“[A]n empire is a passing thing…a colony is not, ” writes the Irish poet Thomas Kinsella. “[A] colony establishes an independent life, with a confusion of loyalties that shows itself in politics and literature, manners and customs, and other things.” 1 Kinsella is writing of the dual literary tradition of Ireland, the Gaelic and the English, and argues that a dual approach is necessary for a true understanding of the Irish literary tradition. Though specifically about Ireland, his definition has broader cultural resonance. First of all, though, the terms “empire” and “colony” demand closer scrutiny. Empire is constituted by the annexing of territory by, and the rule of, a foreign metropolitan center, the insertion of a military order, the expropriation of wealth, and the imposition of an external culture. Colonialism, as Declan Kiberd argues, embodies more than this in that it also denotes the notion of physical and cultural implantations in the creation of settler communities. 2 Colonialism seeks the political, social, and religious transformation of the colonized culture and institutes a quasi-scientific and typically racist discourse to embellish its claims to cultural superiority and political hegemony. 3 At the same time, the colonized culture does not exist in stasis but exerts to varying degrees a political and cultural dissent. The interaction between colonizer and colonized is a complicated one that embodies more than just resistance and conflict. Duality creates a degree of crossover, cultural mutation, and change. In the colonial context, identities become contested, confused, and even obscured.
Colonialism, in the sense of physical and cultural implantations, had been operational in Ireland for centuries. By the 1801 Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland, Ireland remained effectively, if not titularly, a colony. By definition, Ireland's position was unique. The Act of Union should have established its parity with Great Britain, but the economic and social conditions