The Irish periodical Dana was produced a total of twelve times in Dublin in the years 1904 and 1905, and was devoted to the discussion of an emerging and evolving Irish consciousness, as well as to relevant literature of the day. There was no artwork and, although each issue featured the work of poets, the pieces included in Dana were primarily essays. As is evident from the magazine’s pages, the cause of the Irish people subject to English imperialist power was particularly important and manifested itself often in discussions of national vs. racial identity and language. Also regularly emphasized was the importance of open debate pertaining to these issues: billing itself as a magazine of independent thought, the authors included in Dana, such as Frederick Ryan, promoted rigorous discussion of various ideas to encourage this mission. Another recurring theme, especially in Dana’s poetry, was the significance of nature. While many articles dealt with the friction between the Irish and the English, nature poetry within Dana’s pages was ostensibly included to celebrate and glorify the bucolic lifestyle of the Irish people.
Questions of national identity, particularly those pertaining to race, nationalism, and the Gaelic language were of great importance to the editors of Dana. In his article “Mr. Wyndham on Race and Nationality,” which addresses the introductory speech of English political figure, and Chief Secretary for Ireland, George Wyndham upon his installation as Lord Rector of Glasgow University, P. John Boland criticizes the lack of national feeling among his fellow Irish. While Wyndham encourages fealty to particular races (or "clans" such as it was within Ireland), Boland retorts that such a suggestion is merely the thinly veiled attempt of an English imperialist to weaken the resistance of nations, such as Ireland, against English imperialist rule. "Pride of race," according to Boland only promotes in-fighting and division among the Irish, "forbid[ding them] to agree" (Dana 270) and this, the author maintains, is exactly what Wyndham wants: to “let [the Irish] forget that [they are] Irish, that such a place as Ireland exists!” and to instead remember that they belonged to the “great British Empire” (270). Ultimately, Boland views “want of pride of nationality” as “the curse of “Ireland” (269). He argues that the development of a national spirit as tantamount to the success of the Irish people, while pride of race can only degrade both the Irish cause and the character of the Irish themselves. Boland concludes with an indictment of the Empire, as it interferes with the liberty of nations and their people. He states his belief “That one race or nation should control the actions of any other race or nation is incompatible with the fundamental principles of liberty,” and expresses his hope, synchronous no doubt with his wishes for a nationalist pride movement in Ireland, that “the world will one day perceive what the few perceive,” and work to topple such a system (272).
Questions of Irish identity pertaining to language were also raised in the pages of Dana. While many Irish strove to reinstate Gaelic as the official language spoken in Ireland, as it was symbolic of Irish cultural freedom from oppressive, imperialist England, others such as frequent Dana contributor Frederick Ryan, believed that the widespread usage of English in Ireland was not only inevitable but could be beneficial to its people. In his article, "On Language and Political Ideals," Ryan references the economic and cultural freedom of the United States, despite the fact that “it has not a separate language” as a positive example for his cause (275). He suggests that “theorising” about the language question distracts from a more important goal: namely, “the problem of how to create in Ireland a people, healthy, educated, cultured in the best sense, with sufficient material comfort, developing in their minds and their bodies to the end of maximising life, sensitive to intellectual and moral values, and conducting their life on lines of justice, and freedom, and good faith” (275). While Ryan does not disparage Gaelic “as a proper and honoured study in any Irish university,” he imagines the effort to force its reinstatement as the national spoken language could be more costly than beneficial, as the influence of English in Ireland was already deep and far-reaching. To attempt to reverse its effects would be unfairly disruptive to the real people of Ireland, whose lives were conducted already in English. The author ultimately believes that a language which promotes any kind of “nationality” but does not serve the people of Ireland could only serve a symbolic, and not a practical, good. A nationalist movement, according to Ryan, therefore, should be secondary to creating an Ireland which provides its people with the greatest opportunities for intellectual, cultural, and economic success.
In a time when Irish tempers flared, the editors of Dana strove to not indulge in sectarianism. They were, however, sympathetic to the nature of debate and ardently encouraged the practice. In another essay, “Criticism and Courage,” Frederick Ryan writes of the importance of discussing the political and religious implications of the times constructively and without fear. Tossing aside the idea that everyone is entitled to their own, quiet opinion, he attacks the government and the churches for trying to squash the discussion in public forums. His essay outlines the exact reasons that Dana magazine was important: it was, as their tagline suggests, a magazine of independent thought in a time when independent thought desperately needed examination.
Ryan begins with the discussion of a club meeting he attended, where they talked about the importance of independent thought in Ireland, but came to the conclusion that "one should have as few opinions as possible, and no expression of them at all," (145). Offended by not only the irony of the debate, but by the ridiculous idea that independent thought should mean independent to one’s self, Ryan goes on to criticize the tendency of religion and politics to try to avoid criticism. Believing that this stems from a fear of finding out that their ideas are wrong, he goes on to scrutinize the motives of the churches’ desire to stay within their lines. “The stage when Catholic and Protestant clergymen held public debates in the Rotunda on the merits of their respective creeds has long been passed. Doubtless it was realised that such performances were more likely to make Freethinkers than converts to either Catholicism or Protestantism,” he offers a third option for those struggling with sects in Ireland: Atheism (147). He suggests that Protestants and Catholics would prefer not to interfere with one another’s flock, lest their collective religious ideals be questioned in the same way that an individual would prefer not to discuss his ideas, lest he be questioned. In doing so he changes the nature of the religious dispute in Ireland, and furthermore the dispute of free thought in Ireland: it is not about church, it is about fear, and it is not about respect for opinions, it is about fear. This is about fear of change. He believes that England would prefer as little discussion as possible pertaining to politics in Ireland, hoping that national apathy would quell the desire of the thinking minority, and in essence stop causing so much trouble. It stands in their favor that people would want thought and solutions in theory, but adopt the philosophy that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, because this implies that nothing should change. But the nation of Ireland needed change more than they needed mutual respect at that point because, as Ryan puts it, “political progress must involve change in political ideals and beliefs,” and if historical hindsight has shown us anything it is that Ireland needed political progress at that time or else the issue of Irish unity would go unsolved for centuries (146). Ryan concludes that we must not fear debate, we must not fear finding out that we are wrong because “never yet was progress possible without intellectual change, never yet did humanity advance a step without the breaking of old traditions and the discarding of old beliefs. (149)” This emphasis on debate and constructive discussion was a recurring theme throughout Dana’s short run in 1904 and 1905. This is one reason that Dana magazine existed and is still important today: it provided a platform that had been taken away from a people that were on the verge of distinguishing themselves as a nation. It was not about picking a side, it was about arguing each side, and it did so beautifully.
Finally, the topic of nature, always in association with joy and love, is found often in the poetry of Dana, including a poem titled “Two Songs,” a love poem by Seumas O’Sullivan, and “A Sunday in July,” by Edward Dowden, as well as many others which appear throughout the magazine’s issues. The impartiality of nature, which the lover in O’Sullivan’s poem describes, is perhaps part of the subject’s appeal as a means of unification. The idealization of rural life is also evident in the repetition of nature-themed poems. Nature as a theme may appear disjointed from the political articles in the magazine; however, in a publication which strove to find solutions for political troubles, the inclusion of these idyllic poems may have offered a respite for the reader. “Two Songs,” uses images of nature abundantly to praise the addressee of the poem—while both expressing the insufficiency of words and affection, and promising that his adoration will never cease. The structure of the poem includes two parts, three stanzas each, described as per the title of the piece as “songs.” Within each song, the speaker compares his own powers of praise with those of nature; in the first, nature’s affections are described as more appropriate than the lover’s. It is only the sky’s silence and the grass’s rustling or gentleness that is thought by him to adequately resemble the depth of his love. In the second section, however, it is noted by the speaker of the poem that nature is fickle, and that his affection goes even beyond the perfectly appropriate praise given by nature to his lover. It is also in this second song that the phrase “white brow” is introduced, and repeated twice within the few stanzas, as though this pet name were repeated unconsciously as the man’s admiration of the woman is peaking, alongside his declaration that his love—a product of nature itself, one could say—is in fact more true and constant than the natural world. To say such a thing is indeed high praise for a culture in which rural life is of great value and beauty.
Despite its brief run, the twelve issues of Dana comprise a body of work aptly demonstrative of the magazine’s goal toward engendering independent thought. By featuring the work of a variety of authors on both sides of key debates, especially those pertaining to Irish identity and the future of the Irish people, Dana is an important artifact of cultural and political climates in Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century. Further, the commitment of the editors’ to promoting Irish literature is also significant, as it affords contemporary audiences a view, not only of specific literature from the era, but also of the effects rendered upon art and literature by those political and cultural debates so carefully considered by the magazine’s essayists, such as the significance of nature in a bucolic nation struggling to preserve its character under imperialist rule.
-Elsie Dwyer, Calgary Martin, and Abra Stokowski