An edited extract from an address to the Merriman Summer School yesterday by John A Murphy, Emeritus Professor of Irish History at University College, Cork appeared in today’s Sunday Independent . I have set out below an edited extract of this extract if for no other reason but for me to ponder the legacy of the 19th century nationalists in a modern and vibrant society. I am not sure what they would make of today’s Ireland though.
From “the subtle and everyday legacy of Irish-Irelanders”
'IRISH-IRELAND" was the name given to the cultural side of the Irish nationalist revival in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Essentially it advocated the revived Gaelic nation with its own language, manners and customs and a distinctive literature. The Gaelic League (1893) and the Gaelic Athletic Association (1884) were two prominent manifestations of Irish-Ireland which became the official ideology of the Irish state post independence.
Among its chief exponents was Douglas Hyde; his appointment in 1938 as first President of Ireland was a recognition of his role as founding cultural father. DP Moran popularised the term "Irish-Ireland" and his paper, the Leader, was hugely influential in nationalist circles.
Irish-Ireland propagandists varied in the intensity but all were agreed that the Gaelic tradition was the essential and superior feature. In Moran's words, "the foundation of Ireland is the Gael, and the Gael must be the element that absorbs". And the nation was perceived as primarily a Catholic nation. The Leader played a positive role in stimulating discussion, promoting an Irish industrial revival and fostering radical nationalism.
Irish-Ireland views ranged from the eccentric (a preoccupation with devising distinctive modes of dress) to the censorious (severe disapproval of "vulgar" and "vicious" English popular publications). Irish-Irelanders romanticised and glorified the Gaelic past (where they did not invent it) and were vague about how it could be restored. When Michael Collins asserted the need to restore "Gaelic civilisation" and undo the cultural conquest, he hadn't a clue what he was talking about.
The central anomaly of Irish-Ireland propaganda was its dependence on the English language to advocate the revival of Irish language and culture. Paradoxically, English was the indispensable medium of Irish nationalism. If Irish-Irelanders had used Irish, their readership would have been minuscule. Thus, in the general matter of using Irish, there was a tinge of hypocrisy about Irish-Ireland.
The Irish-Ireland philosophy has had mixed fortunes over the years: the prevailing opinion today is that the revival of Irish as a spoken language is a failure. Two other features have been remarkable successes, however. Gaelic sports remain extremely popular while the traditional music scene is extraordinarily vibrant – more because of its sheer attractiveness, than being an expression of nationalism. The original Irish-Irelanders would probably have welcomed the manifestations of their philosophy in certain features of that state (for all its flaws). These would include such distinctive expressions as foreign policy when practised at its best; the peace-keeping role of our army; and the institution of the presidency, as personified particularly by the two incumbents since 1990.