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Ireland and Popular Culture

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Edited By 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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Pádraic Frehan: National Self-Image: The Imagological Impact and Subsequent Contemporary Permeations of Celtic Mythology in Ireland’s School Literature from 1924

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← 156 | 157 → PÁDRAIC FREHAN

The Celtic mythological genre2 is one component of Irish cultural identity and therefore also an integral part of Ireland’s popular culture. These myths help construct powerful images, they create distinct frames of reference, produce social understandings of who ‘we’ are, and they clearly delineate a distinct cultural identity for the populace. The mythological themes are evident in contemporary Irish society in such diverse public spheres as municipal art, initiatives from various Departments of State, an array of commercial products from jigsaws to jewellery to comic strips and promotional material associated with public amenities.3 This evidence prompts such questions as: where can these mythological themes be traced to? What ideology might possibly be behind the construction of these images and frames of reference? And what conduit brought them to be evident in popular culture today?

The inclusion of the mythology tales in the National School textbooks of newly independent Ireland from 1922 onwards assisted in the promotion of the Gaelicization programme and inculcation of a national ← 157 | 158 → self-image while also effectively creating one component for an Irish popular culture to develop as the young country began to find its place among the global community. The incorporation of these tales in the learning curriculum helped to create a platform for the popular cultural phenomenon that later evolved and is recognized today globally as part of Ireland’s unique cultural heritage. This chapter will address the above questions by focussing on some of the...

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