As with many countries' literary histories, Irish literature traces back to lyric poetry and ancient tales; themes of religion and nature can be found in the earliest works, dating as far back as the 6th century. Additionally, there is a large collection of legends and sagas from the medieval period, most taking the form of prose. During the Renaissance, Irish literature took on a more classical form, with significant examples of poetry surviving to the present; the form of this poetry would remain relatively the same for approximately 500 years. Generally speaking, all Irish literature from this time period was written by men; while wealthy women could be their own patrons, they were few and far between.
When the English reinforced their control over the Irish, the upper class tended to lose their position of prominence and prosperity; as a result, they could no longer afford to patronize artists and authors. To that end, Irish literature takes on a more popular form from about 1500 to about 1800, reflecting political trends and pressing issues for the more common segments of society. Religious texts were also some of the most common pieces of Irish literature during this time period, a trend that would continue for quite some time. By the mid-1800s, the Irish language was gradually being replaced by English; even in the face of a growing sense of nationalism, individuals throughout the country turned to the language of the dominant middle class rather than of their own national heritage. Novelists would continue to write about the experiences of the average Irishmen throughout the 19th and 20th century, chronicling the hardships and struggles shared by many. Gradually, the format of Irish literature would diversify even further, encompassing all forms of poetry, novels and short stories alike, and drama.