Edward Martyn was born to an illustrious family of Irish Catholic aristocrats at Masonbrook, near Loughrea, County Galway, on January 31, 1859. His father died the following year, and Edward and his brother were reared in the Martyn family home, Tulira Castle (which he subsequently inherited).
When Martyn was eight years old, the family moved to Dublin, where Martyn briefly attended Belvedere College. A further move, to London, led to his enrollment, in 1870, at Beaumont College, Windsor (like Belvedere, a prominent Jesuit school). Completing his secondary education in 1876, Martyn—in an unusual move for a Catholic—entered Christ Church College, Oxford, in 1877. There he had an undistinguished career and left, without taking his degree, in 1879, though not before falling under the influence of the aesthetic philosophy of Walter Pater.
The following year found Martyn in Paris, in the company of his cousin and subsequent nemesis, the Irish novelist George Moore. Paris gave him access to such contemporary artistic movements as Symbolism and Impressionism (Martyn had an important collection of Impressionist paintings, notably of works by Edgar Degas). Extensive travel in Europe put him in touch with other important cultural developments, such as Wagnerism and Hellenism. The latter proved an important enthusiasm on Martyn’s return to Tulira Castle, and he divided his time between Tulira and London artistic circles, in which he cultivated the acquaintance of, among others, Arthur Symons and Aubrey Beardsley.
In 1885, however, Martyn underwent a spiritual crisis of some severity, resulting in the replacement of virtually all the modern tastes that he had formed with a more pious and ascetic regimen. The most important survivors of this reevaluation were the drama of Ibsen and the music of Giovanni Palestrina. It is tempting, with this crisis in mind, to view Martyn’s contribution to the Irish...
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