Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History

By Hugh F. Kearney | Go to book overview

Chapter Eighteen

Visions and Revisions
Views of Irish History
(2001)

This is a fuller version of an after-dinner speech given at
the conference of “Irish Historians in Britain” held at the
University of Sussex on 14–16 April 2000. Hugh Kearney
taught at U.C.D. and at Sussex in the 1950s and 1960s.

Our conference, I note, is held under the rubric of “Irish Historians in Britain.” On looking at the program, however, I note that several speakers include a literary dimension to their talks. Clearly we are interpreting Irish history in an interdisciplinary spirit appropriate to Sussex, my alma mater (or one of them). In the year 2000, such an approach has become almost unavoidable. Literary critics, such as Declan Kiberd, Seamus Deane, and Terry Eagleton see “Irish History” as very much their turf and are more than willing to comment upon the misconceptions of historians. In my view we should welcome such commentaries in the hope that we will learn from them. In my own university career I have welcomed opportunities to work with literary critics in running joint seminars, including one with Denis Donoghue in 1961.

When I first came to University College, Dublin, in 1950, Irish historians took as their model the value-free “scientific” approach of the Institute of Historical Research in London and hence kept literature at arms' length. Robin Dudley Edwards and Theo Moody, both graduates of the Institute, founded Irish Historical Studies in 1938 with this aim in mind. Once praised as the founders of modern Irish historiography, they have since

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