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Celtic Revival covers a variety of movements and trends, mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries, which drew on Celtic art and traditions. Although the revival was complex and multifaceted, occurring across many fields and in various countries in North-West Europe, its best known incarnation is probably the Irish Literary Revival also called the Celtic Twilight. Here, Irish writers including William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, "AE" Russell, Edward Martyn and Edward Plunkett (AKA Lord Dunsany) stimulated a new appreciation of traditional Irish literature and Irish poetry in the late 19th and early 20th century.

In many, but not all, facets the revival came to represent a reaction against modernism. This is particularly true in Ireland, where the relationship between the archaic and the modern was antagonistic, where history was fractured, and where, according to Terry Eagleton, "as a whole [the nation] had not leapt at a bound from tradition to modernity".It was also a corollary, and part of, the general movement of medievalism; it came to be recognised that England too had (or co-opted) a Celtic heritage (via its connections with Walesmarker and the pre-Germanic Britons), with King Arthur and other themes.


Antiquarian researches into the Celtic culture and history of the British Isles gathered pace from the late 17th century, with figures like Owen Jones in Wales and Charles O'Conor in Ireland. The key surviving manuscript sources were gradually located, edited and translated, monuments identified and published, and other essential groundwork in recording stories, music and language done. The Welsh antiquarian and author Iolo Morganwg fed the growing fascination in all things Celtic by founding the Gorsedd, which (along with his writings) would in turn spark the Neo-druidism movement. Interest in Scottish Gaelic culture greatly increased during the onset of the Romantic period in the late 18th century, with James MacPherson's Ossian achieving international fame, along with the novels of Sir Walter Scott and the poetry and song lyrics of the London-based Irishman Thomas Moore, Byron's friend and executor. Throughout Europe, the Romantic movement inspired a great revival of interest in folklore, folk tales, and folk music; even Beethoven was commissioned to produce a set of arrangements of Scottish folk-songs. As elsewhere, in what was then the United Kingdom of the whole archipelago, this encouraged and fed off a rise in nationalism, which was especially intense in Ireland.

In the mid-19th century the revival continued, with Sir Samuel Ferguson, the Young Ireland movement and others in Ireland, and a great army, now almost entirely forgotten, of popularizing writers of folk tales, dubious works of history, and other material at work in all the nations with a claim to be Celtic. At the same time, archaeological and historical work was beginning to make progress in constructing a better understanding of Celtic history. Interest in ornamental Celtic art developed, and Celtic motifs began to be used in all sorts of contexts, including architecture, drawing on works like the Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones.


The Irish Celtic Revival movement encouraged the creation of works written in the spirit of Irish culture, as distinct from English culture. This was, in part, due to the political need for an individual Irish identity. This difference was kept alive by invoking Ireland's historic past, its myths, legends and folklore.There was an attempt to re-vitalize the native rhythm and music of Irish Gaelic. Figures such as Lady Gregory, WB Yeats, George Russell, J.M. Synge and Sean O'Casey wrote many plays and articles about the political state of Ireland at the time. These were connected with another great symbol of the literary revival, The Abbey Theatremarker, which served as the stage for many new Irish writers and playwrights of the time.

In 1892, Sir Charles Gavan Duffy said,
A group of young men, among the most generous and disinterested in our annals, were busy digging up the buried relics of our history, to enlighten the present by a knowledge of the past, setting up on their pedestals anew the overthrown statues of Irish worthies, assailing wrongs which under long impunity had become unquestioned and even venerable, and warming as with strong wine the heart of the people, by songs of valour and hope; and happily not standing isolated in their pious work, but encouraged and sustained by just such an army of students and sympathizers as I see here to-day.

The Celtic Revival (also often referred to as the "Celtic Twilight") was an international movement. The Irish American designer Thomas Augustus "Gus" O’Shaughnessy made a conscious choice to connect his art with Irish design roots. Louis Sullivan the Chicago architect incorporated dense Celtic-inspired interlace in the ornament of his buildings. Sullivan's father was a traditional Irish musician and they both were step-dancers, showing how his creativity was not just rooted in his official education. Trained in stained glass and working in an Art Nouveau style, O’Shaughnessy designed a series of windows and interior stencils for Old Saint Patrick’s Church in Chicago, a project begun in 1912.


The term Celtic Revival is sometimes used to refer to the Cornishmarker cultural Celtic revival of the early twentieth century. This was characterised by an increased interest in the Cornish language started by Henry Jenner and Robert Morton Nance in 1904. The Federation of Old Cornwall Societies was formed in 1924 to "maintain the Celtic spirit of Cornwall", followed by the Gorseth Kernow in 1928 and the formation of the Cornish political party Mebyon Kernow in 1951. This revival has spread across the Irish sea towards Northern England, with the attempted reconstructions of numerous types of bagpipe (such as the Lancashire Great-pipe) and an increased interest in the Northumbrian smallpipes. There are also attempts to reconstruct the Cumbric language, the ancient Brythonic language of Northern (particularly Northwestern) England, a remnant of the celtic kingdoms of Hen Ogledd.

See also


  1. Foster (2003), pp. 486, 662.
  2. Castle, 2-3.
  3. Castle, 239


  • Brown, Terence (ed.), Celticism (1996), ISBN 9051839987.
  • Castle, Gregory. Modernism and the Celtic Revival. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Foster, R. F. (1997). W. B. Yeats: A Life, Vol. I: The Apprentice Mage. New York: Oxford UP. ISBN 0-19-288085-3.
  • Foster, R. F. (2003). W. B. Yeats: A Life, Vol. II: The Arch-Poet 1915–1939. New York: Oxford UP. ISBN 0-19-818465-4.

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