PREFACE

'A history of Irish thought? But surely there isn't such a thing as Irish thought-at least not in the sense in which there is, say, English, French, or German thought!' Since I began a few years ago to work on this book and to tell people, perhaps unadvisedly, about the nature of my undertaking, this is the kind of objection that has most frequently come my way. The assumption behind the objection is that Ireland, given the ebb and flow of its colonial history, has not been in a position to sustain the continuities of culture, institution, and civic life that are the prerequisite for a national, ethnically distinctive intellectual history. Whenever I point out that there is a good deal less continuity in English, French, or German thought than is generally assumed, I am quickly told that there is nonetheless a distinctive clustering of concerns in each case, a distinctive vocabulary, a distinctive ethos or style of thought, and that these marks of distinction are most evident among the great or most important thinkers. When I point out that most great thinkers are highly individual in their thinking and that this fact should weigh against their being easily 'nationalized', I am then told that even genius has roots, that these roots are always grounded in culture, and that culture is always in some sense national. It is usually conceded by these objectors that Ireland has indeed produced a few fine individual thinkers but that these have been isolated figures, that they do not constitute a national tradition of thought, and that their influences were not particularly Irish anyway. So, the objectors reiterate firmly, if with a touch of

-xi-

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