Irish nationalism deployed customs and traditions across a broad spectrum of political, social, and cultural fronts. Among the areas on which it drew were language, literature, material culture, theater, music, dance, visual arts, and sports. The identification of Irish or Gaelic language as having a long history of expression was one of the unifying features; cultural nationalism is often referred to as the Gaelic revival. The Gaelic revival promoted and preserved language and related arts. While the movement drew on Irish roots, it is generally not viewed as fundamentalist, backward-looking, or politically conservative. In addition, although Irishness was actively promoted as a challenge to the rampant Anglicization of Irish life, the movement should be analyzed on its own terms and goals, not primarily as a reaction against England.
The Young Ireland movement was one leading segment that promoted the use of Irish language, which had declined in the nineteenth century. The political dimensions of nationalist thought included sustained attention to the heroism and warrior traditions of heroes such as Cuchulain. The poet and dramatist William Butler Yeats was a leader in the Irish Literary Renaissance. Among his goals was the creation of a distinctive Irish literature that drew on Gaelic legends and other established traditions but addressed the needs of the modern population. His Celtic Twilight stories (1893) were one indicator of these interests, but he is most well known as a founder, along with Lady Augusta Gregory, of the Abbey Theater. One of its productions that showed a significant departure from focus on ancient mythic heroes was John M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World.