In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Celtic and Irish Revival

  • Introduction
  • General Works on Celticism
  • New Editions of Primary Texts
  • Archive Sources and Databases
  • General Works on Irish Literature That Include the Irish Revival
  • Historical Contexts
  • Political Activists, Movements, and Ideas
  • British Celtic Revival
  • Pan-Celticism

British and Irish Literature Celtic and Irish Revival
Michael McAteer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0025


The phrase Celtic Revival describes past movements in literature, the arts, and social practices in which legends, poetry, art, and spirituality of a distinctive kind were revived. Writers and artists identified these with the Celtic people in parts of pre-Christian and early Christian Europe. The most significant Celtic Revival took place in Ireland toward the end of the 19th century and into the first two decades of the 20th century. It is commonly referred to as the Irish Revival, though it has also been considered a Celtic revival in Ireland that had associations with revival movements in Scotland, Wales, the English regions, and Brittany. The Irish Revival was felt most strongly in literature, drama, and the Irish language. It was also evident in art, design, music, and sport. The political and economic features of the Irish Revival were complex. The influence of militant nationalism was strong, yet unionist, Home Rule nationalist, socialist, and feminist political views were held by different figures involved in the Irish Revival across a range of different groups and activities. Much academic scholarship concerned with Celtic Revival has focused on the literary and dramatic movement in Ireland, producing as it did three of the most important international literary figures of the 20th century—W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge, and Sean O’Casey. The term Celtic Revival, however, was contested by some cultural activists in Ireland. During the Irish Revival, some regarded the notion of “Celtic” Revival as softening the national “Irish” nature of the movement, implying affinities with the ancient inheritances of England, Scotland, and Wales, its focus more among literary societies in London than among those engaged in “nation-building” activities in Dublin. For others, the Celtic aspect of the Irish Revival was precisely what distinguished it from the modern character of English urban society. Aside from this, the question arises as to how much Celtic Revival in Ireland and Britain grew out of inventions of the Celt as a cultural ideal from the 16th century in Europe. This article opens with a section covering studies of Celtic civilization in Ireland and Britain. Subsequent sections address scholarship on the literary and dramatic aspects of the Irish Revival from the late 19th century, its historical contexts, as well as the range of its political ideas, movements, and activists. Academic publications are also listed on a range of individual literary and language-revival figures associated with the Irish Revival. Later sections cover studies of Pan-Celticism and Celtic Revival in Britain. The final sections identify scholarship on the Irish Revival in the fields of art, design, music, and sport, addressing correspondences between activities in Celtic revival in Ireland and Scotland in the process.

General Works on Celticism

Scholarly work on Celticism stretches from archaeological, historical, and philological accounts of pre- and early-Christian-era Celtic practices, customs, and beliefs to multidisciplinary examinations of Celtic revivals in the British Isles from the 18th century. Brown 1996 is an excellent introduction to the range of scholarly debates surrounding Celticism within Celtic revivals in Ireland and Scotland from the 18th century, particularly in relation to political and cultural debates concerning modern European nationalism. Leading critical discussion of ancient Celtic civilization in Britain and Ireland is provided in Cunliffe 1999, while Chadwick 1997 and Collis 2003 examine myths about the Celts in comparison with contemporary knowledge of Celtic civilization derived from archaeology studies. Maier 2003 and O’Hógáin 2002 draw extensively on classical Roman writings on the Celts in providing instructive and informative accounts of Celtic civilization in Europe during and following the Roman Empire, Maier 2003 tracing lines of continuity and reinvention up to modern times. Markey and O’Connor 2014 considers Irish folkore and its influence in modern Irish literature, while Sykes 2006 looks at Celtic origins in Britain and Ireland in terms of modern genetics.

  • Brown, Terence, ed. Celticism. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996.

    An interdisciplinary collection of essays that is of particular value in the attention given to James MacPherson’s Ossian in the context of Celtic discourse in 18th-century Europe. It includes important essays by historians, linguists, and literary critics concerning Celticism in French Enlightenment contexts, Scottish Celticism, and Celticism in relation to both nationalism and colonialism.

  • Chadwick, Nora. The Celts. 2d ed. London: Penguin, 1997.

    Drawing upon her extensive knowledge of archaeological and linguistic studies of the origins of Celtic civilization in Ireland, Britain, and Brittany, Chadwick has written a very useful introduction to the religious, artistic, and literary features of Celtic culture in its earliest phase. It is a work also alert to the myths about Celtic peoples that emerges strongly in 18th-century Europe.

  • Collis, John. The Celts: Origins, Myths and Inventions. Stroud, UK: Tempus, 2003.

    Coming from the field of archaeology, Collis contrasts the evidence for Celtic civilization in Britain and Ireland against the ideas of the Celts that emerged in the 16th and later centuries. The work offers an important appraisal of myths and historical evidence for Celtic civilization.

  • Cunliffe, Barry W. The Ancient Celts. London: Penguin, 1999.

    The most exhaustive account in a single work of pre-Christian Celtic civilization and settlements throughout Europe from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic fringe. Examining patterns of migration, the work is rich in illustrations of major Celtic settlements and artifacts from across Europe. It identifies important distinctions between tribes considered to be the original Celts and those tribes that were later “Celticized.”

  • Green, Miranda. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997.

    A comprehensive source-reference work, containing entries on all aspects of Celtic religion, mythology, and legend covering the period 500 BCE to 400 CE.

  • Hale, Amy, and Philip Payton, eds. New Directions in Celtic Studies. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 2000.

    An engaging collection of scholarly essays that offers a fresh interdisciplinary approach to the study of Celticism. The volume includes important essays on the commercial representations of Celticism in popular music and film, a comparative study of Celtic culture and tourism in the West of Ireland and in Brittany, and a consideration of the reinvention of Australia as Celtic.

  • Koch, John T., ed. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2006.

    This is the largest source-reference work for Celtic Studies, containing 1,500 entries by leading scholars of Celticism from across a range of disciplines covering all aspects of Celtic civilization, historically and geographically.

  • Maier, Bernhard. The Celts: A History from Ancient Times to the Present. Translated by Kevin Windle. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748616053.001.0001

    A highly engaging survey of Celtic civilization that draws on archaeological, historical, literary, and linguistic evidence. It is organized effectively into three sections: ancient Celtic civilization on the European continent (Germany, Iberia, Italy, Asia Minor); the period from the end of the Roman Empire to the late Middle Ages; the gradual assimilation of Celtic into the national cultures of Britain, France, and Ireland.

  • Markey, Anne, and Anne O’Connor, eds. Folklore and Modern Irish Writing. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2014.

    An excellent collection of scholarly essays that examine the formation of the National Folklore Collection in Ireland and aspects of the Irish folklore tradition that influence a range of Irish authors, from Patrick Pearse to the contemporary novelist Anne Enright.

  • O’Hógáin, Dáithí. The Celts: A History. Cork, Ireland: Collins, 2002.

    A work of impressive breadth and scholarship concerning the history of Celtic civilization in Europe from 2,500 BCE to the Middle Ages that is particularly useful for its engagement and appraisal of classical Roman sources concerning Celtic civilization, along with comparative linguistic and archaeological studies of modern times.

  • Sykes, Brian. Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006.

    A fascinating and richly-illustrated book that examines evidence for the earliest inhabitants of Britain and Ireland, including the Celts, on the basis of evidence gathered in the fields of archaeology and DNA research. A work that also reflects upon the racialist theories of race origins that carried currency during the 19th century.

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