Amid the consensus about Ireland being a victim of politicians, bankers and out-of-control developers, is it right to forget the additional uncomfortable fact that large numbers of ordinary Irish people had been ripping off their fellow-citizens with ardour during the Celtic Tiger years?
Among Irish officers in the British army and colonial civil servants, ‘Irish’, ‘Anglo-Irish’, ‘English’ and ‘British imperial’ were seldom understood as mutually exclusive identities. That one could be simultaneously of Ireland, Britain, and empire was for most a self-evident article of faith.
Is the country destined to always lag behind the city? Sinn Féin, a creation of the urban bourgeois intelligentsia, took off as a national movement when it spread to rural Ireland, meshing with the vigorous co-operative movement, the countryside radicalising the city.
Guy Beiner’s intellectual ambition puts him in a different league from most contemporary Irish historians. There have been other studies based on particular events, but Beiner’s account of the afterlife of the 1798 rebellion in Ulster is the only one likely to be read internationally by serious scholars of ‘memory’.
Initially, unionists and nationalists equally opposed partition, which was first proposed by British politicians in 1912 as a short-term expedient to overcome deadlock. In this context, the creation of two parliaments in Ireland served to delegate responsibility for unification to the Irish.
An account of Irish history whose gaze is fixed on intellectual or elite culture and does not engage with whole areas of the existence of the inhabitants of the island, particularly those who found themselves on the sharp end of colonisation, must necessarily be an incomplete one.
The population of a state can be expressed in terms of nationality and in terms of citizenship. Nationality is a sense of collective identity embracing past and future. It is a social and historical construct. Citizenship, however, is exclusively defined by the state as a matter of policy.
The liberal ‘Dublin Penny Journal’ and the conservative ‘Dublin University Magazine’, both published in the early 1830s, can be seen as Protestant responses to Catholic Emancipation, the responses of a group by no means ready to give up its ambition to control the Irish future.
The RTÉ programme ignored most of the relevant documentary sources. It later claimed that its argument – that the Coolacrease incident was sectarian murder in pursuance of a land grab in a context of widespread sectarian ethnic cleansing by the Irish independence movement – was proven by Land Commission documents which it had in its possession. The authors of Coolacrease examined the Land Commission records and there are no such documents in existence. The programme’s thesis is wholly unsupported by the available evidence.
A new project underwritten by the Irish Research Council seeks to fill in blanks in our knowledge of early modern Ireland and to provide a full-screen, surround-sound account of a rich and complex culture on the brink of transformation in all its linguistic and cultural complexity.