Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History

By Hugh F. Kearney | Go to book overview

Chapter Seventeen

Colonizing Irish History:
Canny Sets the Agenda
(2002)

“The period 1534–1691 in Irish history, though an age of economic advance and intellectual activity, was above all an age of disruption. Prolonged and fundamental conflict over sovereignty, land, religion and culture produced changes more catastrophic and far-reaching than anything Ireland had experienced since the Anglo-Norman invasion of the twelfth century, or was to experience again till the great famine, the land war, and the struggle for national independence.” Such are the concluding words of the late T. W. Moody in his introduction to volume III of A New History of Ireland (1976). In his brilliant new book, Making Ireland British, Nicholas Canny provides his own interpretation of this revolutionary period, but whereas Moody was able to call upon the services of nearly a score of specialists, in the tradition of the Cambridge Modern History, Canny has worked as an individual scholar over three decades and more. The publication of this book thus provides the occasion to contrast the approach of an individual scholar with that of a well-organized team. It also gives us the opportunity to compare two generations of Irish historians.

Moody's judgment about the significance of the period 1534–91 does not include the concept “revolution” but it is implied in his overall tone. Canny is in full agreement about the revolutionary character of the changes involved but his emphasis is different. Canny's theme, following upon the approach of his mentor, David Quinn, is to stress the deliberate conquest and colonization of Ireland. Canny's argument in fact is that Spenser set the agenda for this policy, which was followed up by others, including Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, and later carried to completion by

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