CELT document E800002-046

Irish Art

Thomas Osborne Davis

Edited by T. W. Rolleston

Whole text


Irish Art 1

We have lying before us a proof of the design for the title-page and cover of the Spirit of the Nation. It is not the work or thought of anyone connected with the Nation, it was the gift of friendship from one differing in many things from us, and we may speak freely of it. Look at it, reader, as we run over the design. Like everything good, its beauty will grow on you, you will have looked often ere you have seen it all and you will return to it with fresh pleasure. In the centre of it, the name is inscribed on a pillar of stone.. Over it an Irish eagle is soaring from a serpent, vast, wounded and hissing—the bird is safe—need we translate the allegory?

But we come to the main design—it is simple in its means, great in its design, and perfect in its execution. On one side of the picture is a young bard, harp-bearing. The hills of Ireland are behind him, he has come down full of strength, and wisdom, and faith. He played with the fair hair of the cataract till his ears grew filled with its warnings—he has toiled up the mountain till his sinews stiffened and his breath deserted him, for he was full of passion and resolve—he has grown strange among the tombs, and perchance has softened, too, in the hazel glen, but now he has another, or rather his one great mission, the dream of his childhood before him, and he  p.165 moves along through the land. There are laurels on his brow, he has no sense of their touch—he has awakened the slumbers of ages, and he treads on a broken chain, yet he has no eye nor hand for these tokens of fame, he is full of his great thought, abstracted from all else, even from his own echoes. An old bard, vast, patriarchal, rigid with years for he might have harped at the landing of Owen Roe) sat tranced and clutching his harp of broken chords. The singing of the ministrel of the Nation has broken the old harper's spell, and his hand is rising, and there is life coming into his huge rocky face. Two young brothers in arms (friends and patriots) are looking wildly at the passing bard, and as his song swells louder, there is fierce daring in their eyes and limbs. They are in old Irish costume, barred, 2 cloak and trews; one wears the gold torque of an Irish knight, the other grasps a yet sheathed sword—it will be drawn.

Disconnected from this immediate group (and sunk in the corners of the structure, beneath whose antique arch the minstrel has past) are figures of the four provinces. Leinster sits gazing in historic grief at the shield bearing England's leopards. Under that shield is a skull, the emblem of Dermod's fatal treason. But Leinster, that holds Dublin and Tara, and Clontarf, and Wexford (the last adventurers for liberty) may forgive her friend for telling the treason of her king, and the more so, as a fairer being never made sorrow sweet. To Munster—exuberant Munster—a child is leading lambs, and he totters under this rich sheaf. Ulster is seated  p.166 among the basalt rocks of the Causeway. She has hope and anxiety in her face and action; and she proudly shows the red hand of O'Neill on her shield. And Connaught sits on the shore the wave comes as a wild subject to her fair feet and dreaming she looks where the sun sinks behind the western waters. Nothing can surpass the grace of form, the simple force of thought, the noble disposition of limb and drapery, and the masterly lightness of touch in all these figures.

We feel hearty pleasure in speaking of this most beautiful design, the most original and thoughtful that we have yet seen in this country. Retzsch never surpassed it, and the only alloy to our pleasure is a little envy, lest everyone should say, as we did when we first saw the design, that there was more poetry in it than in any poem in this volume. We again repeat our hope that this is but the beginning of a series of national designs to which every Irish artist of ability may contribute. We cannot yet arrange the frescoes of our Parliament House; but the panels of the Conciliation Hall 3 are yet to be filled, and the prizes of the Association 4 for historical pictures to be given.

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Title (uniform): Irish Art

Author: Thomas Osborne Davis

Editor: T. W. Rolleston

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Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

proof corrections by: Margaret Bonar

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1. First draft, revised and corrected.

Extent: 2500 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2006

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E800002-046

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

Source description


  • First published in the Nation.

Editions of this text and/or other writings by Thomas Davis

  1. Thomas Davis, Essays Literary and Historical, ed. by D. J. O'Donoghue, Dundalk 1914.
  2. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (ed.), Thomas Davis, the memoirs of an Irish patriot, 1840-1846. 1890. [Reprinted entitled 'Thomas Davis' with an introduction of Brendan Clifford. Millstreet, Aubane Historical Society, 2000.]
  3. Thomas Davis: selections from his prose and poetry. [Edited] with an introduction by T. W. Rolleston. London and Leipzig: T. Fisher Unwin (Every Irishman's Library). 1910. [Published in Dublin by the Talbot press, 1914.]
  4. Thomas Osborne Davis, Literary and historical essays 1846. Reprinted 1998, Washington, DC: Woodstock Books.
  5. Essays of Thomas Davis. New York, Lemma Pub. Corp. 1974, 1914 [Reprint of the 1914 ed. published by W. Tempest, Dundalk, Ireland, under the title 'Essays literary and historical'.]
  6. Thomas Davis: essays and poems, with a centenary memoir, 1845-1945. Dublin, M.H. Gill and Son, 1945. [Foreword by an Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera.]
  7. Angela Clifford, Godless colleges and mixed education in Ireland: extracts from speeches and writings of Thomas Wyse, Daniel O'Connell, Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy, Frank Hugh O'Donnell and others. Belfast: Athol, 1992.

Selected further reading

  1. Arthur Griffith (ed.), Thomas Davis: the thinker & teacher; the essence of his writings in prose and poetry. Dublin: Gill 1914.
  2. William O'Brien, The influence of Thomas Davis: a lecture delivered by William O'Brien, M.P., at the City Hall, Cork, on 5th November 1915. Cork: Free Press Office, 1915.
  3. Johannes Schiller, Thomas Osborne Davis, ein irischer Freiheitssänger. Wiener Beiträge zur englischen Philologie, Bd. XLVI. Wien und Leipzig, W. Braumüller, 1915.
  4. Michael Quigley (ed.), Pictorial record: centenary of Thomas Davis and young Ireland. Dublin [1945].
  5. Joseph Maunsell Hone, Thomas Davis (Famous Irish Lives). 1934.
  6. M. J. MacManus (ed.), Thomas Davis and Young Ireland. Dublin: The Stationery Office, 1945.
  7. J. L. Ahern, Thomas Davis and his circle. Waterford, 1945.
  8. Michael Tierney, 'Thomas Davis: 1814-1845'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 34:135 (1945) 300-10.
  9. Theodore William Moody, 'The Thomas Davis centenary lecture in Newry'. An t-Iubhar (=Newry) 1946, 22-6.
  10. D. R. Gwynn, O'Connell, Davis and the Colleges Bill (Centenary Series 1). Oxford and Cork, 1948.
  11. D. R. Gwynn, 'John E. Pigot and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 145-57.
  12. D. R. Gwynn, 'Denny Lane and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 15-28.
  13. N. N., Clár cuimhneacháin: comóradh i gcuimhne Thomáis Daibhis, Magh Ealla, 1942. Baile Átha Cliath (=Dublin) 1942.
  14. K. M. MacGrath, 'Writers in the

    Title (periodical): Nation

    , 1842-5.' Irish Historical Studies 6, no. 23 (March 1949), 189-223.
  15. Christopher Preston, 'Commissioners under the Patriot Parliament, 1689'. Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 5th ser., 74:8 (1950) 141-51.
  16. W.B. Yeats, Tribute to Thomas Davis: with an account of the Thomas Davis centenary meeting held in Dublin on November 20th, 1914, including Dr. Mahaffy's prohibition of the 'Man called Pearse,' and an unpublished protest by 'A.E.', Cork 1965.
  17. Theodore William Moody, 'Thomas Davis and the Irish nation'. Hermathena, 103 (1966) 5-31.
  18. Malcolm Johnston Brown, The politics of Irish literature: from Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats. Seattle (University of Washington Press) 1973.
  19. Eileen Sullivan, Thomas Davis. Lewisburg, New Jersey: Bucknell University Press, 1978.
  20. Mary G. Buckley, Thomas Davis: a study in nationalist philosophy. Ph.D. Thesis, National University of Ireland, at the Department of Irish History, UCC, 1980.
  21. Giulio Giorello, "A nation once again": Thomas Osborne Davis and the construction of the Irish "popular" tradition. History of European Ideas, 20:1-3 (1995) 211-17.
  22. John Neylon Molony, A soul came into Ireland: Thomas Davis 1814-1845. Dublin 1995.
  23. Robert Somerville-Woodward, "Two 'views of the Irish language': O'Connell versus Davis." The History Review: journal of the UCD History Society, 9 (1995) 44-50.
  24. John Neylon Molony, 'Thomas Davis: Irish Romantic idealist'. In: Richard Davis; Jennifer Livett; Anne-Maree Whitaker; Peter Moore (eds.), Irish-Australian studies: papers delivered at the eighth Irish-Australian Conference, Hobart July 1995 (Sydney 1996) 52-63.
  25. David Alvey, 'Thomas Davis. The conservation of a tradition.' Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 85 (1996) 37-42.
  26. Harry White, The keeper's recital: music and cultural history in Ireland, 1770-1970. (Cork 1998).
  27. Joseph Langtry; Brian Fay, 'The Davis influence.' In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 30-38.
  28. Joseph Langtry, 'Thomas Davis (1814-1845).' In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 2-7.
  29. Patrick Maume, 'Young Ireland, Arthur Griffith, and republican ideology: the question of continuity.' Éire-Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 155-74.
  30. Sean Ryder, 'Speaking of '98: Young Ireland and republican memory'. Éire-Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 51-69.
  31. Gerard Kearns, 'Time and some citizenship: nationalism and Thomas Davis'. Bullán: an Irish Studies Review, 5:2 (2001), 23-54.
  32. Ghislaine Saison, 'L'écriture de l'histoire chez la Jeune Irlande: quelle histoire pour une nation du consensus et de la réconciliation?' In: Centre de recherche inter-langues angevin, Écriture(s) de l'histoire: Actes du colloque des 2,3 et 4 décembre 1999. (Angers 2001) 435-46.
  33. Ghislaine Saison, 'Thomas Davis et la nation irlandaise'. Cercles, 4 (2002), 121-31.
  34. Helen Mulvey, Thomas Davis and Ireland: a biographical study. Washington, D.C., Catholic University of America Press, 2003.

Davis, Thomas Osborne (1910). ‘Irish Art’. In: Thomas Davis: Selections from his prose and poetry‍. Ed. by T. W. Rolleston. Dublin and London: The Talbot Press, pp. 164–166.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  author 	 = {Thomas Osborne Davis},
  title 	 = {Irish Art},
  editor 	 = {T. W. Rolleston},
  booktitle 	 = {Thomas Davis: Selections from his prose and poetry},
  publisher 	 = {The Talbot Press},
  address 	 = {Dublin and London},
  date 	 = {1910},
  pages 	 = {164–166}


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Creation: by Thomas Davis

Date: 1843

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  • The text is in English. (en)

Keywords: literary; prose; 19c

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  1. 2009-10-27: Keywords added; XML file validated. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2006-08-03: File parsed. SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2006-08-02: File proofed (2), structural and content markup applied; header inserted. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2005-10-08: File proofed (1). (ed. Margaret Bonar, Dublin)
  5. 1996: Text captured by scanning. (ed. Audrey Murphy)

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  1. This seems the best place to put the article on Burton's design for The Spirit of the Nation. Ed. 🢀

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  3. Alas! the Conciliation Hall has been for some years transformed into a Music-hall.—Ed. 🢀

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