The Irish Experience since 1800: A Concise History

The Irish Experience since 1800: A Concise History

The Irish Experience since 1800: A Concise History

The Irish Experience since 1800: A Concise History

Synopsis

This rich and readable history of modern Ireland covers the political, social, economic, intellectual, and cultural dimensions of the country's development from the origins of the Irish Question to the present day. In this edition, a new introductory chapter covers the period prior to Union and a new concluding chapter takes Ireland into the twenty-first century. All material has as been substantially revised and updated to reflect more recent scholarship as well as developments during the eventful years since the previous edition. The text is richly supplemented with maps, photographs, and an extensive bibliography. There is no comparable brief, multidimensional history of modern Ireland.

Excerpt

George Santayana famously warned that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In the case of the Irish, both in Ireland and among the Diaspora, the tendency was rather to be obsessed with the past, with its injustices and miseries, frustrating realistic, hopeful concentration on the present and future. These memories motivated James Joyce to write: “History is a nightmare I am trying to escape.” A distinguished historian of Victorian Britain, G.M. Young, observed that what “England could never remember, Ireland could never forget.” Of course, losers have longer memories than winners do. But many recent Irish historians, frequently labeled revisionists, have complained that much of Irish historical memory is afflicted with mythology rather than enlightened objectivity, agreeing with José Ortega y Gasset that “We have need of history in its entirety, not to fall back into it, but to see if we can escape from it.”

Of course, there were justifications for an Irish persecution complex. Ireland did experience centuries of colonialism, which denied the Catholic majority basic civil liberties. In addition, British occupiers stole their property as well as their political influence. Most of them lived in virtual slavery as well as poverty. The Great Famine of the 1840s killed over 800,000 and forced at least a million to leave the country, mostly to North America. During the Great Hunger, British religious and racial prejudices and heartless economic theory influenced the Westminster government to inadequately relieve distress in part of the United Kingdom. In the United States, Irish immigrants suffered from extensive bigotry. Admittedly, these ignorant often-undisciplined pioneers of urban ghettos were a social blight, but their Catholicism, more than their conduct, fostered hate. Even after religious morality, better jobs and higher family incomes, and education lifted them from the lowest levels of American society, anti-Catholic nativism still restricted or blocked Irish social and professional advancement. Seldom were Irish Americans visible in the worlds of banking, big business, and prestigious positions in the professions. That is why some of their best and brightest sought power and prestige in the church, politics, and the labor movement. As late as the 1960s, many colleges and universities refused them academic appointments, even in state institutions of higher learning they paid taxes to support.

Things have improved for Irish and other Catholic Americans since post–World War II prosperity; an increasing number of college and university graduates, a result . . .

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