This book works against the orthodoxy that the Irish Revival was as a purely mystical affair of high culture characterised by a preoccupation with a backward-looking Celtic spirituality, nostalgia for Gaelic Ireland and an obsessive anti-modern traditionalism. The central argument advanced is that the Irish Revival can be understood as a progressive period that witnessed the co-operation of various self-help movements--the Abbey Theatre, the Gaelic League and the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society--to encourage local modes of material and cultural development. What bound these disparate groups together was their readiness to use traditional cultural forms as the basis for an alternative modernisation project. So successful were these self-help initiatives that they very quickly opened up a rival sphere of influence to parliamentary politics. Much of this activity laid the groundwork for the emergence of Sinn Fein in 1905.
With particular reference to important theatre productions of the period, this study traces the connections and overlaps between these radical movements, both at executive and grass roots level, and argues that the self-help idea was crucial to the decolonisation and modernisation of Irish society during the early years of the twentieth century.