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.

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Protestant and Irish

Protestant and Irish: The minority’s search for place in independent Ireland, Ian d’Alton and Ida Milne (eds), Cork University Press, 396 pp, €39, ISBN 978-1782052982 We asked three historians to respond to the recent publication of Ian D’Alton and Ida Milne’s Protestant and Irish. Each was asked to write a short initial response to the book and then, each having read the first tranche, to write a second longer one in which they were free to react to points brought up by the other contributors. John Horgan: An Irish Times supplement on the Easter Rising, published on that event’s fiftieth anniversary in 1966, contained a combative article by Terence McCaughey, a Presbyterian minister, in which he described Irish Protestants generally as the most quiescent political minority in Europe. This book reads, at least in part, like an attempt to set the record straight. It portrays, in effect, a small, subsidiary planetary system orbiting a dominant star. Two of its more substantial planets, or themes, offer the discovery or rediscovery of specifically Protestant nationalism, and a multi-layered examination of Southern unionism and its evolution into political acceptance of the national paradigm. The dominant star, of course, is that particular form of Irish nationalism which probably set some sort of cosmic record for the speed with which it degenerated from its spectacular arrival into an entity characterised by stasis and inertia, interrupted only occasionally by the rumbling of ancient volcanoes. There is a lot of valuable setting the record straight in this collection of essays, as well as some fascinating “relics of ould decency”. Particularly valuable are the accounts of the somewhat patrician way in which the Protestant middle and upper middle classes, well-cushioned economically as many of them were, adapted to the new political realities. There are also a few windows opened into aspects not only of Protestant, but of Irish society as a whole, which allow fresh air into the corpus of historical scholarship: they include Felix Larkin on political cartoons, Caleb Wood Richardson on Patrick Campbell, Ida Milne on the GAA, and Tomas Irish’s disquisition on the calcified Britishness of TCD up to the 1940s. It was probably a good idea to commission a pointilliste study of the effects of Ne Temere in Wexford (Catherine O’Connor) rather than rehearse well-worn tropes about the national role of the Catholic church, the state and the judiciary in the erosion of the Protestant polity. However, it might even be argued that the latter seems…

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