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St. Patrick & More: Important Irish Thinkers

Saint Patrick’s Day is coming up! Do you know the history of the holiday? Held on March 17th, the day celebrates the most important patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick. Below, find biographies of Saint Patrick and other important Irish people.

Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick was a fifth-century Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. He is the foremost patron saint of Ireland, and is venerated across several churches. Scholars regard him as the founder of Christianity in Ireland, which had beforehand practiced Celtic polytheism (the worship of many gods). March 17th is considered to be his birthday, and the holiday is meant to celebrate not only him, but also Ireland itself.

Brigid of Kildare

Alongside Saint Patrick, Brigid of Kildare is one of Ireland’s patron saints, and the only female one. In Celtic myth she is also hailed as the goddess of healing, poetry, and smithwork. Many miracles are attributed to her, and she is honored through holidays and places named after her.

Iris Murdoch

Dame Jean Iris Murdoch was a writer and philosopher. Her first novel, Under the Net, ranks on the Modern Library’s 100 best novels of the 20th century. She has also ranked on Best Writers lists in The Times, a British newspaper. She was politically active during her time, and her only historical novel, The Red and the Green, provides a favorable portrayal of the Irish nationalist cause.

Jonathan Swift

Best known for his novel Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift was an Anglo-Irish writer whose works are still taught in college classrooms. Some regard him as the foremost prose satirist in the English language. Today, the adjective “Swiftian” is used to refer to humorous writing that mimics his deadpan and ironic style.

James Joyce

One of the most influential writers in the 20th-century modernist movement, James Joyce’s works consistently rank among the best-written texts of the time period. Although he traveled widely, much of his fictional world centers around Dublin, the capital of Ireland. Joyce gave this explanation: “For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world.”

Agnes Mary Clerke

Agnes Clerke was an Irish writer and astronomer. She published A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century,  which  is still considered a seminal text today. In 1981, NASA named a crater on the moon after her.

William Butler Yeats

W. B. Yeats was an Irish poet and one of the most prominent writers of 20th-century literature. He helped found the Abbey Theatre, also known as the National Theatre of Ireland, in Dublin. It continues to  function today as one of the country’s leading cultural institutions. Yeats was of paramount importance in the Irish Literary Revival.

Augusta, Lady Gregory

Alongside W. B. Yeats and Edward Martyn, Lady Gregory is considered an important force in the Irish Literary Revival. She was a writer who authored many books that drew from Irish mythology. Although she was born into a class that adhered to British rule, Lady Gregory turned against it and celebrated Irish nationalism.

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