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That hybridity has been the source of endless cultural tension in Irish writing, which has repeatedly coalesced around four issues: land, religion, nationality, and language.
The defeat of Hugh O’Neill, 2nd earl of Tyrone, at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 marked the start of the gradual, century-long collapse of Gaelic civilization as the dominant mode of Irish existence.
But during the 20th century—particularly after the partition and partial independence of Ireland in 1920–22—scholars reclaimed these writers and their works for Ireland.
This shift can be seen in the changing use of the term Anglo-Irish literature, which at one time referred to the whole body of Irish writing in English but is now used to describe literature produced by, and usually about, members of the Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy of the 18th century.
Irish writing is, despite its unique national and linguistic characteristics, inevitably intertwined with English literature, and this relationship has led frequently to the absorption of Irish writers and texts into the canon of English literature.Many of the best-known Irish authors lived and worked for long periods in exile, often in England, and this too has contributed to a sense of instability in the development of a canon defined as uniquely Irish.Key Irish writers, from Edmund Burke and Jonathan Swift to Oliver Goldsmith, Maria Edgeworth, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw, were traditionally considered English (or British) authors.The country was dominated by the Protestant and English-speaking minority, which had triumphed over Roman Catholic Ireland at the Battles of the Boyne (1690) and Aughrim (1691) after the Glorious Revolution; the Protestant population’s control over the country was later referred to as the Protestant Ascendancy.The legacy of the political settlement in Ireland that followed the defeat at Aughrim thus had a strongly sectarian and colonial cast that, when coupled with the grim Irish realities of conflict and poverty, would later trouble the writings of Edmund Burke.