Rethinking Revivalism: a conceptual case study in Modern Irish literature

Lead Research Organisation: University of Ulster
Department Name: Faculty of Arts


This project seeks to address an important gap in scholarship whereby we tend to speak of specific revivals but not about Revivalism itself. This omission prevents us from recognising Revivalism as an interdisciplinary critical cultural practice in its own right which spans geographical and historical boundaries. In Ireland, few cultural forces have left a deeper legacy than Revivalism yet the word Revival has come to mean one short historical period between 1880s-1920s. Nevertheless, where the Irish language tradition is concerned, the evidence points to a continuous project of revival, evident from the early 17th century onwards rather than to a single event. Comparative Revivalism provides windows onto the Irish Gaelic tradition which dramatically transform our idea of a movement which is otherwise largely seen simply as the cultural wing of a political revolution. The broad challenge before us is to define Revivalism as a generic concept while respecting its various forms of expression. With this in mind, it is proposed that we begin with a case-study and conceptual investigation of Irish Revivalism which will help establish the terms of reference for an ambitious comparative, interdisciplinary project which will interrogate the concept of Revivalism and examine the common issues which arise in each of its applications.
This first stage of this project will be achieved through completion of a monograph on Irish Revivalism, charting a course from the 17th century to the present day, in which the progression of the key concepts in Irish Revivalist discourse will be explored. Given that literature is central to Irish Revivalism, the research will be grounded in literary analysis but, at the same time, folklore, education, state policy and other areas of importance to Revivalism will form an essential part of the discussion. Among the chief conceptual themes of the project will be temporality, the material and spiritual, synthesis and continuity, renewal and becoming, messianism and utopianism. A key critical strategy in this study will be to highlight areas where comparative Revivalism can shed new light on the commonality between Revivalism in different contexts. In this way, the monograph will consider the influence of the 17th-century Irish Counter-Reformationist tradition on the contemporary Irish novel; the evangelical revivals and Irish-language revivals of 19-century Ireland; the influence of the Gothic Revival on Patrick Pearse's Irish-language Revivalism; the state-sponsored Irish Folklore Commission and state-led revival of oral tradition in Soviet Central Asia. Besides the corpus of published literature, sources consulted will include a substantial amount of archival material, such as the Ó Cadhain Papers, An Gúm Files and the recently released Bureau of Military History Files containing 36,000 pages of witness statements including a huge number relating to the Gaelic League and other revivalist organisations not yet used in a study of Irish language Revivalism.
The next stage of the project will involve undertaking a series of Research Leadership activities directly following from stage one. This will entail research networking to develop interdisciplinary research; the convening of an interdisciplinary workshop on comparative Revivalism; public engagement and dissemination of the monograph findings through public talks in non-HEI venues; presenting of a 6-part TV documentary series on Revivalist figures, shadowing and delivery of workshops for two non-academic partners; mentoring of colleagues and co-ordinating impact activities for the Irish and Celtic Studies Research Institute, and finally, placement on Ulster University's Leadership Development Training scheme with a view to increasing my leadership portfolio and in preparation for an application to the academic promotion scheme to Reader/ Professor.

Planned Impact

My approach to impact has been to build upon areas in which I have successfully and demonstrably achieved impact in the past. In this way, in order to maximise the societal impact of the current research project, I have targeted engagement and impact activities in the following sectors:
a) the media;
b) non-academic partners;
c) policy makers at local and regional level;
d) public sector bodies;
e) the wider public;
f) the commercial/private sector.
Given that impact and public engagement is central to the project's Leadership Plans, there is a degree of interdependence between both the Impact Summary and Pathways to Impact statements and the Leadership Plans.
a) The media.
As presenter and co-writer of a 6-part TV documentary series on Revivalist figures in the pre-1916 Rising era, I will be in a position to disseminate many of the research findings of my project and to specifically emphasis the universality of Revivalism and the value of the comparative study of Revivalism. The bid for this series has been submitted for consideration by the Irish-language Broadcast Fund in response to its recent call for programmes that reflect upon the legacy of the 1916 Rising period. The company has been successfully commissioned by the ILBF in the past and recently produced a documentary series with colleagues from the ICSRI which was broadcast by TG4.
b) Non-academic partners. A combination of shadowing and delivery of workshops for the following non-academic partners: Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League) and Cultúrlann MacAdam Ó Fiaich. This engagement will develop and disseminate the application of an international perspective on Revivalism in these organisations. In order to develop strategic planning, there is an urgent need for these groups to develop a clear understanding of their central mission and ethos as well as their connections with international Revivalist projects.
c) Policy makers at local and regional level.
Given that some of my previous research has been referenced in public policy documents I am confident that the principal findings of my research project can inform future public policy-making in heritage, language, culture and education. I will set up meetings with D.C.A.L to present a digest of relevant highlights.
d) Public sector bodies.
Having significant experience of working with public sector bodies, I am convinced that the research problems and questions discussed in my project will be of direct relevance to the work of Foras na Gaeilge and the Irish Language Broadcast Fund. I will set up meetings with both bodies to present a digest of relevant points from my research.
e)The Wider Public.
I intend to publicise the publication of the monograph through a book launch at the Linenhall Library in Central Belfast and media interviews with BBC NI, RTÉ, TG4, Raidió Fáilte and Raidió na Life. This will be followed by focussed public engagement and dissemination of the main findings of the monograph through public talks in the following non-HEI venues: Cultúrlann MacAdam Ó Fiaich (Belfast's main Irish-language cultural centre); TURAS/Skainos (A pioneering Irish-language centre in Loyalist East Belfast which has had great success in promoting the language across the religious divide); Cultúrlann Ui Chanáin, Derry (Derry's main Irish-language cultural centre); Carn Tóchair (A rural Irish-language centre and neo-Gaeltacht project); Áras Mhic Reachtain (McCracken Irish-language Centre, Belfast); Cardinal Ó Fiaich Library, Armagh
f)The commercial/private sector.
As part of my work with Cultúrlann and Conradh na Gaeilge I will be exploring the potential commercial application of my research in the area of local tourism. This may, for example, take the form of an app, the creation of signage or tourist trail based on new information gleaned from the Bureau of Military History archive. I have some experience of creating an app for A-level Irish literature through the Innovation Voucher scheme.


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Description The main output of this project was the publication of the monograph, Revivalism and Modern Irish Literature: The Anxiety of Transmission and the Dynamics of Renewal. This has received very positive reviews in each case in at least 7 scholarly journals/publications in the nine months after publication. In addition to this 370 copies of the book were sold in the first 6 months since publication. These are quite good sales figures for an academic monograph.
Exploitation Route I am interested in collaborating with others in a project based on the theme of comparative revivalism.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

Description My monograph, Revivalism and Modern Irish Literature - the anxiety of transmission and the dynamics of renewal, was published by Cork University Press in March 2019. This was the main publication and outcome of my research project. Previous to this, an article based on my inaugural professiorial lecture at Maynooth University was published in October 2018 in Maynooth Philosophical Papers. This article entitled, Escaping the 'Shower of Folly' The Irish Language, Revivalism, and the History of Ideas, draws on some of the main themes of my Leadership Fellowship project.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description Interdisciplinary Symposium on Comparative Revivalism 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This symposium was initiated through a call for contributions and individual invitations. 8 scholars from different disciplines gave papers with a view to exploring
the various conceptual strands common to manifestations of Revivalism. The contributors were drawn from Irish and Celtic Studies, Philosophy, Architecture, Art and Design.
Literary Criticism, Cultural Theory, Urban Studies, Utopian Studies, and Folklore Studies. Papers were prepared with the following key questions in mind:
• What are the key circumstances which bring about Revivalist movements and what dynamic
processes underpin the rise of Revivalist movements?
• How do Revivalist movements interact with each other?
• The 'eternal return' is a pervasive concept in the history of religion and philosophy, how does this
concept relate to Revivalism?
• To what extent are Revivalist movements motivated by a return to past values or a concern for
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016