Tag Archives: Irish studies

A brief history of the Irish Nationalist Movement

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Paul A. Townend, author of The Road to Home Rule: Anti-imperialism and the Irish National Movement, provides some background on the turbulent political landscape in Ireland in the late 1800s. The University of Wisconsin Press is publishing this book today in the book series History of Ireland and Irish Diaspora

The Road to Home Rule tracks the relationship of discontented Irish patriots with their place in the British imperial system. As “jingo” imperial policies drove the relentless and often violent imperial expansion of the British Empire of the 1870s and 1880s, Irish political entrepreneurs capitalized on a rising, visceral popular Irish rejection of that system. The story parallels in certain ways the striking current turn in Anglo-American political culture towards anti-globalist populism.

Then and now, an ambitious and rambunctious political minority worked tirelessly, successfully, and, in the minds of the political establishment, unscrupulously, to disturb what many saw as an inevitable progressive march away from the past. This past was bound by localism and resentful identity politics, and this minority sought to move towards a brighter, more prosperous, and mutually advantageous transnational and interconnected future. In Ireland in the 1870s, Anglo-Irish elites led by the lawyer Isaac Butt imagined a new Ireland, ruled by its own parliament but even more closely connected to the British Empire, the great globalizing force of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. By granting Ireland local autonomy in the form of “home rule,” Butt argued to anyone in England who would listen that Irish grievances could be settled quickly, and reconciled Irish energy and human capital could be harnessed to help build the rapidly expanding empire.

Identifying with Benjamin Disraeli’s efforts to lead a populist turn in British imperial culture, and to embrace the inspirational potential of imperial grandeur, Butt and others believed that, properly led, Irish soldiers, merchants, and emigrants could leverage their longstanding service to Empire into a genuine partnership for ordering the world’s less civilized peoples. The joint project of spreading Christianity, British law, and building a global economy dominated by British technology, capital markets, communications, and transport infrastructure—railroads, telegraphs, and steamships—would thus transcend generations of petty sectarian animosities and festering grievances. All of this would allow the intransigent “Irish problem” to fade into the history books, a curiosity of the past, overcome forever by the force of progress, prosperity, optimism, and mutual enterprise.

In Ireland, however, this vision was disturbed by unanticipated developments, and was then swallowed up by a wave of frustrated and angry Irish populism. The uncharacteristically unimaginative failure of Disraeli to seize the opportunity presented by Butt’s offer of collaborative partnership frustrated Butt and his Irish allies. Rising economic distress in Ireland occasioned by the disruption of global agricultural markets compounded popular discontent. The situation boiled over as Disraeli, and then his Liberal successor, William Ewart Gladstone, embarked between 1878 and 1885 on a spectacular series of bloody imperial campaigns against Afghans, Zulus, Boers, Egyptians, and Sudanese peoples unwilling to accept Pax Britannica and all its benefits, which they never asked for.

It took the political entrepreneurship of Charles Stewart Parnell, however, and a handful of cosmopolitan allies—many of them globetrotting journalists and foreign correspondents, like the Fenian J.J. O’Kelly or Parnell’s close associate, Cork native Justin McCarthy—to capitalize on the populist opportunity afforded by these wars and economic disruptions. Parnell caught the pulse of Irish disgust and rejected any embrace of British imperial ambition. He worked to marshal anti-imperial Irish public opinion, stirred as it was by imperial violence, appalled by the imposition of “Zulu-whipped” British soldiers on the Irish countryside, and quick to see parallels between Irish, African, and Indian experiences of British power.  Parnell superseded Butt by forging a powerful bond with nationalist sentiment, building a transformative and enormously consequential new Home Rule movement that demanded greater independence and rejected Irish support for the imperial project. He and others used the press, especially the new technologies that encouraged the insertion of political cartoons, to promote a vision of empire building as an exercise in hypocritical brutality.

Photo Credit: National Library, Ireland

“Look on this, and on this,” July 1882; comparing the occupation of Alexandria with “Coercion” during the Irish Land War. Photo Credit: National Library, Ireland

By strengthening for many in Ireland the connection between opposition to Union and opposition to empire, Parnell made it nearly impossible for himself or his successors to reconcile Irish independence with imperial citizenship. They alienated forever many imperially minded Britons who rightly diagnosed the threat Parnellism posed to the emerging British-dominated global system. As Flora Dixie, the shrewd pioneering war correspondent and sympathetic critic of Parnell, noted at the time, her English friends were disgusted by the apparent unwillingness of a Home Rule Irish parliament led by Parnell to “agree to any imperial policy of the ministry.” “What would be the result,” she wondered, of this fundamental disconnect on foreign policy, “if not political anarchy?”

In embracing nationalism and rejecting the transnational progressivism of their day, these Irish nationalists acted more out of opportunism than ideology. The leaders of the Parnell movement were neither parochial nor anti-modern, but they did enormously frustrate a seemingly inevitable march of history towards a future that many believed would subordinate local economic interests, as well as cultural and political identities, to new power structures and forces of globalization. To achieve their political goals, Parnellite Home Rulers had to stoke public opinion, graphically caricature British power, and work to remind Irish people of their historical grievances. While they often encouraged sympathy and solidarity with other imperial subjects, their sometimes cynical embrace of contemporary racial attitudes also led them to encourage the Irish people to expect political success where less “civilized” peoples failed to resist British power. In their struggle against what they understood to be overwhelmingly powerful political and economic forces, they adopted an opportunistic and ethically fluid approach to building their movement into a transformative revolution.

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“Prophet and Loss.”; Satirizing the occupation of Egypt. Photo Credit: National Library, Ireland

How Brexit might be better understood by contemplating the Irish anti-imperialist campaign is too presentist an undertaking for this historian. But, it is interesting to note how contemptuous Butt and his contemporaries were about Parnell’s efforts, even while they acknowledged the potent destructive political force of charismatically led populist campaigns rooted in economic frustration, fiercely held “local” identities, and resentment of distant and unresponsive elites. As Mitchell Henry, one appalled ally of Butt, put it in a public letter in 1879, the new leadership was “revolutionary and criminal” in its rebranding of Irish patriotism as the rejection of empire. “The object of the Home Rule movement,” he insisted, was “to present Great Britain and Ireland as one empire, united together.”

The lessons of history are often invoked; one of the most important is that it can be very difficult to judge the likely verdict of the future on the choices made in a given present. Parnell remains a national hero in Ireland; his political genius is acknowledged by many who are less sure of the long term consequences of the political movement he led. But to the majority of his politically astute contemporaries, the savvy Irish elites of his day, Parnell was a demagogue who enabled the short-sighted and opportunistic rejection of the best way forward for the Irish people into a better future and a brighter era of cooperation. Because he refused to let go of the past and move on from bitterness and grievance, the argument went, his trading in the emotionally effective but short-sighted currency of anti-imperialism left the Irish outside of the power structures that self-interest dictated they accept and adapt to.

Townend-Paul-2016-cPaul A. Townend is a professor of British and Irish history at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. He is the author of Father Mathew, Temperance, and Irish Identity and the coeditor of Ireland in an Imperial World.

 

 

folklore and worldview on the Irish border


Cashman-Packy-Jim-cPacky Jim: Folklore and Worldview on the Irish Border
has just been published. Folklorist Ray Cashman recounts both his experience of meeting Packy Jim McGrath and how folklore can be used to critique today’s society.

In 1998 I was a novice fieldworker conducting ethnographic research in Aghyaran, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland. I arrived in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement followed by the bombing of Omagh, a time of new hope tempered by familiar tragedy. What drew my attention was stories people told about themselves at wakes and ceilis (nighttime social visits), the kind of stories that appeal to a sense of shared local identity and history that undermines the divisive claims of sectarian affiliation. My preoccupations with politics and community aligned with many in Aghyaran who used storytelling to cope and comprehend after three decades of violence. But of course this was only one meaningful strand, only one perspective on the interestingly complicated borderlands between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

While conducting that research, having claimed to be a folklorist, I was continually told to visit one elderly or gregarious person after another. One in particular was recommended time and again: “You want real folklore? Packy Jim is your man.” My charge was never to turn down a lead, to cast my nets widely, so eventually I crossed the border and trekked into the mountains of Co. Donegal in search of Packy Jim.

Packy Jim McGrath

The man I found was much as he had been described, living alone and self-sufficient in a rustic stone house without benefit of electricity, running water, or near neighbors. He reminded me powerfully of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden persona; his surroundings put one in mind of W. B. Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Whatever one’s reaction to introspective iconoclasts in bee-loud glades might be, Packy Jim undeniably has a quick wit, a formidable way with words, and an unmatched talent for glossing almost any thread of conversation with an appropriate story, song, or recitation. His store of memory is vast. Having grown up on a secluded smuggling route, he had heard the news, songs, and stories of several generations of men and women who stopped to pass the time until cover of darkness allowed the border’s unofficial economy to resume. Packy Jim says that in these early years he was all ears, but now it is his turn to talk.

It is exhilarating to find someone who embellishes everyday conversation with stories of ghosts and fairies, heroic outlaws, and hateful landlords—the stuff folklorists traditionally seek. And yet, although an older model of folklore collecting had brought me to him, over the years my interest in Packy Jim has matured through greater familiarity and friendship to focus less on the stuff, the lore, and more on the uses to which he puts it.

Over the years my interest in Packy Jim has matured through greater familiarity and friendship to focus less on the stuff, the lore, and more on the uses to which he puts it.

Packy Jim’s house

That is, I have come to better appreciate that—when conversation is two-way and free-flowing—Packy Jim uses narratives from a range of traditional genres to comprehend and critique his own society, while at the same time presenting a coherent moral self. Packy Jim is as much a storyteller working within a vernacular tradition of Irish narrative that we may wish to appreciate in its own right, as he is an individual using available narratives to compose a song of the self.

As Mikhail Bakhtin tells us, our mouths are full of the words of others, but such a formulation should not challenge our faith in individual agency or indeed genius: which words, and how spoken, matter. Packy Jim’s talent and dexterity with the inexhaustible potential of narrative guarantees that he is no more contained between his hat and boots than was Walt Whitman. Neither is Packy Jim shackled by tradition when he trades in handed-down words, images, and stories to order his complicated world of deep-seated mentalities and provocative change. To use Claude Levi-Strauss’s memorable term, Packy Jim is a bricoleur, a crafty recycler who constructs new possibilities out of available handed-down raw materials, meeting present needs.

Listen to Packy Jim recount the origin of the fairies in the following video. It’s a good story well told. It establishes a vision of the cosmos, how it came into being, what roles humans and spiritual beings are meant to play, and how it will all come to an end.

Cosmology, ontology, teleology, and eschatology are weighty matters perhaps best articulated and comprehended through narrative. But consider also that this story serves Packy Jim as a springboard for social commentary and as an index of his personal orientations. Packy Jim as bricoleur masters this story because he needs this story. The slings and arrows of this world—from fairy mischief to difficult neighbors—have a primal sacred origin. Tradition provides Packy Jim both an explanation for hardship and a charter for his own moral behavior, helping him comprehend injustice and have faith that, in the end, the deserving will triumph. You would not be able to adduce much of that from the text of this story alone. Understanding the broader significance of this story—and all the stories in his repertoire—requires paying attention to how Packy Jim uses stories, parable-like, as glosses in longer conversations. It requires appreciating how he tells one story to amplify another, how stories build contexts of meaning for each other. Such contextualization—paying attention to the interplay of text and context—requires patience, and it reveals a worldview that is both idiosyncratic and shared—a testament to individual intelligence and talent, and a window into Irish vernacular culture.

Ray Cashman

Ray Cashman

Ray Cashman is an associate professor of folklore at Indiana University. He is the author of Storytelling on the Northern Irish Border, which won both the Chicago Folklore Prize of the American Folklore Society and the Donald Murphy Prize of the American Conference for Irish Studies. He is a coeditor of The Individual and Tradition: Folkloristic Perspectives.

New Books for August 2016

 

We are pleased to announce two new books arriving in late August.

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HOW RUSSIA LEARNED TO WRITE
Literature and the Imperial Table of Ranks
Irina Reyfman

Irina Reyfman

Irina Reyfman

“Compelling, clever, and persuasive. Examining many Russian writers’ self-fashioning as members of the nobility and their careers in public service, Reyfman admirably shows that the understanding of rank should inflect all our arguments and histories of the writing profession in Russia.”

—Luba Golburt, University of California, Berkeley

“Indispensable reading for all who study Russian literature of the Imperial period. Reyfman adds nuance and necessary reevaluation to our understanding of how literary careers and literary biography evolved in Russia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”
—Andrew Kahn, University of Oxford

Publications of the Wisconsin Center for Pushkin Studies     David M. Bethea, Series Editor

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August 30, 2016

PACKY JIM
Folklore and Worldview on the Irish Border
Ray Cashman

“A brilliant testament to the ethnographer’s art, the deeply rooted wisdom of an ‘ordinary’ person, and the complex ways in which folklore figures in everyday life along the Irish border.”
—James P. Leary, author of Folksongs of Another America

“Octogenarian bachelor Packy Jim McGrath of Lettercran, County Donegal, emerges here as both typical and singular, a barometer of continuity and change. McGrath’s resilience, dignity, and strong sense of self manifest clearly in his stories, which locate him both in the technological consumerist future and in the primordial self-sufficient past. Ray Cashman’s sharp and sympathetic observation delivers a classic ethnography that stakes a major claim for folkloristic studies as cutting-edge humanities research.”
—Lillis Ó Laoire, author of On a Rock in the Middle of the Ocean: Songs and Singers in Tory Island

Ray Cashman

Ray Cashman

Packy Jim McGrath

New Books in April 2016

We are proud to announce these five books debuting in April.

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Almost Nothing to Be Scared Of

David Clewell

Winner of the Four Lakes Prize in Poetry
 Almost Nothing to Be Scared Of

“David Clewell has a lot to say, peppering his essayistic poems with lopsided wit and keen observations on the spectacle of American culture. His social commentary deserves a gang of listeners for the truth of his insights and the sheer fun of the delivery. By the way, did you know that the Inverted Atomic Drop was a wrestling move?”—Billy Collins

 

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April 5
Death on a Starry Night
Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden

Death on a Starry Night is a romp through French art, fine wine, romance, and murder. This is the third novel in the Nora Barnes and Toby Sandler mystery series, as these artful sleuths investigate the mysterious death of Vincent van Gogh.  “Thoroughly engaging. Draine and Hinden’s eccentric and amiable characters (one of whom happens to be a murderer) gather together to share delicious meals, amble through medieval villages, and argue about van Gogh’s art, life, and mysterious death in this charming whodunit.”—M. L. Longworth, author of The Mystery of the Lost Cézanne

 

Virgil and Joyce

April 12
Virgil and Joyce
Nationalism and Imperialism in the Aeneid and Ulysses
Randall J. Pogorzelski

Virgil and Joyce illuminates how James Joyce’s Ulysses was influenced not just by Homer’s Odyssey but by Virgil’s Aeneid, as both authors confronted issues of nationalism, colonialism, and political violence, whether in imperial Rome or revolutionary Ireland.  “Joyce emerges here as a literary reader who rethinks Virgil’s Aeneid as a post-imperial epic, a poem about colonialism and national identity.”—Phiroze Vasunia, author of The Classics and Colonial India

 

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April 19
The Invisible Jewish Budapest
Metropolitan Culture at the Fin de Siècle
Mary Gluck

The Invisible Jewish Budapest is a groundbreaking, brilliant urban history of a Central European metropolis in the decades before World War I.  “A magnificently consequential book. Gluck examines the vibrant modernist culture created largely by secular Jews in Budapest, in counterpoint to a backward-looking, nationalistic Hungarian establishment and a conservative Jewish religious elite.”—Scott Spector, author of Violent Sensations

 

Buccitelli-City-of-Neighborhoods-cApril 26
City of Neighborhoods
Memory, Folklore, and Ethnic Place in Boston
Anthony Bak Buccitelli

City of Neighborhoods  “This fascinating deep-dive into historically ethnic neighborhoods reveals that old stereotypes have been supplanted by vibrant, multiethnic neighborhoods that now use ethnicity as a means for inclusion. A riveting, insider look into what really happens in Boston’s diverse neighborhoods.”—Timothy Tangherlini, UCLA

 

 

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April 27
My Sister’s Mother
A Memoir of War, Exile, and Stalin’s Siberia
Donna Solecka Urbikas

My Sister’s Mother is an American baby boomer’s account of the ordeals of her Polish mother and half sister as slave laborers in Siberia who escaped and survived. “This stunning, heartfelt memoir looks unflinchingly at the scars borne by one Polish immigrant family as their daughter tries to become a normal American girl in Chicago. A gripping study of family dynamics, this is also a must-read for World War II history buffs.”—Leonard Kniffel, author of A Polish Son in the Motherland