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Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History

Hugh Kearney

Publication Year: 2007

What is the Irish nation? Who is included in it? Are its borders delimited by religion, ethnicity, language, or civic commitment? And how should we teach its history? These and other questions are carefully considered by distinguished historian Hugh F. Kearney in Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History.

The insightful essays collected here all circle around Ireland, with the first section attending to questions of nationalism and the second addressing pivotal moments in the history and historiography of the isle. Kearney contends that Ireland represents a striking example of the power of nationalism, which, while unique in many ways, provides an illuminating case study for students of the modern world. He goes on to elaborate his revisionist “four nations” approach to Irish history.

In the book, Kearney recounts his own development in the field and the key personalities, departments, and movements he encountered along the way. It is a unique portrait not only of a humane and sensitive historian, but of the historical profession (and the practice of history) in Britain, Ireland, and the United States from the 1940s to the late 20th century-at once public intellectual history and fascinating personal memoir.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I wish to thank Joe Lee for his encouragement and advice in connection with this volume. I also wish to thank Dr. Proinsias O Drisceoill for inviting me to speak at Kilkenny under the auspices of the Arts Education Programme of the County Kilkenny Vocational Educational Committee. I also am grateful to Edna Longley for inviting me to the John Hewitt Summer...

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Preface: On Being a Historian in Four Countries

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pp. 1-32

In 1942 I had the good fortune to win a state scholarship worth

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Nationalism: The Case of Ireland—An Introduction

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pp. 33-56

In these comments on the emergence of Europe’s “subject peoples” Tony Judt does not mention Ireland. Yet Ireland provides a striking example of the power of nationalism. The British Empire, unlike the Hapsburg, Romanov, and Hohenzollern regimes, did not collapse after 1918 but the British government, during “the Troubles” of 1916–22 was unable to control...

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Part 1: Contested Ideas of Nationhood

In this section I have brought together essays on issues involving nationalism in Ireland, Britain, and to some extent Europe. A work which had considerable impact on me and other historians working in this field is Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany by Rogers Brubaker (1992) which raises key issues of civic and ethnic nationalism. In his...

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1. Contested Ideas of Nationhood, 1800–1995 (1997)

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pp. 59-80

In a recent book Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany Rogers Brubaker contrasts the way in which the French define citizenship (ius soli—the law of the soil) according to which those born on French territory are regarded as French, with the German definition which demands familial descent (ius sanguinis—the law of blood). Brubaker sees...

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2. 1875: Faith or Fatherland? The Contested Symbolism of Irish Nationalism (2000)

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pp. 81-96

Emmet Larkin was the first historian to draw attention to the significance of the Roman Catholic church in “the making of modern Ireland.” His massive multivolume history is now recognized as an essential starting point for future scholars.1 Thanks to his formidable researches, it is now necessary to place Paul Cullen, archbishop of Dublin, John MacHale, archbishop...

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3. Faith and Fatherland Revisited (2000)

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pp. 97-110

In 1997 Mary Kenny published her controversial book Goodbye to Catholic Ireland. If Brendan Bradshaw’s recent historical work is any guide, however, “Catholic Ireland” is still very much alive, at least within the confines of Irish historiography. In two of the volumes under review,2 Dr. Bradshaw has contributed two substantial pieces, “The English Reformation and...

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4. Parnell and Beyond: Nationalism in These Islands,1880–1980 (1994)

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pp. 111-127

There are four nations coexisting in these islands. Nationalism, while present in all, has taken a different course in each of them. Exploring why this should be so is the theme of this lecture. In these four nations, national identity was never beyond controversy. Indeed, concepts of what constituted “Irishness,” “Welshness,” “Scottishness,” and “Englishness,” changed...

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5. Language and Politics (2001)

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pp. 128-146

My focus in this lecture will be upon the use of language as a political symbol. Our primary interest is the “Cultures of Ireland” but I will try to set this in a European context, including of course “these islands” as part of Europe. In the history of modern Europe language has been a key symbol of political identity and remains so in many states, from Spain to...

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6. Thatcher’s Britain: Four Nations or One? (1991)

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pp. 147-152

Most of this audience, I take it, live in a political unit termed “the United Kingdom.” We all agree that our schoolchildren should learn something about its history. But how are we to characterize this unit? Some historians seem to see it as a single nation. They refer to “the story of our nation.” “In my opinion,” states Norman Stone, “it is essential for school children to...

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7. Four Nations History in Perspective (2004)

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pp. 153-162

Crick’s comment may serve as a reminder that the U.K. is a union of peoples. The nature of that union has changed over time, however, and while “Four Nations” may have been an accurate enough label for the period 1801–1921, the century or more from the Act of Union from the recognition of the Irish Free State, it is less satisfactory as a description of the...

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8. Civic/Ethnic Identities in a British Context (2000)

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pp. 163-178

In the 1980s Ernest Gellner, Eric Hobsbawm, and Benedict Anderson, among others, introduced new perspectives into the study of nationalism.1 Since then nationalism itself has reemerged as a political force to be reckoned with and academic analysis of the phenomenon has developed at a remarkable rate. Amid the flood of new concepts the distinction between...

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9. The Changing Face of English Nationalism (2000)

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pp. 179-187

Of the three books under review,1 two deal with the identity of England, and the third, though concerned with “the identity of Britain,” also inevitably has implications for England. Such interest in Englishness is now relatively commonplace, but twenty years ago it seemed bizarre. Indeed Robert Coll in the introduction to his...

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10. England’s Irish Enigma (1997)

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pp. 188-198

Ireland continues to provide a puzzle for the English. Irish immigrants, including would-be bombers like Edward O’Brien, are able to blend without difficulty into the London landscape. English visitors to Ireland find a people who seem to accept English culture as their own in the form of books, newspapers, periodicals, and television. The Irish soccer team was...

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Part II: Contested Ideas of National History

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pp. 199-201

The rise of nationalism in nineteenth-century Europe was closely linked with the idea of national languages (see chapter 5 above). National schools, national literatures, and, not least, national histories soon came to form part of the same pattern. Thus in the United States, the concept of a “manifest destiny” became the basic assumption in the teaching of history...

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11. The Irish and Their History (1994)

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pp. 203-210

In 1907 John Millington Synge met with bitter criticism from the Gaelic League for his alleged insults to Irish womanhood in The Playboy of the Western World. In 1926 Sean O’Casey ran into similar trouble in Dublin and New York for certain scenes in The Plough and the Stars. Both playwrights are now regarded as leading luminaries of the Irish literary renaissance...

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12. Mercantilism and Ireland, 1620–40 (1958)

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pp. 211-223

MERCANTILISM ” is a term which is capable of arousing much the same kind of unfruitful discussion among economic historians as the question of universals among the medieval schoolmen, and a disputation on the question “what was mercantilism?” would be out of place here. A somewhat unfashionable definition may serve as a text from which to diverge if necessary....

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13. Ecclesiastical Politics and the Counter-Reformation in Ireland, 1618–48 (1960)

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pp. 224-236

The internal politics of the Counter-Reformation varied in accordance with the individual circumstances of each European country. Nevertheless, many of the problems raised were common to all. The reception of the Tridentine decrees, the clash of regular and secular clergy, the pressure of local, ecclesiastical, and secular interests, the influence of the Spanish...

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14. The Politics of Mercantilism, 1695–1700 (1959)

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pp. 237-255

The Irish Woollen Act of 1699 and the linen measures which accompanied it are commonly looked upon as a classic piece of mercantilist policy. The episode is regarded as a carefully contrived piece of official policy by which the exportation of Irish woolen goods was prohibited while in compensation the Irish linen industry was to be allowed and encouraged to...

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15. Fr. Mathew: Apostle of Modernization (1979)

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pp. 256-269

Father Theobald Mathew is one of the most neglected figures in nineteenthcentury Irish historiography. To his contemporaries he appeared to be leading a “moral revolution”1 in its own way as important as the campaigns of O’Connell, but whereas O’Connell has continued to attract the attention of historians (including Professor R. Dudley Edwards), Father Mathew’s reputation remains embalmed within the tradition of the Irish...

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16. The Great Famine: Legend and Reality (1957)

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pp. 270-279

The course taken by Irish nationalism during the nineteenth century was largely determined by men and circumstances peculiar to Ireland; its general direction, however, was profoundly affected by wider European influences. Like other nationalisms of the period, Irish nationalism owed to the Romantic Movement its eagerness in seeking out history as an indispensable...

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17. Colonizing Irish History: Canny Sets the Agenda (2002)

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pp. 280-289

“The period 1534–1691 in Irish history, though an age of economic advance and intellectual activity, was above all an age of disruption. Prolonged and fundamental conflict over sovereignty, land, religion and culture produced changes more catastrophic and far-reaching than anything Ireland had experienced since the Anglo-Norman invasion of the twelfth century, or was...

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18. Visions and Revisions: Views of Irish History (2001)

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pp. 290-297

Our conference, I note, is held under the rubric of “Irish Historians in Britain.” On looking at the program, however, I note that several speakers include a literary dimension to their talks. Clearly we are interpreting Irish history in an interdisciplinary spirit appropriate to Sussex, my alma mater (or one of them). In the year 2000, such an approach has become almost...


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pp. 299-308

About the Author

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pp. 309

E-ISBN-13: 9780814748602
E-ISBN-10: 0814748600
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814748008
Print-ISBN-10: 0814748007

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2007