- Masculinity and Power in Irish Nationalism, 1884–1938 by Aidan Beatty
Timed to coincide with the Paris Olympics, the revival of the Tailteann Games in 1924 was intended as a public display of the strength and vitality of a newly independent Ireland. The Olympic-style competitions were open to all men of Irish descent, with athletes traveling to Ireland from the settler colonies of the British Empire, as well as from Britain itself. Organizers hoped that hosting the games every four years would exhibit Ireland's physical prowess and enthusiastic nationalism. Diminishing budgets hampered the games over the next decade, and because the competitions were largely associated with, and promoted by, the Free State government, the project did not survive the rise of Fianna Fáil. One [End Page 144] could easily dismiss the attempted revival of the Tailteann Games as a shortlived minor event in the history of Irish sport. In Masculinity and Power in Irish Nationalism, 1884–1938, however, Aidan Beatty persuasively examines the event within a much larger context; he repositions the games as a piece of a longer history of the conflation of Irish "national sovereignty and masculine strength."
Gender analysis remains a rare commodity in political histories of Ireland; rarer still are studies that employ masculinity as a category for historical analysis. Masculinity and Power in Irish Nationalism corrects this oversight by placing masculine concerns at the center of the nationalist movement. Beatty demonstrates that, regardless of changes in state power and the varying dominance of political parties, the common denominator of Irish nationalism was the importance it placed on establishing and reinforcing Irish masculinity. Asserting the centrality of masculinity to Irish nationalism allows Beatty to place the revolutionary years into a wider framework, and in doing so, to undermine the very notion of a singular, watershed "Irish Revolution" by connecting the ideas and experiences of Irish nationalists across generations.
To accomplish the goal of minimizing the "Irish Revolution," Beatty approaches his subject thematically. He begins with the revolutionary years (1916–1923) in chapter two, and asserts that questions of masculinity were central to each of the dramatic moments of those years. The next three chapters turn to the period before 1916, and the final two chapters shift the discussion to the years after the civil war. In examining such themes as space, land, or the body, each of these chapters uses the histories of organizations and political parties to provide topical focus. This deprioritizing of the revolutionary years allows Masculinity and Power in Irish Nationalism to connect the muscular vision of Irish nationalism promoted by the GAA in the 1880s (chapter 3), with Fianna Fáil's economic policies toward privately owned farms in the 1930's (chapter 6). This longue durée approach aligns Beatty's interpretation of Irish nationalism with the wider field of postcolonial studies, which seeks to demonstrate the long legacy of the colonial experience.
This already ambitious work also seeks to escape the exceptionalism of what Beatty calls the "Irish Sonderweg" by comparing the connections between Irish nationalism and masculinity to similar intersections in other European and postcolonial contexts. In this case, Beatty takes the Zionist movement as his comparative example. Considering both the Irish and the European Jews as "quasi-colonial" peoples, he argues that comparing the two provides a "Zionist mirror" that can reveal many of the intricacies in the relationship between Irish nationalism and masculinity. This is an intriguing interpretive tack, but unfortunately, this comparative turn rarely adds to the study beyond confirming the unsurprising conclusion that ideas and practices in Ireland had analogs in the Zionist experience. In its role as "mirror," the Zionist story itself is not subject [End Page 145] to the same close examination as the Irish story. Beatty's consideration of moments when Zionism, or Jewishness, and Irish nationalism actually intersected result in more effective comparisons. A fine example of this is the third chapter's discussion of a 1924 political cartoon titled "Jew Regard for the Law," which appeared in Guth na Gharda ("The Policeman's...