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Ireland and Popular Culture


Sylvie Mikowski

This book explores the differences between ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultures in an Irish context, arguing that these differences require constant revision and redefinition. The volume includes analysis of famous Irish writers such as Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, who are commonly regarded as part of the canon of elite Irish literature but who have either used elements of popular culture in their work, or else occupy a special position in popular culture themselves. Other chapters examine the elusiveness of the boundary between elite and popular culture using objects such as postcards, digital animation, surfing and the teaching of Irish mythology in schools, and demonstrating how this boundary is constantly renegotiated through subversion and parody or through the recycling of folk culture by state institutions. The book also explores the dichotomy between an ‘authentic’ Irish culture, as allegedly exemplified by Irish folklore, mythology, sport and theatre, all of which have been claimed as markers of national identity, and fabricated Irishness, designed to fit commercial or political purposes. The case of Ireland provides a rich and fascinating example of the debates which underlie the study of popular culture around the world today.
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Frédéric Armao: The Folklore of Spring in Ireland: A Dichotomy of Traditions


← 140 | 141 → FRÉDÉRIC ARMAO

The Irish traditional year was divided into four quarters, each one beginning with a specific festival, i.e. Samain at the beginning of November, Imbolc at the beginning of February, Bealtaine in the first days of May and Lughnasa, three months later, at the beginning of August. These four popular festivals punctuate – or rather, up to the first half of the twentieth century, punctuated – the Irish year, especially in the most rural parts of the island. It has been shown that these four celebrations are, at least partially, the modern folkloric version of ancient festivals which were most likely Celtic by nature.1 To that extent the case of the festival of Bealtaine seems particularly interesting: the celebration of Bealtaine was associated with countless superstitions, beliefs, traditions and pilgrimages. However, a true dichotomy, a clear difference, can be found between the traditions held in rural Ireland on the one hand and larger towns or cities on the other. Does this dichotomy mirror an original and fundamental difference between the rural version of Bealtaine and its urban counterpart? Are the rural and urban versions of the festival two sides of a single coin or, on the contrary, is the problem substantially more complex regarding the symbolism and origins of those traditions?

As Máire MacNeill noted in her seminal work The Festival of Lughnasa, the Irish year used to be – and to a certain extent remains – divided into four quarters arguably corresponding to...

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