Literary Culture of Modern Ireland

A First-Year Ampersand Program

Explore the Literary Culture of the Emerald Isle

This two-semester program will examine the literature of Ireland from 1890 to the present. This is the period a great efflorescence of literature in many genres, occurring alongside some of the most important political, social, and military events in modern Irish history. One of the remarkable things about the period is the close relationship between prominent figures in the literary and artistic world and those in the realm of politics and social change. The result was a rich cross-fertilization of ideas and attitudes which produced four Nobel Prizes in Literature from an island the size of Maine, with a population between 6 and 7 million. Come explore this literary world with us, including a trip to Ireland in May 2020.  Writers to be studied will include: Yeats, Gregory, Wilde, Synge, Shaw, Joyce, O'Casey, Bowen, Beckett, Friel, O'Brien, Heaney, Carson, Ní Chuilleanáin, McGahern, Trevor, Carr, Keegan, and Tóibín.

Like all Ampersand programs, Literary Culture of Modern Ireland seeks to give you a heightened small-group instructional experience during your first year of college. And because it's open only to first-year students, it serves both as an introduction to the kind of specialized studying one might do during their career at Washington University and as an initial welcoming community, easing the transition into college.


Katy Przybylski, Class of 2017

"I did the Literary Culture of Modern Ireland program my first year, and to this day, it has been one of the best decisions I’ve made since coming to WashU. Because the program runs both semesters, we really got to immerse ourselves in Irish literature—it’s one of the few things I feel like I’m really an expert on. My classmates in the program became like family to me because we spent so much time together in and out of the classroom. We even still have a group chat and get together for reunions!"

Sam Fisher, Class of 2018

"Taking the Ireland program was one of the best choices I've ever made at WashU. When I first signed up for the class, I just thought it'd be a cool class on a topic I was vaguely interested in, but by the end of my freshman year, I had changed my major and decided I wanted to study Irish history instead. Ireland has such a compelling history and a long list of amazing writers, and this class helped us explore this fantastic body of literature and even see it brought to life when we visited Ireland during the spring. Our class grew incredibly close after spending almost a whole year together, and the professors that teach it are all brilliant and amazing."

Katie Caul, Class of 2016

"I have always been proud of my Irish heritage, and I was excited about the opportunity to learn more about Ireland and Irish culture through the literature and history, while also getting to experience it in person. I expected to become even prouder of my heritage and create incredible memories with friends (which we definitely did and we still get together to reminisce about!). What I did not anticipate was the connection I would develop with people who have participated in the Ireland program in other years. Just this summer at my WashU internship, my supervisor had been in the program in 2006, and we instantly started comparing experiences."

Holly Baldacci, Class of 2018

"Literary Culture of Modern Ireland was an absolutely amazing program that really impacted my first year for the better. While the class itself was interesting with a ton of interesting readings, what really made it special for me were the amazing people I met. I’ve made friendships that will last long after my graduation, and I can’t imagine my life without the people from this class. This includes the professors who were 100% dedicated to the material that they taught. Our trip to Ireland was a surreal, wonderful experience that I’ll remember forever, and it really cemented the entire class for me. I can’t recommend this class highly enough!"

How to Apply

The application process for first-year programs and seminars opens on Wednesday, May 13, at noon (CT) and closes on Monday, May 18, at noon (CT). You will need your WUSTL Key to apply, so please be sure to sign up for your WUSTL Key by Tuesday, May 12 to give it 24 hours to activate. There will be a link to the application webform on the First-Year Programs homepage during this time for you to sign up. A statement of interest (no more than 500 words) is required when you submit your application online.

First-Year Programs homepage

Program Outline

What courses are part of the program?

During the Fall semester, students will examine the literature of Ireland from the collapse of Charles Stewart Parnell to the outbreak of the Second World War. This is the period of an emerging cultural nationalism, a great efflorescence of literature in many genres, and some of the most important political, social, and military events in modern Irish history, including the Easter Rising, the Anglo-Irish War, and the Irish Civil War. One of the remarkable things about the period is the close relationship between prominent figures in the literary and artistic world and those in the realm of politics and social change. The result was a rich cross-fertilization of ideas and attitudes which had enormous implications for the future of this embattled island nation. To examine this vital and transformative period of Ireland, the class will give close attention to primary texts of the period as well as the works of notable writers including William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, John Millington Synge, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, Sean O'Casey, Elizabeth Bowen, and others.

The Spring semester resumes the study of Ireland by exploring the intersection of literature and culture from the establishment of the Fianna Fail government of Eamon de Valera in 1932, through the lean years of the 40s-70s, to the economic boom of the Celtic Tiger in the 1990s and beyond. To appreciate this small nation's rocky road to a successful entrance into the European Union, economic security, and national confidence, students will closely examine how Ireland's rich and diverse literature casts a cold but not unfeeling eye on its hard-earned independence and fraught nationalism, for the fiction, poetry, and drama of Ireland not only mirrors but often moves the story of Ireland's growth and transformation over the decades of economic, social, and political strife. Authors include Sean O'Faolain, Frank O'Connor, Samuel Beckett, Edna O'Brien, Mary Lavin, Patrick Kavanagh, Brian Friel, Marina Carr, Martin McDonagh, Sebastian Barry, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Eilean Ni Chuillainean, William Trevor, John McGahern, Claire Keegan, and Colm Toibin.


Outside the Classroom

Concerts, Plays, Movies, Dinners, Etc.

The Ireland program offers much more than just the traditional instruction. Irish movies are screened every month on the WashU campus, and sometimes trips are organized to see new Irish-themed films in theaters, such as the 2015 Oscar-nominee Brooklyn. Irish concerts and plays that come through St. Louis are also options for excursions. The class has been to see Cherish the Ladies, Solas, Danu, and Gaelic Storm. Last fall, they attended performances of Beckett's Happy Days and McPherson's Shining City at theatre venues in and around the city of St. Louis. In a particularly special tradition, each of the three instructors in the program has the class to their house for a meal at some point during the year - all special experiences within the Ireland family!

The Gaelic Cultural Society

The Gaelic Cultural Society is one of the over 300 campus clubs offered at WashU. The GCS pairs closely with the Ireland program to celebrate Irish culture on our campus. From St. Brigid's Day/Imbolc to Hallowe'en/Samhain to St. Patrick's Day, the GCS hosts events to celebrate the traditional holidays. There is music, food, and demonstrations, and always lots of fun!

More Academic Opportunities

WashU has multiple ways for students to continue exploring Irish culture. Upper-level Irish literature classes are offered by senior faculty. For example, Associate Professor Guinn Batten teaches classes on 20th-Century Irish poetry, including a course on Yeats and Heaney, and Professor Vincent Sherry teaches an in-depth look at Joyce's Ulysses. Get further details here: The University College offers evening Irish language (Gaelic) classes taught by Sarah Johnson, an adjunct instructor from County Tipperary, as well as courses on Irish and Irish-American writers.  

Additional Program Costs

The travel component of this course, a trip to Ireland, costs $3,500. Need based financial support available

Will this program's travel component be affected by COVID-19? 

This Ampersand Program typically has an international travel component, which could be affected by federal and local guidelines related to health, safety, and security considerations. This program's main academic component will not be affected.