Postnationalist Ireland: Politics, Culture, Philosophy

By Richard Kearney | Go to book overview
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The fifth province

Between the local and the global

When one speaks of the ‘Irish community’ today, one refers not merely to the inhabitants of a state, but to an international group of expatriates and a subnational network of regional communities. This triple-layered identity means that Irishness is no longer co-terminous with the geographical outlines of an island. The diaspora both within and beyond the frontiers of Ireland (over seventy million claim Irish descent) challenges the inherited definitions of state nationalism. But it does not condemn us to endless fragmentation. It is possible for Irish people today—indigenous or exiled—to imagine alternative models of identification. One such model, I submit, might be that of the ancient Fifth Province where attachments to the local and the global find reciprocal articulation. But what is this Fifth Province? In our editorial of the first issue of The Crane Bag (1977), we ventured the following interpretation:

Modern Ireland is made up of four provinces. And yet, the Irish word for a province is coiced which means fifth. This fivefold division is as old as Ireland itself, yet there is disagreement about the identity of the fifth. Some claim that all the provinces met at the Stone of Divisions on the Hill of Uisneach, believed to be the mid-point of Ireland. Others say that the fifth province was meath (mide), the ‘middle’. Both traditions divide Ireland into four quarters and a ‘middle’, though they disagree about the location of this middle or ‘fifth’ province. Although Tara was the political centre of Ireland, this fifth province acted as a second centre, which if non-political, was just as important, acting as a necessary balance. The present unhappy state of our country would seem to indicate a need for this second centre of gravity. The obvious impotence of the various political attempts to unite the four geographical provinces whould seem to warrant another kind of solution…one which would incorporate


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