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.


Just Ourselves

Bryan Fanning

In his 1993 book Pleasant the Scholar’s Life: Irish Intellectuals and the Construction of the Nation State, Maurice Goldring emphasised the role of intellectuals in shaping Irish cultural nationalism. He distinguished between revolts and revolutions. Without some articulation of ideas that might drive change a revolt could never become a revolution: ‘Gavroche, in Les Misérables, could sing, ‘C’est la faute à Voltaire, c’est la faute à Rousseau –Voltaire is to blame, Rousseau is to blame. One could add that Locke, Thomas Paine, Marx and Lenin are all to blame.’ But no future Gavroche would sing, C’est la faute à Charlie Haughey, c’est la faute à Gerry Adams, c’est la faute à Ian Paisley. A social movement became a political one when intellectuals gave it ‘a theoretical coherence’. A revolution would not, he thought in 1993, be made by Northern Ireland’s men of violence.

Goldring’s perspective was that of a French former communist who had recently abandoned, as he put it, large chunks of what he ‘considered to be part and parcel of Marxism, but not the idea of a revolutionary vanguard. In Pleasant the Scholar’s Life, Goldring emphasised the role of intellectual elites within the social and political movements that institutionalised an Irish-Ireland cultural nationalism in the new state. History, he suggested, was made in part by writers, poets, priests and others who gave social movements a political project or an image of the future.

What was pleasant about the scholar’s life – a reference to a seventeenth century poem quoted by Daniel Corkery in The Hidden Ireland – was a degree of class privilege and elite status: The poets employed by the Gaelic nobility were exempt from physical and servile work. Some of their successors had no small regard for their own cultural and political importance. As Yeats put it in his humblebrag poem ‘The Man and the Echo’ (1908): ‘Did that play of mine, send out / Certain men the English shot?’ The play, Cathleen ni Houlihan – co-written with Lady Gregory – urged men to sacrifice their lives for Ireland. Yeats implied that he had inspired men like Patrick Pearse to die in the 1916 Rising. Pearse, in turn, was posthumously portrayed as a dangerous figure who conferred legitimacy on nationalist violence.

For Goldring, the most prominent intellectuals in the countryside were, without doubt, priests even if the institutional church had an antipathy to romantic nationalism, rebellions and revolution. Clerics like Fr Edward Cahill, who advised Éamon de Valera on the drafting of the 1937 Constitution, were stewards of a conservative Christendom. They emphasised the fundamental importance of rural family life to the survival of the church and the Irish nation. In 1937 Fr John Hayes founded Muintir na Tíre (the People of the Land) a rural community development organisation which encouraged modern farming methods and rural self-help schemes. De Valera’s idealisation of such ruralism expressed mainstream thinking at the time.

Goldring’s perceptive on Irish-Ireland cultural nationalism is an intriguing one that can help us make sense of subsequent shifts in Irish identity up to and including current conflicts about immigration that pitch Ireland-for-the-Irish nativism against an open-to-the-world liberalism. If ideas matter, where do the far-right get theirs? Might protests against refugees somehow incubate some kind of revolution? The focus here is on understandings of how ideas have influenced past and present-day political and social movements in Ireland, on where immigrants fit or do not fit into these conversations about Irishness and on how what has been called the far right fits into these debates. New culture wars – including the battle between progressive perspectives on gender and identity and more conservative views – have become superimposed onto debates about Irish national and cultural identity in complex ways. My aim here is to map some of these changes up to and including the likely impact of far-right perspectives on a cultural landscape that was once religious and isolationist and more recently has been mostly liberal and open to immigration. Then, as now, Irish culture wars have been influenced by international battles of ideas. Ireland’s far right leans into local histories of essentialist nationalism but also parrots, as Luke Warde put in his recent Dublin Review of Books essay, the lingua franca of transnational Anglophone fascism, as well as its European equivalents.

Isolationist Irish-Ireland was sidelined by a new form of developmental nation-building from the 1950s and by an accompanying social liberalism. Writers and thinkers played a role in articulating how this modern Ireland might differ from the old. The influence of intellectuals who romanticised rural Ireland declined. The influence of Catholicism declined. A new generation of politicians, policy-makers, technocrats, influential economists and social liberals spoke about Ireland’s future in a different language from that of poets and priests. They rejected the economic isolationism defended by their predecessors, advocated for Ireland to join the European Union and gave tax breaks to encourage inward investment from American corporations seeking access to European markets. Multinational Big Pharma and information technology corporations contributed significantly to what came to be called the ‘Celtic Tiger’. Between 1995 and 2000 almost one quarter of a million people moved to the Republic of Ireland. Many of these were returning emigrants but these were accompanied by immigrants from other countries. By 2001 Ireland was ranked as the most globalised country in the world according to the AT Kearney/Foreign Policy Magazine index. According to the 2022 census twelve per cent of the population of the Republic are not Irish citizens while a significant number of recent immigrants have naturalised. The big ideas that reflected this change were a distinct kind of developmental nationalism which promoted the economic growth of ‘Ireland PLC’ and a neoliberalism that endorsed free trade and labour migration but not new thinking about Irish culture and identity.

The political debates that shaped Ireland were, to a considerable extent, ones between different strands of parliamentary or liberal nationalism and insurgent nationalism. A rebellion in 1798 was led by Wolfe Tone, an intellectual architect of Irish republicanism, another, in 1848, orchestrated by Young Irelander romantic nationalists who rejected the parliamentary nationalism of Daniel O’Connell just as the revolutionaries of 1916 rejected the ballot-box nationalism of Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond. A war of independence ended with a civil war between nationalists who supported an ongoing war to bring about a united Ireland and those in the tradition of O’Connell, Parnell and Redmond. Post-civil-war politics was shaped by sides taken in the civil war. Responses to the post-1969 Northern Ireland conflict reflected longstanding conflicts between parliamentary and physical force traditions of nationalism. The history of Irish nationalism has been a complicated dance between rebels and reformers.

Goldring, in 1993, characterised the Northern conflict as a revolt rather than a revolution. It had no intellectual elite or ideas of its own. Its heroes were martyred patriots from earlier generations: Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmett, Patrick Pearse and James Connolly. Even before 1969 Pearse was portrayed as a toxic extremist by Ireland’s mainstream Catholic intelligentsia. Several essays published in 1966 in Studies, the Jesuit-run periodical, by leading intellectual figures to commemorate the 1916 Rising criticised Pearse’s obsession with blood sacrifice. One of the revisionist criticisms of ‘the myth of 1916’ by Garrett FitzGerald in Studies was that the dead heroes of the Rising hardly warranted admiration as thinkers. FitzGerald accepted that the Proclamation of 1916 contained noble ideals, but he insisted that Ireland could not be administered on a day-to-day basis by the dead. Such elite liberal critiques of insurrectionary nationalism were further amplified during the post-1969 IRA campaign.

The most notable intellectual debate about Irish nationalism during the 1970s played out in the pages of The Crane Bag, edited by Richard Kearney, where intellectuals who were sympathetic to the plight of Northern Irish Catholics, engaged in a debate about what Kearney described as the internal atavisms of Irish nationalism. Within The Crane Bag he posited the notion of a distinctive ‘Irish Mind’ or collective national consciousness. Kearney was a philosopher who was particularly influenced by Paul Ricoeur’s Myth as the Bearer of Possible Worlds and Carl Jung’s theories of the collective unconsciousness. He argued that changing people’s minds required therapeutic engagement with the pathologies of Irish nationalism. Contributors to The Crane Bag including Seamus Heaney, Seamus Deane and Conor Cruise O’Brien engaged in a series of debates about art and politics, Irish nationalism, identity, mythology, minorities, church and state and the Irish language. The main focus was how these related to the Northern problem or, more precisely, nationalist thought and understandings of this.

For example, in his 1978 article ‘Myth and Terror’, Kearney focused on the Provisional IRA’s invocation of the Easter 1916 Proclamation of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, and its valorisation of the ‘blood sacrifice’ of the heroes of Easter week. This echoed the stance of the 1966 articles that appeared in Studies. A 1980 article by Mark Patrick Hederman about Seamus Toomey, the then leader of the IRA, claimed that Toomey was a child of the same ‘psychic hinterland, made up of history, religion, education, culture and mythology’ that most Irish people shared. Hederman and Kearney argued that the atavisms and extremes of Irish nationalism could not be swept under the carpet but needed to be engaged with by intellectuals whose sympathies ran in the same direction but who disagreed with the use of violence. The job of intellectuals, writers and artists, Kearney suggested, was to substitute new myths for existing ones which justified violence and extremism.

Notwithstanding such preoccupations with old myths and inherited culture, post-1969 Northern nationalism also came to be influenced by the American civil rights movement and by postcolonial theory. Inspired by Frantz Fanon and later by Edward Said, academics made an intellectual case for considering the Irish experience of colonialism alongside that of other countries.

The most cohesive focus of Irish cultural studies of colonialism has been the Field Day group of writers, academics and artists including Seamus Deane that emerged around 1980. This influenced Irish theatre (through Field Day productions) and how the canon of Irish literature was defined (through the Field Day anthologies) and understood (though Field Day pamphlets by Edward Said, Fredrick Jameson and Terry Eagleton) within academia. Since the 1980s Irish Studies has become a significant enterprise with an empire of professorships, research centres, academic journals and conferences in many countries, but most crucially in the United States. Enterprising scholars like Deane and Kearney flourished at the heart of an industry that has commodified the English language literature of Ireland for consumption in the United States, Britain and, of course, in Ireland itself. They benefited from standing on the shoulders of giants such as Yeats, Joyce, McGahern and Heaney, who intrigued the world outside Ireland. Irish Studies became something of a proxy for official Irish public intellectual life in no little part because its topics were the literatures, intellectual traditions, cultures and understandings of history that have informed debates on the condition of Ireland.

According to sceptics such as Stephen Howe, postcolonial theory gave an undeserved veneer of intellectual credibility to an ethnocentric nationalism – reinvented as anti-colonial anti-racism – that depicted many Protestant Irish people as un-Irish. For some, as Joe Cleary put it, the very use of the world ‘colonial’ signalled support for the IRA. ‘Brits-out’ slogans directed at unionists as well as British soldiers coexisted with solidarity with Palestine and opposition to apartheid in South Africa. Ireland’s history of colonialism, Famine and emigration, appeared to confer, according to Liam Kennedy in Unhappy the Land: The Most Oppressed People Ever, the Irish? (2015), a degree of ideological credibility on nativism. Postcolonialist scholarship also confronted the narrowness of revisionist historiography, challenged its often simplistic analyses of Irish modernisation and social change and interrogated Irish cultures and identities in ways that broadened and deepened understandings of these.

The editors of the first 1991 Field Day Anthology of Irish Studies were criticised for focusing entirely on the writings of men. A recovery of women’s writings and feminist analyses of the Irish literary canon, art, social history, revolutionary movements contributed to some degree of reimagining of the Irish past. Feminist academics, writers and journalists scrutinised once hidden histories of institutional violence against women and of incarceration in Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries. They campaigned for commissions of inquiry that would require the state to remember the past differently and schools to teach about it differently. Such reinterpretations of the past had a present-day political purpose and contributed to an antipathy towards the Catholic church and to debates about sex and sexuality.

The commemoration of the past by the Irish state – exemplified by the 2016-2026 Decade of Centenaries – has witnessed new battles over the same terrain as were fought in 1966 about the meaning of 1916 and how Irish identity might be defined. Rosie Hackett Bridge in Dublin was named in 2013 for a female trade unionist and 1916 revolutionary. Challenges to the male gaze in Irish historiography have focused on the lives of women activists and revolutionaries. Feminist scholars have focused on the participation of women in the Land League, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, the Civil War and in opposition to post-independence conservativisms. Some prominent revolutionary women were lesbians and have been presented in a number of recent books as the kinds of national icons and heroes that are worth celebrating in an LGBT+ inclusive Ireland. Some such women were members of the revolutionary elite and intellectual vanguard of their time. When the state neglected to do so, the Women’s History Association of Ireland (WHAI) organised a commemoration of the centenary in 2014 of Cumman na mBan, the largest women’s nationalist (and by 1916 militant) organisation which played a significant role in the 1916 Rising and during the wars of 1919 to 2023. Advocates of women’s rights demanded that women be given their full place in history of the Irish nation. A distinctly nationalist feminism mobilised a new pantheon of nationalist heroes in their twenty-first century campaigns for Irish women’s rights.

Yet Irish feminism and more recent LGBT+ social movements and activism also owe much to the diffusion of mostly-Anglophone – and some French – thought and writings. To paraphrase Maurice Goldring: Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler and many others are to blame. Second wave feminist ideas promoted by a small vanguard of activists changed laws that affected women’s lives in Ireland during the 1970s just as the until recently marginal concepts taught in gender and queer studies programs have begun to shape mainstream policy and legislation.

Conservatives in Ireland appeared to have lost the battle of ideas that now shapes Ireland. They were defeated by a cosmopolitan liberalism which set itself the task of dismantling the remnants of Irish Catholic identity. A large and influential intelligentsia (influenced by a smaller vanguard of writers and activists) has promoted the institutionalisation of progressive ideas. In the last decade the largest political parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, and other smaller political parties have supported constitutional referenda that legalised same sex marriage (in 2015) and abortion (in 2018). These referenda were won by significant majorities. The larger political parties, including Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, courted young urban progressive voters where once they had sought to appeal to social conservatives, rural voters and religious Catholics. These shifts appeared to ignore a significant minority of voters who might be conservative on some issues or sceptical of the new progressive consensus. Now, to some extent, a course correction may be under way. The March 2024 Referendum backlash against proposed amendments to the Constitution, supported by the main government and opposition parties (and most NGOs), very quickly resulted in a tonal shift to the right within Irish politics on culture war issues and on immigration.


The anxieties expressed by liberals in Studies in 1966 and nationalist intellectuals in The Crane Bag a decade later, about how nationalist myths might tjustify violence, bear thinking about now, at a time when a nativist far-right is repurposing such myths against immigrants. To some extent the Irish far right echoes earlier manifestations of isolationist Irish-Ireland nationalism and the writings that shaped this. For example, the Irish National Party, founded by Justin Barrett in 2001, has projected a very-old fashioned pre-Lemass vision of Irishness. In 1998 Barrett’s self-published The National Way Forward set out a similar political programme emphasising faith, family and nation. The book called for the creation of a Catholic Republic, where immigration would be greatly restricted to ensure a truly Irish Ireland, and where divorce and abortion would be banned. Several YouTube videos of Barrett speaking present him with the Irish tricolour and a picture of Patrick Pearse in the background. He invoked the blood sacrifice of the leaders of the 1916 Rising for his version of nationalism in one slickly produced video posted by the National Party prior to the 2020 general election.

The Irish National Party and the similarly small Irish Freedom Party, led by Hermann Kelly, their mostly anonymous allies on social media and supporters at anti-refugee protests use slogans such as ‘Stop the New Plantation’. These draw on simplified versions of the claims made by postcolonial theorists and polemicists who claimed the Irish were enslaved by the British empire. There has long been a tendency among some writers to describe the colonisation of Ireland and the subjugation of the Irish as indistinguishable from chattel slavery. Popular books such as Sean O’Callaghan’s To Hell or Barbados: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland (2000) treat temporary indenture and forced transportation as slavery while avoiding the problem of how some such Irish migrants themselves became slaveowners.

For the most part, until very recently, large-scale immigration did not become politicised. However, a Citizenship Referendum in 2004 to remove an automatic right to citizenship to children born in Ireland was passed by 79.8 per cent. It is likely that many of those who voted to remove the birth-right to citizenship from the constitution were not anti-immigrant or strongly so. What is clear that the cognitive ‘us’ versus ‘them’ distinctions between Irish nationals and so-called ‘non-nationals’ emphasised by the government’s campaign struck a chord with voters. At a time when there was little opposition to labour migration, most voters considered that the Irish-born children of immigrants were not to be considered toas part of the Irish nation. Culture and ethnicity remained central to how Irish identities were defined in 2004. However, there was no political backlash against immigrants during the post-2008 economic crash. For most of the last two decades large scale immigration did not appear to be a political issue. Far-right candidates who stood for election in 2020 received a tiny percentage of votes. However, since the Ukrainian war and in the midst of a housing crisis the government has struggled to accommodate a large wave of refugees. A riot in Dublin in November 2023 pushed immigration onto the political agenda and since then opinion polls suggest that large percentages of supporters of all political parties would now support some restrictions on immigration.

It is not helpful to conflate the far right – meaning a radical right that rejects democracy – with conservatives who respect electoral politics. The far right includes those who encourage hatred of immigrants and who firebomb refugee centres. They are the end of a political continuum that include conservatives who might be no less appalled by such acts than many Irish nationalists were by IRA bombing campaigns. On the far right of Irish politics, just as on the fringes of Irish nationalism, shades of ambivalence towards democracy can be identified. Those on the far right seek to speak for Irish nationalism just as the IRA did during the Northern Ireland conflict. In the last 2020 parliamentary election the far-right parties did very poorly even though, at the time, no mainstream political party was seeking to attract socially conservative voters or those concerned about levels of immigration. Opinion poll findings since the November 2023 Dublin riot suggest that a significant proportion of voters for all political parties now support restrictions on immigration. The proportion seems to be highest for Sinn Féin, which appears to have lost some support to far-right nationalist groups but other parties may lose some support to anti-immigration independent candidates.

From the perspective of the far-right nationalist fringe and a wider constituency that seeks to appeal to, a culture war is under way in which it stands against the harbingers and consequences of liberal modernity: secularisation, globalisation and immigration as these issues are generically represented on social media by the far-right in other Anglophone countries. There is a sense that antipathy towards immigration is bound up with a reactionary hostility towards liberal elites who have promoted globalisation. Yet, some far-right groups still cleave to language that recalls the isolationist Irish nationalism of earlier generations. Simplistic versions of ideas promoted by postcolonialist scholars also appear to have become part of the patrimony of a new far-right nativism, giving it an Irish flavour, even if many of its claims about ‘open borders’ and ‘white genocide’ regurgitate material cut and pasted from the social media of far-right propagandists in other countries in, as Luke Warde put it, ‘a culturally indistinct way’.

The closest the Irish far right has had to a prominent intellectual figure was John Waters, a former Irish Times columnist who became an increasingly marginal figure as Ireland became more and more socially liberal. Since the publication of his first book, Jiving at the Crossroads (1991), Waters has journeyed from a conservativism that sat within the Irish political mainstream into alliances with unambiguously far-right figures like Barrett. Jiving at the Crossroads anticipated a present-day genre of writing in the United States aimed at explaining why conservatives think and feel the way that they do to liberal audiences – books such as Hillbilly Elegy (2016) by JD Vance, who became an ‘America First’ Trumpian US senator. Waters, in Jiving at the Crossroads, argued that secular urban Ireland had come to look down on the way of life and values of rural people. Subsequent best-selling books compiled Irish Times columns which further railed against rural decline, urban liberalism and feminism. In later books he wrote about the disastrous consequences, as he saw them, of Ireland’s abandonment of religious faith. Waters stood for election in 2020 on a far-right ticket but received less than one per cent of the constituency vote. In his pre-election writings and speeches recorded on social media he warned of the dangers of the ‘great replacement’ of Irish people in their own country by immigrants in a context where the birth rate among the former had fallen and was projected to fall further. In some of these he cited the inspiration of Renard Camus, a French white nationalist conspiracy theorist. Waters became a reactionary in the sense that Mark Lilla depicts this group in The Shipwrecked Mind (2016): those with apocalyptic fears who see themselves resisting runaway and disastrous social changes that are driven by traitorous elites. Present-day reactionaries find political support for their views because they speak to widespread anxieties resulting from profound social and technological change. In the era of the internet these find a significant audience in Ireland.

In other Anglophone countries, as Farrel Corcoran noted in a recent Dublin Review of Books essay (Spring 2024), far-right and right-leaning perspectives have been incubated within digital and online media ecologies that attract Irish audiences even if local Irish versions of Fox News or GB News have yet to challenge RTÉ, which still subscribes to Reithian ideals of public service broadcasting. However, a new conservative online media counterculture appears to be attracting a growing audience that is not preoccupied with old-fashioned essentialist nationalism. This is exemplified by Gript.ie, which promotes itself as an alternative to Ireland’s mainstream liberal media. Gript.ie, like many of the UK newspapers that are widely read in Ireland, seeks to appeal to readers opposed to immigration. It also seeks to sponsor an intellectual coalition of conservatives and anti-immigrant nationalists that might challenge Ireland’s progressive elites for custody of the Irish Mind. For example, a February 2024 Gript.ie feature by William Stephens commended the ideas of Desmond Fennell, an iconoclastic Irish intellectual who wrote disparagingly about revisionist historiography (because it undermined the nation’s sense of itself) and the influence of liberal elites; the replacement of a distinctive Irish culture with a vaguely Irish-flavoured Anglo-Americanism; the effacement of nationalist symbols in response to the Northern conflict; the promotion of new forms of  ‘nanny state’ puritanism and cultural orthodoxy (the ‘windy moralism’ and ‘invented sins’ of racism, sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, ableism and species murder) in ways that prefigured the talking points of twenty-first century right-wing social influencers.

In Nice People and Rednecks (1986) Fennell depicted the division between rural Irish people and mostly urban elites in ways that prefigured how the twenty-first century distinguishes between an urban elite that benefits from immigration and globalisation and those who feel left behind: ‘The nice people are the Dublin liberal middle class and their allies and supporters throughout the country. The Rednecks are everybody else.’ In Heresy: The Battle of Ideas in Modern Ireland (1993), Fennell argued that the decline of Irish Catholicism left a cultural and spiritual vacuum in its wake. Ireland was run by a new Ascendancy class, exemplified by Dublin 4, from where RTÉ television and radio is broadcast.

Fennell remains worth reading for the same reasons as does a nineteenth century conservative intellectual like Thomas Carlyle, who wrote with considerable insight against the grain of his time. Carlyle was hugely admired by Young Irelanders like Gavin Duffy. Fennell, in Heresy: The battle of Ideas in Modern Ireland, called for more and better debate, a stronger ‘intellectual parliament’ of Irish thinkers and less reliance on imported ones. For all that he went against the grain, much of Fennell’s writing engaged with other intellectuals, such as Kearney, and was focused on utopian and practical ‘better-than-modern’ alternatives to the generic modernity that he saw as undermining Irish freedom. His conservative-looking nationalism echoed the ethos of Muintir na Tíre and other Catholic rural cooperative movements. He argued for regional government and for respect for ethnic and cultural difference in Ireland and within the European Union.

The kinds of interrogations of Irish culture and identity and politics that once occurred in The Crane Bag and Studies continue to play out in a plethora of Irish Studies forums in ways that influence wider debates. A decade ago Linda Connolly suggested that the centre ground of Irish Studies had not changed since the 1980s: it was still associated with two overarching disciplines – literary criticism and history. Feminist perspectives had entered the fray alongside enduring conflicts between revisionism and postcolonialism within Irish historiography. She emphasised the marginality of the social sciences within the mainstream debates within Irish studies. As she put it, leading figures – writers and academics – still ignored empirically grounded sociological analyses of Irish society. Irish Studies and writings about Irish identity for the most part seem uninterested in the experiences of past and recent immigrants. They remain preoccupied with rehearsing old themes, with green-on-green perspectives on conflicts within Irish identity within which the experiences of migrants continue to be marginalised and which, to some extent, provide an intellectual safe space for nativism and ethnocentrism. Practitioners might disagree with the Ireland for the Irish slogans of the anti-immigrant far right but there is an implicit assumption that immigrants have no place in the debates of Irish studies because they are not really Irish. Enter the terms ‘Irish Studies’ and ‘racism’, or ‘Irish Studies’ and ‘immigration’ into an academic search engine and you will come up with just a handful of publications, mostly focused on the experiences of Irish emigrants or of Irish people of racism.

There is a need for scholarship, writing and art that rethinks what it means to be Irish in a diverse society in a somewhat similar way to how feminist scholars have interrogated understandings of Irish history, culture and literary canons. We might look not just to international social movements and slogans such as ‘black lives matter’ but to new writings by immigrants about their experiences that challenge what we mean by Irishness in the twenty-first century and try to incubate new cultural movements with the intellectual heft of Field Day and of the feminists who challenged Ireland’s intellectual and cultural status quo. What Kearney called the atavisms of Irish nationalism are now directed against immigrants. Some fresh thinking is needed about what it means to Irish here and now. The flag and symbols of the Irish nation should not be surrendered to the far right. Slogans about keeping Ireland for the Irish or stopping the new plantation will be harder to oppose unless nationalist narratives that promote nativism are contested by more inclusive conceptions of Irishness.

There are lessons to be learned from The Crane Bag: take nationalism seriously, especially if you are appalled by some of its manifestations; seek to persuade rather than to hector; don’t disparage those you disagree with as deplorables (advice for 1970s revisionists that also applies to present-day progressives who disparage conservatives); acknowledge that there is a vacuum in Irish politics that cannot be filled solely by liberal or progressive ideas. Approaches that challenge complacent liberalism, ethnocentric nationalism and the narcissistic tribalism of many intellectual conversations about what it means to be Irish are all needed.


This essay cites or draws on the following sources:
Joe Cleary, Outrageous Fortune: Capital and Culture in modern Ireland. Vol 1 (Field Day Publications, 2007), Farrel Corcoran, ‘Foxing it Up’, Dublin Review of Books (March 2021), Linda Connolly, ‘A new vision of Irish Studies’ in Tom Inglis (ed) Are the Irish Different? (Manchester University Press, 2014), Desmond Fennell, Heresy: The Battle of Ideas in Modern Ireland (1993), Garret FitzGerald, ‘The Significance of 1916’, Studies, 1966, 55. 29-37, Maurice Goldring, Pleasant the Scholar’s Life: Irish Intellectuals and the Construction of the Nation State (London: Serif, 1993), Stephen Howe, Ireland and Empire: Colonial Legacies in Irish History and Culture (Oxford University Press, 2000), Liam Kennedy, Unhappy the Land: The Most Oppressed People Ever, the Irish? (Irish Academic Press, 2015), Mary McCauliffe, ‘Commemorating Women’s Histories during the Irish Decade of Centenaries’, Éire-Ireland 57.1 (2022): 237-259, Luke Ward, ‘Confusio Linguarum’, Dublin Review of Books (Spring 2024).

Bryan Fanning is Professor of Migration and Social Policy at UCD. His recent books include Diverse Republic and Public Morality and the Culture Wars: The Triple Divide.



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