then as now, maybe?
"The shabby reality of Gaelic Ireland, free if not united, had tarnished its appeal for his generation, who matured as the country struggled with the transition from nationalist idealism to the reality of life in a small, economically vulnerable state. Conformity with the Irish Free State’s insular conservatism was unattractive to many, but so too was Joyce’s melodramatic path of rebellion and exile. Joyce might have been a talismanic figure for O’Nolan’s circle in UCD, but the admiration which they expressed for him was decidedly ambivalent. Barely a decade after political independence, a more populist aesthetic was proving attractive - perhaps in imitation of the political trend of British literature in the 1930s, but perhaps also because it was more easily assimilated to a nationalist outlook. O’Nolan’s fairly indiscriminate satire of literary fashions in Comhthrom Féinne arguably betrayed a certain evasiveness (if not indecisiveness) about such matters on his part. But an article by his contemporary, Charlie Donnelly - a committed socialist who would be killed in the Spanish Civil War - shows that even he was warily negotiating a path between an insular nationalism and a vacant internationalism. As he puts it, the ‘modern, young Irishman’ tended to be familiar with ‘extra-Irish’ contemporary thought, which had the effect of cutting him off from his ‘emotional environment’. This presented an aesthetic (and emotional) difficulty:
The modern Irish artist cannot throw over modern thought. Neither can he agree to throw over Ireland. In his consciousness, the two must fuse. Modern Irish art must be in touch with the people … [but] to be of any importance it must be in touch with more than the people.
It seems curious to hear an echo of Daniel Corkery from such unexpected quarters, even if Donnelly qualifies the assertion in Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature that the Irish writer ‘sprung from the people’ simply needed ‘a mental equipment fitted to shape the emotional content that is theirs, as well as the nation’s, into chaste and enduring form’. Donnelly’s reference to an ‘emotional environment’ which the young Irishman would find incompatible with modern thought is telling, articulating a cultural uneasiness felt perhaps by many of his fellow students. The article appeared in an issue which is likely to have been edited by O’Nolan, and this predicament is tellingly echoed in the comedic drama between the student and his uncle in At Swim, which finally ends with the student’s acknowledgement that this plain Dubliner is ‘Simple, well-intentioned’ (though he does add with characteristic superiority, ‘pathetic in humility’ (ASTB, 215)). Despite expressing scorn for the ‘Celtic Twilight people’, Donnelly ends with a dire warning against the intellectual seduction by newer trends, by ‘the clever and the facile and the semi-educated, and political and literary charlatanry’. He was not alone in his criticism; the literary charlatans were again in the frame a few months later when Comhthrom Féinne editorial complained of the indolence into which the Gaelic League had fallen, leaving students to trail after fashionable European movements. Considering the climate of the early 1930s, perhaps the suspicion of contemporary European thought was inspired as much by political movements as by literary fashions. (At the time, barely a decade after the civil war, it was understandably free of explicit political commentary.) But whether or not this wariness was inspired by contemporary European politics, it indicates that even the irreverent literary caste who compiled the magazine were not entirely unsympathetic to the biases of the plain people.”
Carol Taafe, Ireland Throught the Looking Glass: Flann O’Brien, Myles na gCopaleen and Irish Cultural Debate (Cork University Press, 2008), p. 44-45.