Ireland's Celtic culture reached its peak in the 8th and 9th centuries. Illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Durrow and the Book of Kells date from this period. These are religious texts decorated with interlocking designs, which sometimes take the form of highly stylized animal shapes, painted in bright colours on vellum. Many such manuscripts have survived and are preserved in Ireland's museums and libraries.

Early Irish literature took the form of long epics told by bards and passed orally from generation to generation. In the 18th century, Jonathan Swift, a priest at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, wrote the brilliant satire Gulliver's Travels, the story of a journey to imaginary lands. Maria Edgeworth, a novelist in the early 19th century, wrote about Irish country life in books such as Castle Rackrent.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Ireland produced some of the world's best playwrights-Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, Sean O'Casey, Brendan Behan and Samuel Beckett-as well as the Nobel-prize-winning poet William Butler Yeats and the extraordinary novelist James Joyce. Joyce's Ulysses, which describes the lives of three people during a single day in Dublin in 1904, is one of the most acclaimed works of fiction ever written. Modern Irish writers such as Flann O'Brien, Seán Ó Ríord in, Seamus Heaney, Elizabeth Bowen and Roddy Doyle have continued the Irish tradition of literary achievement. In 1993, Roddy Doyle won the Booker Prize for his novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.

Music has always been an important part of Irish cultural life. Traditional instruments include the Celtic harp, the flute, the uileann pipes, the bodhran (a hand-held drum), the fiddle and the accordion. In recent years, groups such as the Clancy Brothers, the Dubliners, the Chieftains and Altan have blended traditional Irish music with modern instruments and styles to produce a new form of popular music. The musical Riverdance, which combines the best of Irish song, dance and music, has popularized Irish step dancing and fiddle playing around the world.

One of the most famous Irish musical groups is U2; their music makes a political statement on the struggle in Northern Ireland and the quest for peace. Other famous Irish rock stars and groups include Van Morrison, Sinead O'Connor, the Cranberries and the Corrs. In the last 20 years, Ireland has also been making its mark in the movie industry. Two Irish directors have won Academy Awards: Jim Sheridan for My Left Foot and Neil Jordan for The Crying Game.

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Irish stone crosses dating back to the 9th and 10th century can be found throughout the country. Many are decorated with carvings depicting scenes from the Gospels. The circle surrounding the centre of the cross represents eternity.