From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Literature and the arts
For an island of relatively small population, Ireland has made a disproportionately large contribution to world literature in all its branches, mainly in English. Poetry in Irish represents the oldest vernacular poetry in Europe with the earliest examples dating from the 6th century; Jonathan Swift, still often called the foremost satirist in the English language, was wildly popular in his day for works such as Gulliver's Travels and A Modest Proposal, and he remains so in modern times. More recently, Ireland has produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Although not a Nobel Prize winner, James Joyce is widely considered one of the most significant writers of the 20th century; Samuel Beckett himself refused to attend his own Nobel award ceremony, in protest of Joyce not having received the award. Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses is considered one of the most important works of Modernist literature, and his life is celebrated annually on June 16 in Dublin as the Bloomsday celebrations.
The early history of Irish visual art is generally considered to begin with early carvings found at sites such as Newgrange. It is traced through Bronze age artifacts, particularly ornamental gold objects, and the religious carvings and illuminated manuscripts of the mediæval period. During the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, a strong indigenous tradition of painting emerged, including such figures as John Butler Yeats, William Orpen, Jack Yeats and Louis le Brocquy.
Modern Irish literature is still often connected with its rural heritage, though writers like John McGahern and poets like Seamus Heaney. There is a thriving performing arts culture in many Irish centres, most particularly in Galway.