Introduction to the Exhibition
Irish in Italy seeks to offer a picture of the complex relationship between Italy and Ireland during the first half of the twentieth century, and of the progressive emergence of Ireland as an autonomous entity, both culturally and politically, in the Italian public consciousness.
Since the early years of the twentieth century, Italy has shown itself to be particularly receptive to Ireland. During the First World War, Carlo Linati embarked upon his courageous, though occasionally uncertain, journey into Irish literature. Linati introduced Italy to the playwrights of the Abbey Theatre and the modernist James Joyce, revived Ugo Foscolo’s translation of Sterne, and, alongside Enzo Ferrieri, founded Il convegno, a literary review which played a crucial role in the diffusion of Irish literature in the 1920s. This role was subsequently taken on by Lucio Ridenti’s Il dramma, particularly during the Second World War, when the two nations’ shared hostility toward the United Kingdom brought about a golden age in Irish-Italian relations, and triggered a greater awareness of Ireland’s cultural specificity. Irish literature enjoyed a second revival in Italy: from the “European” Joyce, Shaw and Wilde, to the “truly Irish” Yeats, Synge, and O’Casey, and finally the so-called oriundi, foreign-born Irish writers like Eugene O’Neill.
The foundations were laid for an understanding between Ireland and Italy which has remained strong well into the twenty-first century. Italy continues to see itself reflected in Ireland, to espouse its marginality and political conviction, to revere its revolutionary spirit and to identify with its struggles, attempting, often in vain, to maintain a detached view. Yet “blessed Ireland always exerts a certain romantic, evocative fascination on those who encounter her; even I, despite my best intentions, do not believe myself to have escaped it.” (Mario Borsa, La tragica impresa di Sir Roger Casement)