Most anthologies of Irish literature deal only with Irish literature in English, that which is gerally referred to as Anglo-Irish literature. Most of them also deal only with Irish writers of the twentieth century. An Anthology of Irish Literature is an exception to both these tendencies. The selections represent Irish literature from the seventh century through the twentieth century.
Volume I contains translations of medieval Irish poetry and narratives, many of which, though transcribed in Middle Irish, are from an older oral tradition. The volume also offers examples of Irish lyric poetry of the 17th and 18th centuries and translations from 19th century Irish poets.
All the selections in Volume II were originally written in English. Beginning with some anonymous poems, it includes Swift's famous essay on Irish children and works by Oliver Goldsmith. Virtually all of modern Irish literature written in English was a part of the literary movement known as the Irish Renaissance. This grew from the desire of Irish writers to maintain a literary tradition by creating a modern literature which drew sustenance and inspiration from the Gaelic past. It was a nationalistic movement, and was bound up with the political movement which culminated in the Easter 1916 Rising and the "Anglo-Irish" war of 1918-1921. The most famous writers of the Irish Renaissance were George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, Sean O'Casey, James Joyce and Frank O'Connor.
David Herbert Greene is Chariman of the Department of English at New York University. He is the author of the official biography of the Irish dramatist John Millington Synge, and is the co-editor of One Thousand Years of Irish Prose. Professor Greene has written many articles about Anglo-Irish literature. in 1962-1963 he was the recipient of a Fulbright Research appointment in Ireland.