I studied the Celtic Revival at university – actually, one of my modules was entirely dedicated to the damn thing, and it was fantastic. It was my first real introduction to the likes of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett – I’d read Dubliners before, who hasn’t? Besides that, however, the larger part of Irish culture that I was familiar with came down to The Pogues, the Dubliners, Flogging Molly and Guinness.
However, all the way through the module I felt like something was wrong – for all that I entirely supported the Celtic Revival, and the great literature that it led to create, I never really felt like it was particularly relevant to me. I mean, everyone in the UK or America says they have a little Irish in them (probably leading into some sexual joke about a Leprechaun – har har har) and I’m not really an exception. My dad’s parents were Irish and my mum’s grandparents were Irish, but it doesn’t mean anything really – if pressed I’d considered myself English; at least British.
Still though, I was fascinated by the use of culture as a rebuttal to what was almost persecution; Becket, Ahern, Joyce and hundreds of others, all creating, writing, making art and other expressions to create a reimagining of their cultural heritage in the face of English dominance. There is a part of me, that I once would have called small, that actively desires something similar – an art movement from the North of England, something born from broken industries and wasteland horizons and coarse, gravel-scraping accents that never appear in American Romantic Comedies.
What Was The Celtic Revival?
Now, the Celtic Revival wasn’t just one movement, but rather a group of developing trends, movements and systems of belief with began in the late 1800s and continued through towards the end of the 20th century. Some people will still claim that the Revival is an ongoing thing, but I haven’t really noticed anything recent that I would say is part of the movement. Of course, there are probably more qualified people than I to say whether or not it ended.
Originally, it began as a conscious decision on the part of many modern Celts to reimagine their nationality and act as a means of separating the Celtic from the English (the Saxons, the Angles and the Normans, amongst the many other races and nationalities that have come to occupy England). The traditions, styles and themes of ancient Celtic art and literature were used during the revival to effectively segregate the Celtic identity from the oppressive English identity.
As well as leading to the creation of new objects of cultural importance, this period also saw more and more Irish intellectuals taking a real interest in their nation’s history and mythology, and led to an extremely distinct type of culture, outside of the overpowering English form which was controlling Ireland at the time – the argument could be used that it still is, for Northern Ireland, at least.
The Role Of Irish Nationalism & The Twilight
The movement came about as a result of Irish nationalism as a reaction to English subjugation – as I’ve said. One of the movement’s major goals, during this time, was to save Irish folklore, legends and traditions from fading into obscurity, and ensuring that the Irish people were able to maintain knowledge and control over their own past.
As a reaction to the overpowering culture of modernism, which was also spreading across the world at the time, this movement also gained the nickname; The Celtic Twilight. Along with simple culture reasons, there were also links to revolutionary and political motivations, many of which revolved around the idea of self-government for Ireland. Independence was the driving force behind this movement, which is extremely laudable when you consider what the Irish were facing – the threat of a complete cultural submergence within the developing United Kingdom.
What Does This Have To Do With Me?
Well, essentially, nothing. I’m not Irish, I’m not technically undergoing any kind of cultural submergence. My biggest complaints, perhaps are twofold; I don’t believe that we, in the North West, really have much of a cultural identity (besides Lowry, who have we really produced in the last hundred years who could represent us? The Beatles? Billy Bragg? No; I wouldn’t say any of these could actually represent anyone I know within this region) and that we are under risk of becoming gentrified.
It has already majorly begun, of course; instead of the shitty cafes and pubs that were on every corner, now almost everything is owned by a chain or an international coffee business (Starbucks cough). Even in my hometown of Wigan, everything is part of a much larger brand – there are only a handful of locally-owned businesses around, and half of them are garages or corner shops.
I think, what I hate the most, is that I am so close to Manchester – the UK’s second capital – the glittering city of the North, where there is a lot of money to be made and digital marketers and recruiters and entrepreneurs are able to make a killing – a city for students and professionals and students who would one day be professionals. It feels like the entire city has been redesigned to appeal to this one target demographic, this young, up and coming industry professional. Above all, Manchester feels like London; it just rains more.
With the North/South Divide being as prevalent as it is, one should think that we have a real identity of our own, but we don’t. We don’t have the folklore that the Irish had; we’re long since gentrified, crushed, beaten, submerged beneath the crushing heel of the English, even if we are the English.
All in all, the North-West feels subdued, whipped; like there was once something here but it’s been ripped from our hands. You know it’s bad when, here in Wigan, we had a pub named after George Orwell just because he wrote about the place – and he didn’t write about us too pleasantly either.
We need a Northern Revival – we need to reclaim our own identity and drag out those artists and writers and musicians who were raised here; we need to create and create and create until we haev an identity of our own that we can use to surround Manchester’s chokehold on the region and choke it out itself. We need a host of imagination to break the North/South Divide and just let us be English; even better, we could be British – each one with our own personalities and legends and quirks, but British all together.
And then, from their, we could all just be people and burn borders and our borders would be our creativity and our ethics – nothing else.