Gaelic mythology and identity in modern Irish and Scottish literature (1880-1916)

  • Sadbh Bernadette Kellett

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis considers how Gaelic mythology was repurposed by Irish and Scottish writers during the Irish revolutionary period as a tool for nation building, with particular focus on texts ranging from the 1880s up to the aftermath of the 1916 Rising. The project takes a holistic approach to the mythographic literature of the period, seeking to overturn its mythographic canon which centres an Anglo-Irish body of work at the expense of more diverse engagements with the mythology. The project will therefore explore the continued protection and active retention of the mythology by writers from divergent Irish backgrounds alongside the work of that Anglo-Irish faction of the cultural revival, as well as gesturing towards the wider Gaelic context of revival also occurring in Scotland. By doing so, this thesis will demonstrate how the process of envisioning a Gaelic future involved a multifaceted and nuanced articulation of Gaelic identity through the mythology, and moreover, how engaging with the mythology as a medium of Gaelic identity, permitted writers to simultaneously re-assess the past, represent the present, and critically, imagine a Gaelic future. The thesis opens with an introduction that briefly surveys the mythology’s reception in Ireland and Scotland, as well as demonstrating the continued impulse towards expressing Gaelic identity through the mythic past; this is then followed by three chapters that closely consider the revolutionary iteration of this impulse. Works analysed in this thesis include: Lady Augusta Gregory’s Gods and Fighting Men (1904), Katharine Tynan’s “The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne” (1887), William Sharp/ Fiona MacLeod’s The Immortal Hour (1899), Pádraig Pearse’s Cú Chulainn pageant-plays: Macghníomhartha Chúchulainn (1909) and The Defence of the Ford (1913), a selection of Francis Ledwidge’s mythographic poetry including “Fate” and “Cuchulain” (1916), and Eva Gore-Booth’s “The Triumph of Maeve” (1905) and The Death of Fionavar (1916).
Date of Award3 Dec 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorPeter Mackay (Supervisor) & Christina Marie Alt (Supervisor)


  • Gaelic mythology
  • Irish studies
  • Scottish literature
  • Irish revolution
  • Irish Revival
  • Irish mythology
  • Scottish Revival
  • Irish literature
  • Easter Rising
  • Celtic mythology

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 31 May 2029

Cite this