The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature

Guided by great works from Yeats, Joyce, Lady Gregory, and others, discover the dazzling world of the Irish Renaissance-led by an award-winning professor.
The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 144.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from well done, crisp presentation, a delight. i can see connor put a lot of thought and energy in this project. i just became a irish citizen via my grandfather and want to get to know the history/details, the character, flavor, if you will, of the people that i came from. he drills down in easy to listen to half hour lectures. i will look for other projects that he presents going forward
Date published: 2021-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprisingly fantastic. Apart from a few niggles that I won't mention* this course is excellent. I would never give out 5 stars unless they were earned, but they are well deserved for this course. Too much to rave about what I loved about it, so I'll leave it at that. *Pronunciation - he's been to Ireland multiple times, what way was he saying 'Padraic Pearse' at all? The Frank Kavanagh episode & ne'er a mention of 'Raglan Road'? But anyway, I'll say nothing.
Date published: 2021-07-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Price of DVD If your Irish Identy DVD was less expensive, I would buy it. In general your DVD prices are high. I did not purchase this course.o
Date published: 2021-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant! This isn't just a series of lectures or a course -- it is a lyrical, brilliantly scripted performance. The instructor's words and his delivery were perfectly constructed and choreographed so that they reflected the beauty and tragedy and artistry of the poets and playwrights he discusses, the heroism and flaws of the historical figures who created modern Ireland, and the experience of the common people. I sometimes get tired of history courses that give us the same tired stories and political developments. In this course, the history comes alive and is given new life by presenting it in terms of the poetry and plays and literature, along with the lives of both the famous and the peasants. This isn't a dry, names, dates, events, and great men course, though those get covered as well. However, they don't get covered in the usual way, and those looking for a bunch of lectures on the political development of Ireland, or for a traditional comprehensive history course, might be disappointed. But they also might expose themselves to a new a way of learning history that is much richer and more complete in its own way. If history were more often taught like this, it would be a far more popular course of study. As someone who taught history at the university level, I must say I am in awe of this instructor.
Date published: 2021-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic course and professor! I learned so much and truly wish Prof Conner had been my English teacher in college. I have been inspired to read Joyce, Yeats, Syngh, and Heaney buying their books. Although I had to read Joyce in college, I did not like him and think because it was not taught properly. And to hear Conner recite passages and lines! Wonderful! I loved the way Conner wove together the literature with the history.
Date published: 2021-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More than I expected I’ve done quit a few great courses and this is one of the best. I learned so much and enjoyed every minute of it. Professor Conner is engaging and enthusiastic. I will continue my education on Irish history because of it. While heavy into Irish lit, Ireland’s identity is revealed creatively because the course trajectory.
Date published: 2021-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top Drawer I first watched this excellent course in March 2019 after seeing it advertised in the New York Times, and have since repeated my viewing of the lectures on Shaw, Wilde, Yeats, Synge, Joyce, the Abby Theater, the 1916 Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence. Professor Conner (now the President of Skidmore College at Saratoga, NY) delivers these thirty-six fascinating lectures with a precise and engaging speaking voice. There is not a drop of Irish blood in my line, but I can date my first interest in Ireland to when, in 1964, I first read “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” by W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) while in secondary school and to my first trip overseas in 1968 when I traveled solo, Belfast-Dublin-Limerick-Tralee-Cork. Then I spent the summer of 1974 hitting the engineering books in the library of Trinity College Dublin before beginning graduate studies in England. In 2014, I took my wife on a reprise of that 1968 adventure, catching the Rose of Tralee International Festival (15-19 August), a day trip to Dingle, and returning to Dublin to see Kilmainham Gaol, Shaw’s Heartbreak House (1920) performed at the famous Abby Theater (22 August) and to take in Lorcan Collins’ 1916 Rebellion Walking Tour of the city. I marvel at this country’s wealth of culture and history. Professor Conner’s course provoked me into reading Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World (1907) and, no doubt, I will someday face up to the challenge of Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). This Great Courses offering is outstanding in content, organization and presentation. HWF, Mesa, AZ.
Date published: 2020-12-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoying this I really like the content and the background context of Irish history although I don't see how you can do a course on Irish literature without referring to Beckett (imo a better dramatist than Wilde, Shaw and Synge combined and also a great Irish novelist and Nobel laureate). Very erudite lecturer but a little too earnest - Ireland has produced some of the best comic works in the whole of English literature yet nothing ever said about why this might be so. Ulysses is MOCK heroic and Bloom is human and fallible and also often inadvertently very funny - the humour in the book is priceless. Also no central stress in Ulysses- makes it very jarring to listen too. That said it's one of the most enjoyable courses I've done on here so far.
Date published: 2020-10-09
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As Ireland shook off the shackles of British rule, it produced one of the greatest flourishings of literature in modern times-a spirited discourse that found the significance of the present intimately entwined with the legendary past. Discover the dazzling arts and bloody struggles of the Irish Renaissance and fight for independence, guided by great works from Yeats, Joyce, Lady Gregory, and others.


Marc C. Conner
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.


Skidmore College

Marc C. Conner is the President of Skidmore College. He earned degrees in English and Philosophy at the University of Washington (Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude), followed by master’s and doctorate degrees in English at Princeton University. He was previously the Jo M. and James Ballengee Professor of English at Washington and Lee University and served as provost and chief academic officer from 2016 to 2020. He also taught at Princeton University and the University of Notre Dame.

Professor Conner is a specialist in modern literature, particularly Irish and American literature. He is a regular presenter at the major Irish studies gatherings, including the Lady Gregory–Yeats Autumn Gathering in Galway, the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo, and the Trieste Joyce School. He serves as secretary/treasurer of the Ralph Ellison Society and presents regularly at the American Literature Association annual conference. At Washington and Lee University, he created a study abroad program in Ireland, and he has led adult education programs to Ireland and other Celtic lands. He also received the university’s Outstanding Teacher Award and the Anece F. McCloud Excellence in Diversity Award.

Professor Conner’s books include The Poetry of James Joyce ReconsideredThe New Territory: Ralph Ellison and the Twenty-First CenturyThe Selected Letters of Ralph EllisonScreening Modern Irish Drama and FictionScreening Contemporary Irish Drama and Fiction; and Global Ralph Ellison.

By This Professor

The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature


Roots of Irish Identity: Celts to Monks

01: 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

02: 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

03: 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

04: 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

05: 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

06: 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

07: 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

08: 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

09: 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