Nationalism in Ireland

Nationalism in Ireland

Nationalism in Ireland

Nationalism in Ireland


Based on extensive historical, literary and political research, Nationalism in Ireland examines the relationship between ideas and political and social reality. It explains why the aspirations of Irish nationalism have failed to modify the facts of Irish political conflict and sectarian division.For this revised edition, Professor Boyce has added a new final chapter which:* considers the development of nationalism in both parts of Ireland in the light of the most recent political events.* places the phenomenon of nationalism in its contemporary and European setting.


When this book was first published in 1982, nationalism seemed to be a political anachronism as far as Western Europe was concerned; since 1989 we have seen, to coin a phrase, the ‘Ulsterisation of the world’, as the collapse of communism led to intense and often violent national conflict, with Bosnia held up as the cracked mirror in which the North of Ireland beheld its real face.

The return of nationalism to the political agenda has been followed by a new scholarly interest in the subject, building upon the pioneering work of A. D. Smith, Ernest Gellner and others. The study of nationalism has been approached from various directions: as an analysis of texts; as an aspect of social and political mobilisation; and as the work of élites who ‘invent’ traditions. At the heart of the debate about nationalism is the recognition that its development is inseparable from the quest for political power, and that nationalism and the state need to be studied together. Even cultural nationalists need to capture, or create, a state that will be sympathetic to their needs. This recognition has helped divest nationalism of the sense of mystery that seemed to surround it—the sense that it was in some way the natural and God-given destiny of self-evident nations. But if nationalists ‘invent’ traditions, they cannot invent just any tradition; they must draw upon the wells of history. Ireland has drawn upon these wells, in the creation of the modern Irish state, and in the conflict between nationalist and unionist in modern Ulster. Political élites and their followers must appreciate each other’s codes if they are to create a sense of community based upon a shared view of the past.

The success or failure of this process depends upon political circumstances; the historian of ideas must attend to this aspect of the subject, if the texts involved are not to appear as ‘eternal’ or ‘classical’, divorced from their social and political context. For example, Irish republicanism, virtually extinct in the north of Ireland by the 1960s, gained a new lease of life in the 1970s and 1980s; but the south of Ireland witnessed no new republican political dynamic in these decades. Its nationalism did not die out, but rather renewed itself in ways that seemed to reflect the community’s changing needs, as a would-be modern state in a would-be European Union.

Nationalism and unionism continue to set the broad parameters of Irish political life. Unionists distrust the ‘soft’ nationalism, perhaps even . . .

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