‘Love for learning’ with Irish Landmark

The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge’   (Bertrand Russell).

This Valentines Day we place love at the centre of learning and offer you the chance to discover more about a specific historical figure associated with an Irish Landmark Trust property.

We hope that whatever property you choose to visit opens up a voyage of discovery and you can un-earth or create an adventure around a historic personality, a literary passion, a poem, a fantastic culinary experience or a themed evening with friends.

A generation ago, it was the norm to study and learn in uninterrupted classrooms and lecture halls. Nowadays, detaching from technology can prove challenging for even the most diligent of scholars. Suddenly a classroom completely dedicated to learning, without technological interruption, feels like a sacred space for concentration and deep thought. That dread of the classroom dissipates and one almost feels envious about having the wonderful opportunity to sit lost in learning without any interruption from a phone or email or distracted by social media. This month, we celebrate our love for learning and the practice of giving deep attention to things. We understand how reading on smartphones or iPads in the midst of a busy inbox, means that there can be a tendency to glide over information without really absorbing much. Therefore, we have tried to devise a virtual classroom and offer a quick synopsis on an Irish historical figure – Standish O’Grady. Standish played a formative role in the literary revival in Ireland and shares a special historic link with Irish Landmark Trust.

Who was Standish O’Grady? 

An epic historian, Standish is irrevocably woven into the past of the Irish Landmark Trust. We are very proud to share with our guests today the same building that Standish worked in as a solicitor. Within the walls of our Georgian Townhouse on Eustace Street, Standish crafted his written masterpiece entitled History of Ireland which brings to life tales of Irish mythology and legendary heroes.

Contribution to Cultural and Literary Revival

It is generally accepted that Standish O’Grady made a significant contribution to the Cultural and Literary Revival that took place in Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century. He ignited a strong influence on leading Irish thinkers of the time such as W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and AE (George Russell).

Standish O’ Grady has been described by some as the ‘Father of the Irish Literary Revival’ with Yeats attributing his work History of Ireland as having ‘started us all’ (McAteer, 2002: 127). Standish discovered that the bardic poetry of the heroic age had documented the legends and myths of Ireland’s ancient past. This awakening was to ignite his passionate interest in the heroes of Irish history such as Concúir Mac Neasa, Cúchulainn and Deirdre.

A dichotomous historical figure

Standish O’Grady is without doubt a dichotomous historical figure. Nationalists claim him, but so too do Unionists, a confusion which is understandable. Lady Gregory once referred to him as a ‘Fenian Unionist’ the perfect summation of a man who defied categorisation. Standish was passionate about Irish myths, which many deemed nationalistic, but at the same time he remained opposed to an independent Ireland. The author Michael McAteer in his work Standish O’Grady, AE and Yeats describes

a committed unionist dedicated to awakening a sense of Irish identity among the landed gentry, O’Grady is a contradictory personality living out the dialectics of history in a stark manner, igniting a cultural Renaissance that was marked with the imprint of his thought even when it was least acknowledged; whether he intended it or not, the complex nature of his work defies attempts to assimilate him to either side of the unionist-nationalist divide (McAteer, 2002: 13).

Both Lady Gregory and O’Grady were highly influenced by early Irish mythology but Elizabeth Coxhead in her work Lady Gregory outlines how their work in this field was somewhat different (Coxhead: 1961: 63). Sharing a strong affiliation with the landed gentry, Standish took an aristocratic view on how ancient Irish mythology should be presented and disagreed with Gregory’s attempts to popularise ancient Irish mythology. Despite this ‘aristocratic’ approach, the historian D.R. O’Connor Lysaght author of The Republic of Ireland refers to O’Grady as ‘Ireland’s leading national figure’ in the Celtic literary revival (Lysaght, 1970: 52). This heightens the sense of paradox surrounding O’Grady in that Lysaght’s thesis is very much a socialist interpretation of Irish history.

It is interesting that the founders of Sinn Féin were equally enthusiastic about O’Grady’s books and how they presented ancient Irish mythology in terms of high culture. Some of them formed personal friendships with the author. Nonetheless, in his political attitudes as to Ireland’s future developments, O’Grady remained steadfastly Unionist, despite the fact that he claimed direct descent from an old Gaelic clan which had a history preceding the conquest of Ireland.

Integrating history and the imagination

One of the interesting aspects of Standish O’Grady’s work is his style of integrating history and the imagination. As McAteer describes ‘the idea expresses the belief that historical fact is as inseparable from the imagination as the imagination is inseparable from historical fact and O’Grady’s endeavour throughout History of Ireland is to illustrate that this is the case’ (McAteer, 2002: 18).

Fire in the Blood this Valentine’s day?

After digesting this quick historical background on Standish, we recommend a four-part series available on RTÉ player until the 1st March 2018 called Fire in the Blood. This series offers you the chance to cosy up on the couch and learn how major personalities continued with the Irish Celtic revival from the seed Standish O’Grady helped to sow. Watching this series will have you recalling historical facts from the classroom, as you become lost in the stories and figures of Lady Augusta Gregory, Douglas Hyde, Michael Cusack and Harry Clarke, all romantic legends in their own right and very apt for this Landmark February, where we wish everyone continued discovery and fascination with the love of learning.