I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Back to the Future

Back to the Future

Niall Crowley
Irish Adventures in Nation-Building, by Bryan Fanning, Manchester University Press, 196 pp, £18.99,ISBN 978-1784993238 It all starts with Patrick Pearse looking into the future in a 1906 essay in An Claidheamh Soluis about Ireland in 2006. Ireland has an ard rí, who is opening the Oireachtas in a ceremony attended by the emperor of the French and the president of the Russian Republic. Everything is in Irish, of course. There is a debate in parliament about a bill for the compulsory teaching of Japanese as a second language. English is now only spoken by a few peasants in Shropshire, England having been conquered by the Russian republic and its empire split up into independent kingdoms and republics. This is quirky, but gripping, and it is interesting to examine how those in the past saw the future. Another chapter opens with “The Dawn of All”, a 1911 novel by Robert Hugh Benson, an English priest who had converted to Catholicism. This imagined future is one where Catholic social and political thought reign supreme across the world. Cardinals are consulted by political economists and Ireland is the contemplative monastery of Europe. A picture begins to emerge from these writings of imaginations tempered by the cultural and political goals of their authors. Moving quickly on, we come to “Ossian’s Ride”, a 1959 science fiction novel by Fred Hoyle, that imagines a near-future Ireland. This is a state with significant levels of high-tech industry and commercial nuclear reactors. A group of scientists has persuaded the Irish government to give them permission, along with high-quality tax breaks, to set up an industry to extract chemicals from turf. It appears however that the scientists are in fact making contraceptive pills from turf and they were actually being directed by aliens from a dying world. These focused imaginations sum up the key message of the book really. It is the story of nation-building that, far from adventurous as suggested by its title, is first driven by Catholicism and cultural nationalism and then by economic development and human capital. Some uncertainty is suggested by the author about the current moment of nation-building, with tentative pointers to immigration as a driver for change and the search for new definitions of Irishness. All too often we just look to the past for the evidence to justify current actions or aspirations. We find those trends or events that underpin our arguments rather than searching…

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