Gaelic Prose in the Irish Free State, 1922–1939

by Philip O'Leary


Literary study from Penn State University Press

“One of the great, essential statements about the Irish imagination in those strange moments when it first confronted the bleakness of freedom after 1921, Gaelic Prose in the Irish Free State is a masterpiece of literary history and also a major contribution to the history of ideas in Ireland. Its value to scholars within the field of Irish-language studies is absolute.”

SKU: 178 Category:


The Penn State University Press | 784 pages | 2004
Co-published with University College Dublin Press
ISBN (hardcover): 978-0-271-02523-0
ISBN (paperback): 978-0-271-03010-4

This work is a continuation of Philip O’Leary’s previous path-breaking book on the prose literature of the Gaelic Revival.

The period following the War of Independence and Civil War saw an outpouring of book-length works in Irish from the state publishing agency An Gúm. The frequency and production of new plays, both original and translated, have never been approached since. O’Leary has investigated all of these works, as well as journalism and manuscript material, and discusses them in a lively and often humorous manner. Several writers known for their work in English, such as Liam O’Flaherty, Sean O’Faolain, and Frank O’Connor, who were either writing on occasion in Irish or engaging in debates within the Gaelic movement, emerge as important figures.

Philip O’Leary is Professor of English at Boston College.


“It is hard to underestimate the fundamental achievement of this book: to make an entire literary corpus accessible, for the first time and in such complete form, to the non-Irish-reading public. This should be a standard work for decades to come.”

“Libraries will want both of these splendid books.”

“Taken together, this book and its companion volume—The Prose Literature of the Gaelic Revival, 1881–1921—constitute a magisterial survey of Irish language prose up to the beginning of WW II. . . . The volumes belong together since the careers of many of the most important writers overlap the periods of both. . . . Libraries will want both of these splendid books.”

“This is a wonderful book, a worthy successor to the earlier volume, and another milestone in Professor O’Leary’s radical rereading of the Irish revival. Perhaps its most valuable contribution is to remind us, again, of the sophistication and complexity, as well as the vehemence, of arguments that have all too often been collapsed into a facile and unproductive confrontation between conservatives and progressives in pursuit of the twin chimeras of tradition and modernity.”

“These texts, which were hard to come by in the first place and inaccessible to most because of their being written in Irish, open up a new perspective on Irish writing. What is more, they are presented by a judicious author who puts them into perspective.”

“This is a magnificent achievement, a thorough exploration of the status of a lesser-used language in a new nation-state, at a time when even radio was available only to a minority, and print was the mass medium.”

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