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Irish writing is, despite its unique national and linguistic characteristics, inevitably intertwined with English literature, and this relationship has led frequently to the absorption of Irish writers and texts into the canon of English literature.
Many of the best-known Irish authors lived and worked for long periods in exile, often in England, and this too has contributed to a sense of instability in the development of a canon defined as uniquely Irish.
There is little disagreement, however, about the dichotomous nature of Irish society at that time.
Ireland’s history of conquest and colonization, of famine and mass emigration, and of resistance, rebellion, and civil war etched its literature with a series of ruptures and revivals.The defeat of Hugh O’Neill, 2nd earl of Tyrone, at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 marked the start of the gradual, century-long collapse of Gaelic civilization as the dominant mode of Irish existence.It also marked the acceleration of a long process of Protestant British colonization that would dramatically transform the land, the language, and the religion of Ireland.The legacy of the political settlement in Ireland that followed the defeat at Aughrim thus had a strongly sectarian and colonial cast that, when coupled with the grim Irish realities of conflict and poverty, would later trouble the writings of Edmund Burke.Whig writers such as Burke and Jonathan Swift, who considered the Glorious Revolution a triumph of liberty, also stumbled over the long-standing unequal relationship between the kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain.