The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wasn’t able to travel back to Ireland this year, as I’ve done in previous summers. This course provided insight into the evolving and intertwining culture, literature, and government if the Irish experience. I’m actually taking places to visit when I do return!
Date published: 2020-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Lecturer I borrowed the set of CDs from my local library for "adult education & entertainment" while driving - nothing more than that. But what I got was a brilliant treatment of Irish identity and culture. Marc Conner loves his topic and it come through in every way. I'm a chaplain to professors - so I know so many - and though professors do intend to instill excitement in their subject matter - some succeed, some don't. Professor Conner does so like none I have ever heard before. What a model of exposition.
Date published: 2020-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fully Engaging Course This is a terrific, engrossing course that helped me make sense of my fascination with Ireland. My collage years were filled with Yeats and Joyce whose work would have had much more meaning with the context Professor Connor provides in these lectures. The lectures are very well organized, flow between subjects seamlessly, and are marked by Professor Connor's passion for the material. I wish I had taken this course before visiting Ireland. I'll go back with fresh eyes and ears.
Date published: 2020-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellently crafted lectures! With no background in Irish history, politics or literature this course is providing an essential introduction. The lectures are well constructed and absorbing, and the professor delivers them with an obvious love for the topics. Highly recommend!
Date published: 2020-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Delicious details... Not only am I getting a refresher of the Irish history that was forced on us as children at family reunions, but I am reveling in details and individuals and their deeds that I never knew. Lady Gregory's story has moved me to tears because of her patronage to Yeats; her own works. When I finish this course I shall reread Yeats, Synge, and Joyce. I shall also learn everything I can about Lady Gregory.
Date published: 2020-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough, engaging I enjoyed the breadth of Professor Conor's treatment of the subject matter. His selection emphasized the importance of the role of the Ascendancy in shaping what we now see as the Irish identity. I would have appreciated the inclusion of Padraic Colum and Flann O'Brien, but I realize time constraints make it impossible to include all the players in the Irish symphony. Perhaps in the future, it would be possible to have a course focusing on Finnegans Wake exclusively.
Date published: 2020-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Dynamic & Thoughtful Exploration of Irish Lit! I have thoroughly enjoyed this course on Irish Literature and Poetry; it is one of the best introductory explorations of that body of creative work that I have come across in my studies. What makes this course so unique and interesting to me is how the lectures approach the convergence between the struggle for Irish independence and the evolution of a distinctive modern Irish 'voice' in literature and poetry. I found the lectures on the political contexts in which writers lived and worked especially illuminating. The lecturer maintained my interest throughout the course. The graphics and illustrations in the video version are wonderful. The coursebook is a text worth reading and engaging with on its own terms and is beautifully illustrated and laid-out. Though I have a Masters in History and have been interested in Irish writers and poets for c. 30 years, this well-constructed course opened me to further, deeper thinking on the nature of literature and the ways in which creativity and society are related. I liked it so much I recently purchased the DVD version for a friend, whose interest in Irish literature and poetry has been piqued by my telling him about these lectures.
Date published: 2020-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Compelling This is my first course with Professor Marc C. Conner and it has been a very positive experience. He is fully engaged in the subject matter and enthusiastic. Being of Irish ancestry, I looked forward to this course, having just completed Jennifer Paxton’s excellent TC course, The Celtic World. (There is some useful overlap early on between the two courses, so I am glad that I started with The Celtic World.) I enjoyed just about every one of Professor Conner’s lectures, and learned a great deal along the way. There is so much in this 2016 TC course, that I plan on going back to selected lectures to review Professor Conner’s comments and fascinating details. He weaves into each lecture a lot of biographical and other historical/social/cultural information that one could miss in the flow of comments and analysis. Not that Professor Conner is a fast talker, just that he provides a welcome abundance in each lecture. This abundance also includes terrific graphics complementing the lecture content, readings from Irish literature, and summaries, often quite detailed, of plays and other works. I have some criticisms. At times there seem to be two courses struggling to be free of each other: literature and history. I am not sure how they could be better integrated, but it is evident that for Professor Conner literature has primacy. Nearly a quarter of the lectures deal with James Joyce (excellent treatments in the eight lectures, by the way!). When added to those that deal with Lady Gregory (“The Woman behind the Revival”), the total comes quite close to half the course, with all the other literary folk such as Synge, Yeats (the man of “many masks”), et al., yet to be factored in. The course is particularly good about the Irish Renaissance (1890-1930), “a central focus of this course” (Guidebook, Page 2), but some of that development seemed overwrought at times, for example, Synge’s sojourn in the Aran Islands (lecture eleven). I felt on steadier ground when Professor Conner later brought forward Patrick Kavanagh (lecture thirty-three), the “anti-Revivalist” (Page 256). As the course progresses, Professor Conner reflects the understandable Irish antipathy for the British, so much so that I thought I witnessed his radicalization in discussing the Black and Tans and referencing Northern Ireland as the “Apartheid State of the North” (lecture twenty-three, Audio). The course ends with the poet Seamus Heaney, who Professor Conner says provides “…the perfect lens through which to look back on the Irish Renaissance and, indeed, the long saga of Irish history and culture…The defining feature of the Irish may well be their connection to the land of Ireland. This, after all is what the great Irish drive for independence amounted to: the right to claim the land as their own. We, then, are like Heaney, digging down into the soil, trying to sift through the many levels of Irish history, Irish culture, and Irish poetry and finding there one of the most remarkable peoples in the history of the world” (page 283). As I do not want to go on any further in describing course content, I do need to say that this course ought not be treated as a one-time viewing event. I look at it as a reference work that I will revisit, dipping in here and there as I need to. The 299-page course guidebook is one of the most elegant ones produced by the TC. It is nicely laid out and has many photos. While the lecture summaries and annotated bibliography are good, the guidebook does not contain any maps (though there are many in the video), biographical notes, or glossary.
Date published: 2019-12-27
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The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature
Course Trailer
Roots of Irish Identity: Celts to Monks
1: 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
2: 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
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
7: 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
8: 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
9: 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
Marc C. Conner

Although the world urges us to read and love Shakespeare, his plays are difficult, demanding, strange-most of us struggle just to make sense of Shakespeare, let alone to see the many reasons why he is held in such high regard.


Princeton University


Washington and Lee University

About Marc C. Conner

Dr. Marc C. Conner is the Jo M. and James M. Ballengee Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. Professor Conner earned his bachelor's degrees in English and philosophy at the University of Washington and his master's and doctoral degrees in English literature at Princeton University. At Washington and Lee, Professor Conner received the Anece F. McCloud Excellence in Diversity Award in 2009 and the Outstanding Teacher Award in 2004. In 2005, he restructured the department's introductory Shakespeare course into a dynamic and interactive seminar on Shakespeare as both poet and playwright, emphasizing the dramatic elements in the plays and producing an annual Shakespeare play performed by students. Professor Conner teaches a regular course on performing Shakespeare and has taught and lectured on Shakespeare to a variety of audiences. A dedicated advocate of global study, he created the Spring Term in Ireland Program, which he has directed six times, taking students to Ireland to experience Irish literature, culture, and history. With a scholarly focus on 20th- and 21st-century narrative and poetry in several national traditions, he has edited or coedited four books and has published more than 40 essays, articles, and reviews.

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