• Kristian Giver Nielsen
  • Lars Christian Dam Andreasen
  • Mads Christensen
4. term, History, Master (Master Programme)
The present thesis seeks to investigate the ways in which Irish nationalists made use of history so as to construct and assert a national identity in the period 1880-1916. This period saw a rising urgency in questions regarding land ownership and home rule in Ireland as parts of the country’s population experienced a growing sense of national awareness. Especially after the fall of Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891), the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) – the main party fighting for Irish home rule – these national energies found it increasingly difficult to express themselves solely through the political process. This in turn led to the rise to prominence of cultural nationalism, especially seen with the emergence of the Irish Literary Renaissance from the 1890s and onwards – a movement which is especially known through figures like William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) and George William Russell (1867-1937). By 1916, more extremist forces had gained a foothold within Irish nationalism to the extent that it led to the infamous Easter Rising in April of the aforementioned year. Subsequently, Irish nationalism took on a more militaristic approach leading to the violence of the 20th century.
By drawing upon theories of the use of history, mainly formulated by Scandinavian historians, as well as theories of nationalism and national identity, primarily that of Anthony D. Smith, this thesis investigates the historical narratives these nationalist forces employed in their assertion of an Irish national identity. Smith’s theory of national identity postulates that a people or social group’s common historical myths are central to the formulation of a national identity. As the theories of use of history explain how narratives of the past are used to achieve goals and ends in the present, this theoretical approach allows for a more thorough analysis of the historical myths as an aspect of national identity. In the analysis of Irish national identity, this thesis will focus on prominent proponents of nationalism in the political and cultural fields of the public sphere – as defined by Jürgen Habermas – respectively, as it is found that these were both a part of the same overall nationalist culture of history. Prominent figures in the aforementioned spheres, such as political leaders and agitators as well as famous poets and playwrights, are chosen as they are deemed to have been an enormously influential factor in the formulation of national identity in Ireland as a whole.
The analysis has found that the use of history by prominent Irish nationalists in the political and cultural spheres was dominated by three main themes, or myths: “the myth of the Irish martyrdom”, “the myth of England as an image of enmity” as well as “the myth of the Irish landscape.” The myths of martyrdom and English enmity are very closely related as their users seek to attain legitimacy for their own contemporary political programmes. They seek to show how their political struggle is in fact a continuation of an ancient struggle against the English, and how they are the heirs of a proud tradition of Irish heroes who have given their lives in this struggle. This attempt at legitimisation is designated as an ideological use of history. However, the establishment of the English as an enemy also underscores Irish identity – the existential function of history – as the Irish are to be seen as the favourable negative of the English. Finally, the landscape myth – primarily a literary undertaking – seeks to represent certain areas of Ireland as the quintessentially Irish place. This effect is achieved by representing beings, concepts and characters of Celtic mythology and Irish folklore as metaphorically embedded in the landscape of the rural Western Ireland. The interaction with the Irish landscape is seen as a way of appropriating the Irish national identity. Thus, these three myths are the main components of a historical narrative which emphasises the heroic and virtuous ideals of a perceived Irish national identity and projects this identity back trough history into the ancient Celtic period of Irish history.
While previous scholarship has certainly acknowledged the importance of historical myths in the formulation of national identities, this thesis contributes to this discussion by bringing forward a stringent, theoretically founded in-depth analysis of these historical myths, which has primarily received more superficial attention in scholarly circles thus far.
LanguageDanish
Publication date3 Aug 2015
Number of pages185
ID: 216699828