of Orange, who restored Protestantism to England and enacted severe penal codes that oppressed Irish Catholics and created the Protestant Ascendancy. See how writers such as Jonathan Swift championed the Irish poor by promoting political values through art....

31 min
Ireland at the Turn of the 19th Century

04: Ireland at the Turn of the 19th Century

Follow Irish history through the age of rebellions sweeping across Europe and America, and find out how figures such as Wolfe Tone founded the quest for Irish republicanism. Delve into the cultural expressions of the 18th and 19th centuries, when poets and musicians kept ancient traditions alive....

31 min
Daniel O'Connell and the Great Famine

05: Daniel O'Connell and the Great Famine

One of the most famous people in Ireland's struggle for independence is Daniel O'Connell, a 19th-century politician who led the charge for Catholic emancipation as well as the effort to repeal Britain's Act of Union. Learn about his activism, and then see how the Great Famine completely devastated the nation....

32 min
The Celtic Revival

06: The Celtic Revival

The political tensions of the 19th century-from the Great Famine to Charles Stewart Parnell's attempts to pass a Home Rule Bill-set the stage for the Celtic Revival. As you will discover, the interest in ancient Irish language, sports, and literature was far more than mere appreciation of past achievements....

31 min
Shaw and Wilde: Irish Wit, London Stage

07: Shaw and Wilde: Irish Wit, London Stage

Irish playwrights faced a conundrum in the 19th century: they could write in Irish and remain relatively obscure, or they could find success by adopting English, the language of the conqueror. Examine how George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde navigated their Irish identity on the London stage. Professor Conner provides political and artistic context to their major works....

31 min
W. B. Yeats and the Irish Renaissance

08: W. B. Yeats and the Irish Renaissance

If one person is at the heart of the Irish Revival, it is the great poet W. B. Yeats. In this first lecture about the bard, Professor Conner introduces you to the man and his quest for meaning in the two worlds of the Irish countryside and the English city. You'll then consider Yeats's connection to revolutionary leaders of the time....

31 min
Yeats in the 1890s

09: Yeats in the 1890s

Continue your study of Yeats, who became fascinated with the occult and sought the society of fellow searchers. After reviewing the mystical aspect of his poetry and his view of transcendence through art, you'll consider the influence of his enduring and unrequited love for Maud Gonne....

30 min
Lady Gregory: The Woman behind the Revival

10: Lady Gregory: The Woman behind the Revival

Lady Gregory was one of the most important figures of the Irish Revival, and she had an astonishing impact on the movement. Born into the Protestant landowner class and widowed at age 39, she took an anthropological interest in Irish folk life and stories. Here, review her major works and her influence on Yeats....

29 min
J. M. Synge and the Aran Islands

11: J. M. Synge and the Aran Islands

The Aran Islands lie on the western edge of Ireland and remain an isolated folk community. There, the playwright J. M. Synge found a fleeting sense of beauty and wonder, of life lived to the fullest. Explore this unique place, and then survey Synge's biography and his book about the islands....

32 min
James Joyce: Emerging Genius of Dublin

12: James Joyce: Emerging Genius of Dublin

James Joyce is perhaps the towering figure of both Modernism and 20th-century Irish literature. This first lecture on Joyce places him in the context of turn-of-the-century Dublin and his role as an artist in exile. Learn about the city as you examine his short story technique in Dubliners....

31 min
Joyce's Dubliners: Anatomy of a City

13: Joyce's Dubliners: Anatomy of a City

Take a detailed look at Joyce's short stories "Araby, "Ivy Day in the Committee Room," and "The Dead," each of which reveals the dreariness and what Joyce perceived as the paralysis of Dublin. Then reflect on the possibilities of love, joy, and redemption that Joyce presents at the end of the book....

30 min
The Abbey Theatre

14: The Abbey Theatre

Lady Gregory, Yeats, and others recognized the need for a national Irish theater. Witness the founding of this great project in 1897, and meet some of the Abbey Theatre's early playwrights. Professor Conner connects this beacon of Irish cultural heritage to the changing political landscape of the early 20th century....

30 min
Lady Gregory as the People's Playwright

15: Lady Gregory as the People's Playwright

Although perhaps not as famous as Yeats and Synge, Lady Gregory was one of the era's finest playwrights. By analyzing her plays The Rising of the Moon, The Gaol Gate, and others, you'll encounter her wit and intelligence-and gain a sense of her unique role in Irish history....

30 min
Early Plays of J. M. Synge

16: Early Plays of J. M. Synge

Revisit Synge and examine his role as a dramatist, which developed quickly after his experiences with the Aran Islands. Through studies of In the Shadow of the Glen and Riders to the Sea, you'll appreciate the impressive range of this playwright. Find out why his portrayals of Irish country life were not always well received....

30 min
Synge's Playboy of the Western World

17: Synge's Playboy of the Western World

The Playboy of the Western World is now regarded as a classic of Modernism and one of Ireland's defining plays, but when it premiered in 1907, it shocked Dublin and inspired riots. See what made this play so controversial to its original audience-and why the play is a truly great work of art....

30 min
The Dublin Lockout and World War I

18: The Dublin Lockout and World War I

Shift your attention back to the political sphere where, after the defeat of Parnell's Home Rule Bill, rebellious organizers began pushing for reforms of their own. Dig into the events surrounding the Dublin lockout, including the Bloody Sunday massacre, and then consider Ireland's role in World War I....

31 min
The 1916 Easter Rising

19: The 1916 Easter Rising

The Easter Rising is perhaps the definitive moment that led to Ireland as it exists today-but the event itself was something of a debacle. Professor Conner walks you through the complex events leading up to the Rising, sketches the details of the week of battles and skirmishes, and reflects on the aftermath-both political and artistic....

31 min
Joyce's Portrait of the Artist

20: Joyce's Portrait of the Artist

In this first of two lectures about Joyce's first novel, encounter the ways that Parnell, the Home Rule movement, the Catholic Church, and other themes from the era's history are key to understanding his Bildungsroman. Review some of the most important scenes in the first half of the book....

30 min
Joyce's Portrait as Modernist Narrative

21: Joyce's Portrait as Modernist Narrative

In this second lecture on Portrait, consider how the English language presents a great tension for Irish writers, and see how Joyce's solution was to conquer the language of the conquerors. Then watch as the book's hero, Stephen Dedalus, takes his first steps as an artist to "forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."...

30 min
Yeats as the Great 20th-Century Poet

22: Yeats as the Great 20th-Century Poet

While Joyce was sending his fictional hero off to become a great artist, Ireland's great real-life poetic hero Yeats was making his own transition from a mystic and romantic dreamer to a modernist poet, with a little guidance from Ezra Pound. As you watch this transition, reflect on the Protestant Ascendancy world from which Yeats emerged....

32 min
Michael Collins and the War of Independence

23: Michael Collins and the War of Independence

The years after the Easter Rising saw a dramatic fight for a free nation. Michael Collins led a guerilla war against the forces of British rule, which finally created a window for negotiations. The eventual treaty between Ireland and the British, however, would be far from ideal to the hardcore nationalists....

31 min
The Irish Civil War

24: The Irish Civil War

After the controversial free-state treaty at the end of 1921, the country split into civil war, with republicans viewing the treaty as selling out their ideals. Trace the events of the yearlong civil war, including the tragic death of Michael Collins, and see how it finally resolved....

31 min
Ulysses: A Greek Epic in an Irish World

25: Ulysses: A Greek Epic in an Irish World

From 1914 to 1921, while Ireland faced revolution at home, James Joyce was abroad, slowly laboring on his great masterpiece, Ulysses. In this first of three lectures about this famous epic and its relation to Irish history, Professor Conner provides a lucid overview of the story, its characters, its style, and its structure....

32 min
Three Episodes from Ulysses

26: Three Episodes from Ulysses

Unpack the complexity of Ulysses by looking at three of its episodes: "Hades" (episode 6), "Nausicaa" (episode 13), and "Circe" (episode 15)-three of the most moving and compelling chapters in the novel. By studying these three episodes, you'll gain a sense of how the book as a whole forms a crucial portrait of Irish identity....

31 min
Molly Bloom: Joyce's Voice of Love

27: Molly Bloom: Joyce's Voice of Love

Round out your study of Ulysses with a look at Molly Bloom, who gets the last word in the novel and recasts the day presented in the preceding 17 chapters. Her perspective tells us much about how Joyce viewed character and our relationship to the world-and ends with his great theme of regeneration....

29 min
Sean O'Casey's Dublin Trilogy

28: Sean O'Casey's Dublin Trilogy

As one of the true geniuses of Irish drama, Sean O'Casey is a master of the tragicomedy, bringing Ireland's working class to life. Here, you'll study three of his plays from the 1920s and find out not only what makes him a great writer, but also how history shaped the drama he produced....

30 min
Life and Legacy of Lady Gregory

29: Life and Legacy of Lady Gregory

Very few great artists were also great characters, but Lady Gregory was certainly outstanding on both counts. Reflect on her life and the tension she faced between her status among the Protestant Ascendancy and her love for the Irish peasantry. Follow her through World War I and the Irish civil war to the end of her life....

30 min
Yeats: The Tower Poems and Beyond

30: Yeats: The Tower Poems and Beyond

In his later years, Yeats created an enigmatic spiritual system, and his poetry continued to evolve. Take a tour of his later writing, including two books that became some of the most significant works of poetry in the 20th century-both for their artistic power and their lens on Irish history....

33 min
Blasket Island Storytellers

31: Blasket Island Storytellers

Journey to the rural southwest corner of Ireland, where the Blasket Islands lie on the edge of the wide Atlantic. There, a series of writers flourished in parallel with the high Modernism of Yeats, Lady Gregory, and Joyce. Meet several of these writers and learn about the region's vanishing mode of life....

29 min
Finnegans Wake: Joyce's Final Epic

32: Finnegans Wake: Joyce's Final Epic

Dive headfirst into the complex, confusing, circular dream world of Finnegans Wake, Joyce's final book. Professor Conner gives you a way into the work-which ostensibly tells the dream of a Dublin pub owner and family man-and you'll come away with an understanding of how Joyce tapped into the mythic patterns of life within Ireland....

32 min
Patrick Kavanagh: After the Renaissance

33: Patrick Kavanagh: After the Renaissance

The Irish Renaissance had largely succeeded in bringing folk life to the center of cultural consciousness by the 1930s. At that time, the poet Patrick Kavanagh-hailing from the rural farmland-emerged with a critique of the sentimentality and nostalgia of Yeats's generation. Explore how the next wave of poets carved out their own views of Ireland....

31 min
Modern Ireland in Paint and Glass

34: Modern Ireland in Paint and Glass

By the time of the Irish Revival, Dublin had become a city of growing artistic merit, with a national gallery, famed Georgian architecture, and a burgeoning crop of visual artists. Meet some of Ireland's finest artists of the time, including Jack Yeats (brother to the poet) and stained glass maker Harry Clarke....

31 min
De Valera's Ireland: The 1930s

35: De Valera's Ireland: The 1930s

The 1930s were in many ways an era of disappointment, when the heady triumph of freedom met the mundane realities of self-governance. Trace the key events of this decade, including the gradual political break with England, the drafting of a new constitution, cultural isolation from the rest of the world, and economic malaise....

33 min
Seamus Heaney's Poetry of Remembrance

36: Seamus Heaney's Poetry of Remembrance

The work of Seamus Heaney, undoubtedly Ireland's best poet from the second half of the 20th century, provides a fitting end to this course. Born on a farm in 1939, he understood the world of the Irish Renaissance, as well as the movement's deep historical roots. Reconsider Irish identity while examining some of Heaney's finest poetry....

37 min