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 Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand

Cecilia Biaggi
The Partition of Ireland, 1918-1925, by Robert Lynch, Cambridge University Press, 258 pp, £18.99, ISBN: 978-1139017619 Robert Lynch’s history of partition begins by following Irish journalist William Bulfin on his journey across Ireland in 1902. Bulfin’s quest for the authentic Gaelic spirit could not but end in disappointment upon his arrival in the northeast. Here, Belfast’s gloomy industrialism stood alien to the romanticised and idyllic landscapes of the rest of the island. Thanks to its bond with Britain and the empire, the stronghold of Protestantism in Ireland had prospered for decades when the Third Home Rule bill was drawn. Meanwhile, the Catholic South and West had seen no other growth but that of cultural movements, such as the Gaelic revival, fuelling a new kind of nationalism determined to eradicate the Anglicisation of the country. Despite stating that the story of the division of Ireland is the story of how Belfast became an “un-Irish” city, Lynch does not present partition as the inevitable outcome of the northeast’s different character. This is consistent with his remark that “partition was a chaotic, confused and, at times, surreal process, far removed from the ‘natural’ conferral of statehood on pre-existing homogenous populations imagined by the partitioners and later historians”. The discussion of Belfast’s peculiarity traces the origin of the ascendancy of Ulster Protestants over unionism and of southern nationalism’s difficulty in dealing with the northeast’s opposition to independence. Once again, Lynch is careful to stress (here and in the following chapters) that partition was not simply the obvious byproduct of the irreconcilability of unionism and nationalism. Nevertheless, this difficult situation did result from the polarisation of Irish politics on the question of independence. This is an important consideration for Lynch’s analysis that develops across most of the book along dualistic lines opposing unionism and nationalism whilst drawing parallels between North and South. Initially, unionists and nationalists equally opposed partition, which in fact was first proposed by British politicians in 1912 as a temporary, short-term expedient to overcome the deadlock reached by the Home Rule negotiations. In this context, the creation of two parliaments in Ireland served to delegate responsibility for unification to the Irish, rather than to establish two permanent and mutually independent states. Unionist leaders struggled to make sense of the arbitrarily designed portion of territory they governed, while southern nationalists stubbornly continued to refer to a phantom United Ireland, which became the geographic…

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