Mar 13, 2014
The understanding of Ireland and Irish identity that many Irish-Americans labor under was set out memorably by Professor Thomas Corcoran of University College Dublin in an essay in the 1920s in which he wrote: “The Irish Nation is the Gaelic nation; its language and literature is the Gaelic language; its history is the history of the Gael. All other elements have no place in Irish national life, literature, and tradition.”
F.S.L. Lyons, a distinguished historian at Trinity College Dublin, argued that it is precisely this understanding that stands as one of the roots of the political and cultural problems that plagues Northern Ireland. Not only have the Catholic and Protestant communities failed to live together harmoniously, but an excessively narrow understanding of Irish identity on the part of Catholics continues to define the Protestant majority as non-Irish.
A version of the same problem continues to exist, albeit to a much lesser degree, in the Republic of Ireland. A small but significant portion of the population is Anglo-Irish. Many have strong cultural ties with Great Britain. However, the Catholic majority in the Republic generally refuses to acknowledge the great contribution of the Anglo-Irish tradition over the centuries.
By the Anglo-Irish tradition, I mean that embodied in the homogenous, yet numerically small community in the southern provinces that originated with the Norman and Elizabethan invasions and forged for itself cultural, intellectual, and political achievements that were quite remarkable.
This was the tradition that gave the literary world Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Lady (Augusta) Gregory, W.B. Yeats, and C.S Lewis.