The Emergence of Irish National Drama

The Emergence of Irish National Drama

The history of Irish drama is a long and continuous one. Curiously enough, the emergence of national drama in Ireland is rather late. Till the 19th century there was no drama, either in Irish or in English language in Ireland. The rich potential for emergence of national drama in Ireland was not exploited, perhaps because of the idiosyncratic nature of the Irish ethos. It was W.B.Yeats who, with the help of Edward Martyn, George Moore, and Lady Gregory founded the Irish Literary Theatre on January16, 1899. The efforts of the founders of the Irish Literary Theatre eventually led to the establishment of a national theatre in Dublin. In 1903 the Abbey Theatre was established with the munificent aid of Miss. Horniman, a rich English lady, which intended to bring Ireland in the main stream of drama in the west.

Aims of the Pioneers

The main aim of the pioneers of the Abbey Theatre was to popularize the Irish legend, history and folklore. W.B.Yeats and Lady Gregory wanted that a play should be national in the choice of themes, and the language should be Anglo-Irish. Exclusive concentration on Irish subject-matter—legendary or contemporary—occupied a prominent place in the manifesto of the Movement. To achieve this goal W.B.Yeats pursued many Irish talents, living in other countries, like J.M.Synge to return to Ireland and write drama based on Irish themes and culture.

Difficulties in the Emergence of National Drama

In the beginning of the Abbey, the audience attendance was very thin in the theatre. People were more interested in oratory, poetry and folklore than in drama. The next problem was writing plays for the theatre where W.B.Yeats' and Lady Gregory's earlier plays, based on Irish legendary and folklore materials, were well received. To gratify the patriotic aspirations of the Irish audience, the advent of J.M.Synge on the Irish theatrical scene was significant.


Born on 16th April 1871, John Millington Synge wanted to become a musician but due to his shy nature to perform on the stage he gave up the idea and started pursuing writing. In 1894 he went to Paris to study literature and language at the Sorbonne. It was in Paris where W.B.Yeats discovered him, recognized his talent and advised him to return to Dublin to devote himself in writing about the lives of the Irish peasants and about their culture and tradition.

Following the advice of W.B.Yeats, Synge returned to Ireland in 1898 and devoted himself writing plays. He wrote plays on the life of Irish peasantry in a medium re-created out of the Anglo-Irish language which was dramatic as well as poetic. His master piece play, The Playboy of the Western World is a milestone in Irish drama.


Thus, we see that, although the Irish National Drama came into existence with the help of W.B.Yeats, Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, and George Moore but the course of its development was not smooth. It faced many-folds problems many times. There was lack of talents in the beginning. There were no playwrights to write drama which may exhibit the Irish ethos. There were also no actors to act in an Irish drama. There was also lack of finance, and moreover, the Abbey faced protests from the audience many times. But fortunately the problems were solved anyhow and the Abbey Theatre and the Irish National Drama kept on progressing smoothly. It is also a good luck that Ireland produced two dramatists, J.M.Synge and Sean O'Casey who emerged as the saviors of the Irish National Drama and the Abbey Theatre. Besides J.M.Synge and Sean O'Casey there were other important Irish dramatists such as Theresa Deevy, Lennox Robinson, Padraic Colum, Denis Johnston and St. John Ervine who contributed a lot to the Irish Drama and the Abbey Theatre.

Prof. Asghar Ali Ansari
School of Languages , Literature&Society
Jaipur National University, Jaipur, India