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It is also true similar prejudices are common to all nationalisms in different degrees, which demand careful measurement. But can the rebellion be so described? But this also should warn against crude teleologies of the rebellion as the expression of one religious faith. And that seems to me to be a revision too far on the strength of both the evidence and argument presented. Viewed retrospectively through the experience of the independent Irish state these aspirations may appear naive, but nothing is presented supporting an assumption they were merely rhetorical in It can be argued, though Richard English does not do so explicitly, that any drive towards self-determination would bring separatist and unionist nationalisms into a sectarian conflict across Britain and Ireland, concentrating inside Ulster.

Moving toward national self-determination, therefore, came with an analogous sectarian price: That mobilised separatist nationalism held within it the inescapable logic of sectarian violence seems to me a good argument, if not a historical fact.


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But this is only part of a picture, which requires viewing in its full panorama. If it is to be accepted that any mobilisation of separatist nationalism inevitably would lead to the alienation of Protestant unionists or worse, then the converse argument has also to be acknowledged. British nationalism used religion to hold Ireland or part of it within the Union often alienating Catholic communities in the process.

What is at issue here is not that separatists exhibited sectarian behaviour, but the limited confines in which this is explored and explained. But the frequency and intensity of separatist sectarian culture is not explained by the evidence he adduces. Had Richard English dug deeper, and sifted through a finer mesh no doubt more evidence of Catholic sectarianism could have been found. But no amount of evidence would resolve the methodological problem of forensically examining one community on one island, while not adequately addressing its context. Instead what English appears to be doing is rebuking those separatists who would still claim their inheritance goes untarnished by religious prejudice.

Denials like that, I think, may be dismissed in a few pages, but here it has become a book-length project. And the disproportionate response encourages English into adopting some uncomfortable contortions as for example when he writes: It is the interpretation not the existence of historical information that gives it value. The besetting problem of Irish Freedom is overstatement and simplification in its case against separatist nationalism explained as essentially Catholic, exclusionary, and sectarian.

This, many will agree, is an unsurprising observation, but to reduce separatism to an expression of Catholic identity runs the risk of missing the textures of a complex phenomenon as well as the non-Catholics whom Richard English does not always identify as such. From the beginning of the 19th century it is true the Catholic Church provided structures and leadership around which separatist nationalism eventually mobilised.

Here the Catholic Church often filled socio-political roles reneged on by the British state. But the sectarian organisation of Irish society was also an inheritance of the conquests and settlements of the 17th century, and one would be shocked not to find sectarianism expressed in later political life because it remained integral in muted form to the realities of daily life. Religious conformity for the confessional British state, was one among many strategic tools used to protect Britain from the danger of a hostile Ireland, and beyond it a hostile Europe.

It is a truism of modern Irish history that religious discrimination associated with anti-Unionism is unintelligible without a meaningful appreciation of pro-Union sectarianism. And so a balanced approach to these issues demands consideration of the relationships existing between competing nationalisms and religions right across the United Kingdom. Arguably, the major historiographical problem confronted when addressing Irish sectarianism is not proving it existed that is incontestable , but rather to avoid using it as a weapon in contemporary ideological battles.

If separatism was a form of mobilised Catholicism then it follows its republican ideology was merely a veneer covering uglier sectarian intentions. Richard English concludes the reality contradicted the rhetoric, and where proved correct this does more than almost any other argument to undermine a hitherto dominant interpretation of history, which has legitimised all shades of republicanism in Ireland. Almost any other, that is, except the argument Irish republicanism was essentially non-democratic, and contains within it a fascistic impulse.

A significant problem for the historian addressing these concepts is the necessity to transcend their application in present centred arguments against the Provisional IRA. And, moreover, to see sectarianism, republicanism, and democracy in their historical context, rather than through the distorting lens of the recent Northern Ireland conflict. This may go some way toward explaining why some academic historians have been anxious to draw loose analogies between Ireland in the s and Balkan massacres in our own time, and why others have stretched to accommodate this interpretation. The republican aspiration toward religious tolerance coincided under the Union with the decline of institutionalised discrimination against non-conformists Catholics included.

But Irish republicanism went further in the desire to dismantle the trappings of monarchy and empire and the patronage system associated with this. Meanwhile experience of government reforms, local democracy, and the political diminution of the minor-aristocracy had brought 19th-century Ireland closer to norms of British governance.

These also helped inculcate a British political culture in Ireland to which separatist republican thought was not immune. The models of political institutions after independence, as has been long observed, were often innovations after British traditions. Whilst Catholicism infused separatist nationalism in Ireland it is also true a pervasive British constitutional culture enveloped it, which after helped set southern Irish democracy apart from Iberia, and most of the rest of Europe. And in this context among the most striking omissions of the book is any attempt to discuss the consensus politics emerging under a constitutional republicanism, where separatists successfully accessed power.

And this suggests that inter -nationalist relations are in no small measure determined by the health of the constitution under which they exist. Alongside these recent developments the theories of sectarianism and exclusivism Richard English advances could usefully have been tested against the experiences of Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, and Nigerians, to name some of the migrants and settlers transforming the island since the mids. In making the case weighted against separatist nationalism Richard English exaggerates in order to undermine older interpretations. Where Richard English addresses separatist nationalism he abandons that innovation in favour of a crude analysis replete with generalities, and unfounded assumption.

The approach owes its debts to a historiographical mode framed in response to the Northern Ireland crisis, and the threat from resurgent separatism carried within it. That war thankfully is now over. With its passing should go too the moral imperative to see any species of nationalism as something primarily to be undermined, rather than understood. I am grateful to John Regan for his very thoughtful review of Irish Freedom, and also to the editors of Reviews in History for allowing me to respond.

I will do so in two stages. First, I will address specific points made about my book by Dr Regan, and will attempt to demonstrate that they are unjustified. This is an unsustainable charge. But even if he does mean as I assume he does that my crime is to write about Irish nationalism rather than also about British or unionist nationalism in Ireland, then again it is a charge which can be dismissed.

My book focuses overwhelmingly on Irish rather than unionist or British nationalism, because it is a book about Irish nationalism rather than about unionism or British nationalism. Nor is it fair to suggest that Irish Freedom ignores the important ways in which British and unionist actions in Ireland have framed, explained, interacted with and mitigated Irish nationalist actions, whether this involved the attempted Protestant Reformation of the 16th century pp. Were it possible to do so, then of course one would prefer to write a book on Irish nationalism which also offered more sustained analysis of those forces to which Irish nationalists responded and with which they engaged.

But clearly no book — even one of over pages, such as Irish Freedom — has sufficient space to cover everything. Though Regan does not discuss this properly, my own book not only offers a lengthily systematic analysis of nationalism as such, but also directly integrates this with the historical narrative of Irish nationalist experience.

For all of these reasons, the charge of a narrow framework seems to me entirely misplaced. These comments reflect an approach of such extraordinary naivety that I was at first inclined politely to ignore them. On reflection, however, I think it is better to discuss them. For I cannot conceive of any serious historian who would want moral argument to be missing from historical research and reflection and writing, and shelves of historiographical analysis from a variety of perspectives would reinforce such a view. To take two stellar examples, moral seriousness and purpose are essential to the argument of Eric Foner regarding ethnic inter-relations in the United States, and of Richard Evans concerning history and the Nazis — and necessarily so in each case.

Despite what Dr Regan suggests, it seems to me entirely reasonable and important to point out what was done in the Nazi period by the IRA, and to situate this within the moral economy of nationalist-versus-unionist argument as it has evolved. As Regan knows, modern Irish republicans have presented the IRA as historically fighting in the vanguard of struggles for freedom and against tyranny, and have presented Ulster unionism as representing repressive indeed, fascistic politics. It is therefore perfectly legitimate to point out what was occurring at a moment when a genuine choice existed about how to respond to fascistic tyranny, and to point out who was on which side.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, sharp-sighted and admirably courageous Irish republican militants at the time saw this clearly enough, to their lasting credit. Indeed, any historian unwilling to face such a challenge seems to me to be avoiding an important aspect of their work.

How the IRA doomed itself to bloody futility

In addition to issues of framework and morality, Dr Regan also raises some particular interpretative disagreements. He claims that I fail to test the word nationalism analytically; and yet my book has as one of its central features a systematic interrogation of what nationalism is and how it functions, including an essay of over 70 pages explicitly to that effect pp.

Given that much if not most of the argument I allude to above, concerning the dynamics and nature of nationalism, is explicitly devoted to explaining why it is understandably so appealing to so many people, and why it provides so much meaning to their lives, this seems a ridiculous claim. John Regan is quite right that my book was intended as a work of public history and I stand by that decision. Do historians not commonly reflect on their literary style and intention?

Dr Regan misquotes a passage from p. The difficulty with this is that he has misrepresented what I actually wrote. Omitting the final two words of my sentence presumably through carelessness made easier his misrepresentation of my argument, which actually concerned the lengthy dominance of Irish nationalist constitutional politics in Ireland itself and in Irish nationalist politics and preferences.

Had Dr Regan quoted my book accurately then my argument would have been less easy to obscure. I would also like to state that, although I consider his criticisms of Irish Freedom unjustified, I welcome debate with a scholar whose earlier work I have greatly admired, and with whom I hope in future to be able to continue fruitful dialogue. II Prompting such dialogue was one of the main aims behind the writing of my book. For some of the responses to Irish Freedom clarify the ways in which the process of history as dialogue should be pursued, and I will here identify three.

Much reaction to the bookwas very positive, whether in its being awarded prizes the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize, and the Political Studies Association of Ireland Book Prize or in its receiving a range of generous reviews, including those from scholars of various disciplinary backgrounds including History, Political Science and English Literature.

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A few examples here will suffice. Yet this is clearly not true. If genuinely sustained interdisciplinarity and accurate scholarly representation are vital in historical debate then so, thirdly, is recognising the ways in which the locally particular can illuminate wider world-historical themes. This was a central argument of my book — integrating as it did the Irish historical narrative with a thematic explanation of nationalism itself — and I am delighted that some outstanding scholars have now taken this forward, whether in terms of relating my work to wider debates on nationalism 9 , or deploying it in the study of major global phenomena such as terrorism.

December Notes 1. Back to 1 2.

Author's Response

See, for example, Unionism in Modern Ireland: New Perspectives on Politics and Culture, ed. Walker Basingstoke, ; R. Redefining the Union and the Nation in Contemporary Ireland, ed. Coakley Dublin, ; R. Back to 2 3. Foner, Who Owns History? Evans, Telling Lies About Hitler: Back to 3 4. English, Radicals and the Republic: Back to 4 5. For reviews by scholars from various disciplines, see: Back to 5 6. Gearty, Civil Liberties Oxford, ; J. Back to 6 7. Back to 7 8.

Review: Irish Freedom by Richard English | Books | The Guardian

Sykes, Blood of the Isles: Back to 8 9. Back to 9 Burleigh, Blood and Rage: Back to 10 English, Radicals and the Republic; R. English, Irish Freedom; R. IRA Intellectual Oxford, Skip to main content. Dr John Regan University of Dundee. Dr John Regan, review of Irish Freedom: Again, this is not incidental to the developing argument: And Richard English determines to draw further parallels between continental fascism and separatist nationalism in Ireland as when he writes: New Perspectives on Politics and Culture , ed. Richard English and Graham Walker Basingstoke, , p.

Myth and Reality , ed.


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  7. Roche and Brian Barton Aldershot, , p. Back to 2 ibid, 7. Back to 3 ibid, 7. Yes, he turned to constitutional nationalism later, when his political star rose, seemingly incessantly, in the s. English's publisher is Macmillan. I get dizzy having to continuously flip back to the endnotes to identify sources for quotations.

    Why Ireland split into the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland

    Sometimes, it gets absurd. In his chapter on "Fenians and Parliamentary Nationalism, ", English writes, "Nationalism could kill the hated system of Irish landlordism, and reduce instead the material and psychological security of peasant landownership 'to think of a thing as your own makes an inexpressible difference, so far as pleasure is concerned'. Does it not make much more sense to give Aristotle his initial credit in the text?

    Irish Freedom: A History of Nationalism in Ireland

    This is a matter, I realize, in the hands of academies and publishers, but I really do think incessant flipping from text to endnotes can weary even the most diligent and dutiful scholarly reader, even when the argument presented is good and sound. First of all, what this book isn't: As the subtitle makes clear it is a history of nationalism is Ireland and one should have read at least an undergraduate level text on Irish history before this book.

    English defines nationalism and shows how it has evolved in the particular political and economic atmosphere of Ireland. He is by no means a fan of the "Nationalists" as opposed to the Unionists and thinks that partition was necessary and inevitable. English is very widely First of all, what this book isn't: English is very widely read in the literature of nationalism--he includes an ecletic 40 page bibliography and even with this there are several works he cites or at least mentions in the text that don't appear in the bibliography.

    Violence was legitimated because, for a small group of zealots, it offered political and other rewards in terms of a powerful expresion of nationalist struggle. Parnell was an elitist, social conservative who sought political change through parliamentary methods, he led the masses in an explosive land struggle and In the Fenians, one saw the defiantly aggressive politcs of nationalist grievance, involving pride and a marked hostility to servility or submissiveness.

    The young Ireland years embodied the profound attractions of emotionally entwining oneself with one's imagined nation. The Famine had produced a newly large and angry transatlantic Irish nationalism and provided a basis for lastingly rage-filled revanchism. Jul 16, Edward rated it really liked it Shelves: Richard English provides a comprehensive and engaging overview of the history of the Irish struggle for freedom within the wider context of nationalism. English presents a more detailed picture of the events and personalities involved in the struggle Richard English provides a comprehensive and engaging overview of the history of the Irish struggle for freedom within the wider context of nationalism.

    English presents a more detailed picture of the events and personalities involved in the struggle from the latter half of the 19th century through the 20th century and culminating with the Good Friday Agreement. The last chapter is a good attempt at synthesizing a theory of nationalism from the literature. Overall, English provides a framework within which other nationalist struggles can be understood whether or not he intended to do so.

    Sep 04, Mark O'hagan rated it it was amazing. I gave up history as a subject in school and always felt that there were huge gaps in my knowledge of Irish history. A huge "thank you" to Richard English for helping me to fill in those gaps. A very comprehensive book that asks a lot of "what if"?


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    6. Questions of the reader -and that isn't a bad thing. Essential reading for anyone with more than just a passing interest in the subject. Jun 15, Tom rated it really liked it Shelves: Patrick's day is coming up, so this one is on the "currently-reading" pile. Feb 12, Anthony Graham rated it really liked it. A great book by the ironically named Richard English.

      Hard going at times but worth the effort. This book looks really daunting, but it's written in flowing, accessible prose that is not at all laboured. Unlike many factual books, this account is enjoyable. Feb 24, James marked it as to-read. I'm reading this for two reasons. One is as research for my new W. P; the other is because I've forgotten most of what I was thought in school. A book about the phenomenon of nationalism as it has manifested itself in Ireland, this is, perhaps, the best there is on the subject.

      Cmacanbheatha rated it really liked it Jan 14, James rated it really liked it Nov 01, Iain Hyland rated it liked it Mar 07, Darren Kelly rated it it was amazing Apr 05, Igor Zurimendi rated it liked it May 14, Martin rated it really liked it Aug 01, Elaine rated it really liked it Jan 25, Erin rated it liked it May 22, Priyanka rated it really liked it Dec 27, Hanna rated it liked it Sep 30, Tony rated it liked it Sep 02, Author Annette Dunlea rated it liked it Jan 01, Brian Munich rated it really liked it May 21, Jon Tewy rated it liked it May 02,