Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Political Progress and Educational Sectarianism: Addressing Religious Schooling in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s past echoes with the haunted politics of division, its communities littered with the graves of over 3,000 victims of shameful brutality. When Peter Robinson spat that, ‘the only input that Unionists want into the Anglo-Irish Conference is a stick of gelignite’, not even the most ardent optimist would have predicted that he would one day attend a GAA match as the honoured guest of Martin McGuinness.

But the progress is real and it is, I daresay, sincere. In only two years did the widely-heralded patriarch of entrenched Unionism Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley reverse his line from, ‘we are not going into government with Sinn Fein’, to, ‘we must not allow our loathing of the tragedies of the past to become a barrier to a better future.’

Shaking his hands with Mr Paisley in the halls of Stormont, it is nigh impossible to equate the Martin McGuinness of, ‘I haven't done anything that I'm ashamed of’, to the progressive politician who has learned the hard lessons of a misguided youth.

And Northern Ireland’s modern politics of progress are neatly mirrored in the geography of the country.

Spectators looking out on the Belfast of the second decade of the twenty-first century are greeted by a vibrant and optimistic city. Colour flows through her streets, heartfelt music dribbles out of its pores. It is a cosmopolitan, bohemian culture where students mingle with working professionals. And it is not surprising, for a city rescued from the despairing grip of wartime violence as recently as Belfast can do nothing else but blossom with tenacity and intent.

And the schools are doing well. GCSE and A-Level results in Northern Ireland are the best in the United Kingdom. Modern teaching methods are complemented by updated facilities, and with increasingly stable socio-political conditions, young people in Northern Ireland can come together to build upon the progress already enjoyed across the country.

But one contentious point remains very much at the centre of the country’s school system, and that is the role of faith-based education. The statistics released by the Department of Education in 2011 reveal that just over 4,000 nursery school children attend a denominational play group, with over 65,000 of the country’s teenagers in segregated secondary education.

We no longer live in the era of different histories, but it is of academic importance to note the patterns of where the Irish language is, and is not, taught. Outside of the classroom, stand-offs continue in the sport’s field between caid-influenced football and rugby, hurling and hockey. And threaded through all these facets is the ever-present influence of religion.

Whether by design or by the circumstance of tradition, schools in Northern Ireland prescribe young people with a pre-determined notion of identity. This is not to say that religious education and Christian values are without place in modern Northern Ireland. The issue lies with perpetuating a sectarian school system in a country recovering from three decades of religious turmoil. One does not fight fire with fire.

And the state of the economy doesn’t help matters either. As job prospects dwindle, uncertain and directionless youths are being offered prospects of sorts with terrorist organisations. The Financial Times spoke of the downturn as, ‘a recruiting sergeant for dissident republican [sic.] groups’, with the recent resurgence of radical IRA organisations serving to strike an alarming chord.

Households Below Average Incomes figures between 2005 and 2008 reported that 48 per cent of children in Northern Ireland lived in poverty, with 21 per cent classed as living in ‘persistent poverty’. When these numbers are coupled with the country’s lack of vocational opportunity and the attraction of paramilitary groups, one can only question the true meaning of promising examination results and political progress.

And politics, education and the economy are not mutually exclusive. Each facet plays into the other, in turn determining the effectiveness and implication of the next. Nationalist and Unionist politicians can sit in the modern Stormont and talk about the future until they are blue in the face, but nothing will come of it unless they proactively address the interests of children.

Community groups across Northern Ireland are doing fantastic work in uniting the people, young and old, but this could be lost on future generations unless lasting grassroots changes are recorded. And to do that, Northern Ireland needs to see integrated education. Children are in need of a daily reminder that there is more to the country than the members of their own community.

The idea is not a new one. First Minister Peter Robinson spoke of the importance of integrated education in 2011, but despite promises, very little visible progress has been made. For all the good Mr Robinson and his colleague Mr. McGuinness are doing, this most crucial of considerations is being inexplicably overlooked.

It would be a tragic error to allow anything to hinder the rejuvenation of Northern Ireland, especially if that barrier is the remnants of a dying culture of division. Progress is built upon familiarity and cross-community cooperation, but the existence of denominational education counteracts this at an early point in a child’s development, and continues throughout their school career. This academic incongruity fights alongside fading archaic notions of yore, engaged in a determined tug-of-war with the new and progressive Northern Ireland.

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Thursday, 15 March 2012

Ages of Myth and Legend: The Two Lives of Saint Patrick

Unravelling and presenting a plausible and coherent narrative of any historical event not only demands a great deal of caution and astute evaluation from the historian, but also an unsettling divorce from the sheltered confines of historical mythology. Our past is littered with the corpses of so-called historical truths, the erroneous attribution of ‘let them eat cake’ to Marie-Antoinette, the emotive corruption of the ‘glorious massacre’ of Custer at Little Bighorn and the misplaced titling of the ‘Battle of Hastings’ to name but a few.
            But when dealing with the period directly following the fall of Rome, that uncertain blur of intermingled fact and legend loosely entitled ‘The Dark Ages’, the historian must adhere to a greater deal of scholarly caution than anywhere else in post-recorded history. Here is an era of rumour, scant records and destructive human interaction; a time characterised by movement, disruption and frequent redefinition.
St Patrick
            Within such confines, addressing but one small aspect of an overall uncertain field of study, that of Saint Patrick and his role in Ireland, is a task that is far from straightforward in spite or perhaps because of primary sources such as The Confessio, written by the man himself, which is both understandably bias and frustratingly vague.  Records are tenuous, to say the least and the influence of myth, strong. And while Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland, contemporary testimony strongly suggests otherwise.
            Modern studies of the historical Patrick are based around a variant of T.F O’Rahilly’s Two Patrick’s Theory, suggesting that a great deal of what has traditionally been attributed to Patrick was rather the work of Palladius and his followers who preceded him in Ireland. Palladius was sent to Ireland in 431 by Pope Celestine I in what we can safely interpret as an attempt to check the ever-growing Pelagain Heresy. In turn, Palladius was charged with consolidating the work of Saint Ciaran Saighir the Elder through active interaction with the island’s existing, and distinctly burgeoning Christian community. Palladius was mostly active in Leinster, reinvigorating Christian ideals to the extent that he became Ireland’s first bishop as well as a saint. Further fusing the men together is a contemporary confusion of names, a relative chronological proximity, and the mistaken idea that Patrick was active across Ireland, whereas in fact he was most likely confined to Ulster and parts of Connacht. It was Secundinus, for example, a colleague of Palladius, who founded the famous Dunshughlin near Tara. It was also Secundinus who wrote the contemporary work known as the Tripartite Life of Saint Patrick. Adding to the confusion and entangled interactions is a host of imbalanced histories. Prosper’s Chronicle does not even mention Patrick, but instead Palladius. By contrast, the Annals of Ulster radiates with uncertainty as more than one Patrick appears to be recorded.

457: ‘Repose of the elder Patrick, as some books state.’
461: ‘Here some record the repose of Patrick’
492: ‘The Irish state here that Patrick the Archbishop died.’
493: ‘Patrick... apostle of the Irish, rested on the 16th day before the Kalends of April...’

            In time, the confusion over who did what, and the irritating evidence that Patrick had not, in fact, brought Christianity to Ireland became a bit a problem for Patrick's hagiographers. Men such as Muirchu moccu Machtheni opted to downplay Palladius with false testimony, writing ‘[n]o one can receive from earth what has not been given by heaven: Palladius was denied success... and he himself did not wish to spend a long time in a foreign country.’ With the die cast, Muirchu builds upon Palladius’s apparent lack of staying power by disregarding his consecration as a mere Vatican procedure. Readers of the Life of Saint Patrick will also be misinformed that Palladius was appointed Ireland in 431, Patrick in 432. In 432, as will be presented below, Patrick was only beginning to forge his presence in Ireland. Muirchu also conveniently negotiates away from Palladius’s seniority to Patrick.
            But it is essential to note that Palladius and Patrick had, for all intents and purposes, different objectives in Ireland. While Palladius was there first, he had gone to Ireland to work with the already-converted. Patrick, by contrast, took his work to those still relatively untouched by the Christian doctrine. And while Palladius’s role in Irish history deserves further recognition, this most singularly important of distinctions is what allows Patrick to stride past Palladius in the annals of Christian history.
Slemish, Co. Antrim where Patrick is said
to have tended sheep as a slave
            Born of Roman blood in the northern English settlement of Banna Venta Berniae in the late 380s, Patrick was brought to Ireland by raiders as a child where he was enslaved as a shepherd on the slopes of Slemish (although this is contested by Killala Bay, County Mayo). Attributing his misfortune to an abandonment of faith, Patrick embarked upon a near obsessive investment in Christianity, seeking influence and learning at every available instant. Eventually, according to Patrick’s own testimony, he heard a voice that he accredited to God who exclaimed, ‘it is good that you fast… look, your ship is ready.’
            Taking it as a sign to flee, Patrick escaped back to England to enter the seminary, before crossing the Irish Sea for a third time as a fully ordained man of the Christian faith. He cited his motive as a vision in which the native Irish had issued him with a plea for religious awakening. While clear of spiritual conscience, Patrick faced with a career that was both testing and frequently dangerous. Patrick was criticised on the manner of his faith by his followers, was placed under curse and suspicion by druids – the same people he prescribed as having little direction or coherence within native religion – and at times was imprisoned and bound, facing execution. He was even put on trial by his elders for what he vaguely describes as an ‘arduous escapa[d]e’ during his bishophood.
            Despite the difficulties that defined his existence, Patrick was a prolific institutionalist and champion of Christian dogma, criss-crossing the northern part of the island to spread, establish and maintain his chosen religion.  And while he is famed for sending the snakes from Ireland (albeit the product of legend as archaeological findings show that snakes have not existed in Ireland since before the last Ice Age) and illustrating the Holy Trinity by the leaves of the shamrock (an attribution first recorded in 1726 by Englishman Caleb Threlkeld), it is Patrick’s edificial record that is the most tangible indicator of his influence. With little external help, Patrick was granted land in Saul, County Down in 432 by a local chieftain, Dichu, building his first church on the site before moving onto consolidate Armagh’s place as the centre of Irish Christianity by 445. Here he built a grand cathedral that still stands to this day, and developed a town at its base. In 457, the Annals of the Four Masters records that,

‘Ard Mhacha was founded by Saint Patrick, it having been granted to him by Daire, son of Finnchadh,
son of Eoghan, son of Niallan. Twelve men were appointed by him for building the town. He ordered
them, in the first place, to erect an archbishop's city there, and a church for monks, for nuns, and for the
other orders in general, for he perceived that it would be the head and chief of the churches of Ireland
in general.’

            Patrick did not bring Christianity to Ireland, rather dismantled traditional religious practice and vigorously fostered his own. While a cynical scholar might point to his strengthening of Christian foundations as a fertile plot for later sectarianism, they would also miss the point. What Patrick did for Ireland, if unintentionally, was to lay the foundation for what has become a celebration of pan-Irish identity that was already being observed by the Irish in the tenth century. The eighteenth century saw the rise of green as a national icon, as well as a more widespread adoption of the shamrock. This tradition became more vigorous after 1903 when his feast day became a public holiday, and today has spread to become a global phenomenon.
            There is no question that the modern Saint Patrick’s Day has long overtaken Saint Patrick the man. But despite this, Saint Patrick’s Day is a beautiful and worthy event. While a little gaudy and often slightly drunk around the edges, March 17 encourages all Irish communities to unite in celebration of traditions developed from each of their cultural backgrounds. But it still worth remembering that this distinctly international sense of ‘Ireland’, and the powerful importance of a singular identity that it promotes, could not have been so without the slave boy from Banna Venta Berniae.  

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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

More Irish Than Ireland: The Curious Phenomenon of Irish-Americanism

In a flurry of flamboyant rhetoric and quixotic reflection, President Obama triumphantly proclaimed on March 1 that March 2012 was to be officially designated, ‘Irish-American Heritage Month.’ During his address the President described the Irish as, ‘sons and daughters of Erin’ and encouraged his fellow citizens, ‘to observe this month by celebrating the contributions of Irish Americans to our Nation.’

The move is not without merit. Out of a population of 313 million, a little over 36 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, with 22 of their Presidents, including Mr Obama, being descended from a son or daughter of Erin. Even our accent remains prominent in American intonation in some regions.

Concentration of Americans who claim Irish ancestry according to the 2000 Census

The two nations are old friends. Ireland’s relationship with North America goes as far back as the early colonial period of the seventeenth century, if not earlier when Irish monks claim to have landed on the east coast in the middle ages.

Immigrants arriving in the New World were presented with a beautiful, but potentially fatal invitation; to go forth, prosper and help to bring about a New World founded on Christian principles. The idea was stirring and the romance appealing, and aware that there was no way back, the settlers had no choice but to give life to the dream.

The colonies were divided up into various social groupings, and many Irish found themselves headed to the Appalachia where they helped to push the frontier forward and forge a unique identity in the eastern hinterlands. Irish settlers faced the same problems as their fellow migrants across the colonies; hard graft, uncertainty and bloody encounters with Indians. Perseverance was key, and bolstered by tens of thousands more of their kinsmen, the Irish moved forward with tenacity.

With them came their culture and ideas of society, and importantly their music. Irish music, fused with traditions and influences of other folk musicians, made a marked impact in the cultural evolution of early America, eventually evolving into bluegrass and country. If settlers could counterbalance the hardships of daily life with the rousing rhythms and melodies of a céilí¸ they could, in turn, use music as a psychological tool in conquering the interior. As late as the 1860s and 1870s, Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer used the Limerick air Garryowen on his campaigns against Plains Indians.    

While important, music alone is not enough to explain the insatiable American romance with Ireland and the celebration of all things Celtic thrust upon, and relished by, the descendants of the Irish in America. And this New World interpretation of Irish culture has teeth, with 150,000 people expected at the New York Saint Patrick’s Day parade, and a further 2 million lining the streets.

The Chicago River is dyed green each year for St. Patrick's Day

What made the stereotyped sociable, happy-go-lucky and dreamy-eyed Irishman into an American icon was twofold: the sheer numbers of Irish immigrants and the people they spawned. From the much-loved yarn-spinners of Ireland came such men as Andrew Jackson, John F. Kennedy and Billy the Kid. Two Presidents and an outlaw; men such as these allowed the Irish to claim a place in American culture that went beyond the fun-loving friend of all. What people such as Jackson, Kennedy and The Kid did was to put the Irish at the forefront of American legend.

Greatly helping things along was the almost continual immigration of the Irish to the New World. Upwards of 250,000 migrated to America during the colonial era alone. Two centuries later nothing had changed, with almost 2 million arriving between 1820 and 1860. The sheer numbers reflect the appalling conditions in Ireland, and most had left due to hardships such as persecution and famine.

But this did nothing to destroy Irish pride, and in the New World, many felt at liberty to display it more prominently than they had at home. The Irish clung together in the cities, forging strongholds such as Boston, New York and Chicago, where they settled in close proximity and were voted into government, their identity enhanced as a form of neo-tribal marker. For those who risked it and headed west, their ideas came with them, as did their involvement in frontier affairs.

This caricatured injection of ‘Ireland’ that the immigrant culture developed was well nurtured by the promise of America and flourished. When this is considered within the greater context of American historical identity, it is clear that the contribution of the Irish is as important as that of the Founding Fathers or the cowboys, some of whom were of Irish descent themselves.  

(with credit to Malachi Throne, Bertha Howell, George Grantham Bain, Anne S. Faulkner, Alice Boughton, and Maurice Carnes LaClaire, unaffiliated.)
But today there is a difference. The great waves of Irish migrants have petered away to droplets, and the increasing majority of Irish-Americans are many generations removed from their Irish-born forbearers. The curious thing is that these people, born and bred in the United States of America, reflect favourably on a country which is, for all intents and purposes, alien to them. Shamrock power is not to be taken lightly in America, with countless Irish-American societies keeping the notions of the Old World alive in a polished, New World fashion.

From this has developed a fondness close to obsession that serves to perpetuate the cartoon Irishman, the Plastic Paddy on the one hand, and to generalise Irish history with romantic notions of justice and poetry on the other. A joint portrayal of this all-Irish-American hero is perhaps most aptly demonstrated in the film Far and Away. And while Irish-American culture is certainly identifiable to a native of the island of Ireland, it is also very much removed from what we know to be Irish. Many traditional musicians for one find the music greatly differs, complaining bitterly about the jazzing up of sacred rhythms; and when have you ever met a fellow-Irishman who regards ‘corned beef and cabbage’ to be the staple fare on St Patrick’s Day?

The New World notion of Irish has become an identity tag of weight in America, and in doing so has allowed the actual native born Irish to flirt a little more outrageously with their stereotype. This writer for one readily admits to abusing the ‘Irish card’ on more than one occasion whilst in New York and having had it received well. The environment allows it, that subtle whiff of the colonial still lingers even today. Americans are certain of their position, but they also seek certain groundings and associations that go back to another place and time.

American tourism to Ireland is big business, and a dollar or six can be made from importing Irish jewellery and emerald paraphernalia. Money flies back and forth across the Atlantic, with Dublin receiving marked investment by big, prospering American businesses. But while the eager accommodation of the old ways is endearing, it must also be treated carefully. Irish culture is neither a stagnant entity nor an interactive museum piece, but an-ever evolving social concept. American eagerness can at times be forbearing, laying claim to another nation with a zoo-esque approach to interaction. Laced among this is the sometimes crude understanding of Irish politics that led to the infamous scandal of American organisations collecting money for the IRA. While this applies only to a small minority of Irish-Americans, it is not an affair to be taken lightly. Celebrating an ancestral culture is one thing, but actively and potentially destructively interfering in the current affairs of a foreign nation is another.

The big question to ask is why Irish-Americans label themselves thus, and not simply as unhyphenated Americans? The answer lies in the problem of romantic gloss. Ireland, while beautiful is a boggy country with lots of rocks and boulders. Its people, while good-natured and friendly, are concerned with the simple things in life and value the importance of being allowed to go about their business in a distinctly understated fashion. The decidedly populist notion of the fighting Irish rogue spinning tales in a misty nation of Blarney and bodhráns is an increasingly Stateside portrayal of the Irish. While historically homogeneous, the Irish and the Irish-American are two distinctly different cultures, and while some of those born on the island may happily don a leprechaun suit and drink whiskey till they sing to their shoes, this is only one of many sides to a native of the island of Ireland. 

Nor is it simply a case of throwing out the Brits and having a massive stout-infused piss up after the fact.

And it is due to these differences and occasional misconceptions that Irish-American Heritage Month finds its true importance as Irish people of all backgrounds can unite in an exercise of exchange and education. Ireland gave America unrestricted access to a romantic notion of Ireland, as well as some of the key building blocks to their nation. Chicago native Michael Flatley gave us Riverdance, Boston gave us the Dropkick Murphys, whose song ‘Shipping up to Boston’ is played during Irish Rugby matches, and politicians such as Bill Clinton gave us cross-Atlantic attention and support. Now it is time to redress the balance. Ireland can hope to learn what Irish-Americans actually think without getting caught up in the smokescreen of fluorescent shamrocks and invasive exuberance. By contrast, America should take time to drop preconceived notions of the fighting Irishman, and instead become better acquainted with what it actually means to be of this island through learning about its history and social expectations. This is not a month for bars, pubs and brawls at 4am on Broadway; this is a month to become properly reacquainted with old friends.

So Mr Obama, thank you for a very kind gesture as it is one that we are very much humbled by. And if we manage to beat England at the rugby on Saint Paddy’s Day, will be sure to attribute the win to you.

The White House Fountain dyed green for St Patrick's Day

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Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Old World Melting Pot: Nationalism, Regionalism and Identity in Modern Ireland

George William Russell once said of Ireland that, ‘after the spiritual powers, there is nothing in the world more unconquerable than [its] spirit of nationality.’ History has interpreted this as Russell most likely intended it, namely as a loaded reflection on his own political bias, but the linguistic scholar will be quick to point out that ‘nationality’ is far more than a vehicle for political belief. It is, in its truest essence, a marker of place and identity.

But the concept of Irish identity is an entirely complex one. Not only is the island fragmented along the much mulled-over socio-religious split, its border and the political loyalties within, but also the long-standing heritage of regionalism and  provincialism. There is no easy answer to, ‘where are you from?’, and while people usually provide a simple, and indeed satisfactory, response, regardless of their official geopolitical tag, the truest description of Irish personal identity is highly developed and often impossible for outsiders to grasp. And that’s before one even considers the influence of the EU on both Dublin and on Belfast.

Ireland the island, both the Republic and the North, can be divided into six key descriptors.

  1. The smallest, and most ancient marker: townland (from tuath, denoting an enclosure). Unique to Ireland. For example Cahermaclanchy , County Clare and Shillanavogy, County Antrim.

  1. Towns and cities might follow, if living in an urban environment.

  1. The next largest divider (dismissing Borough Councils) is the county. For example Louth or Waterford.

  1. Then comes one of four provinces; Ulster, Leinster, Munster, Connacht.

  1.  Following this is the geopolitical decider of Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

  1. Then, and perhaps the most tricky for those in the North, is whether the individual is Irish, Northern Irish, British or a mixture of all three.

But this is all purely academic, for in reality, few people will rattle off all six. Most will opt for point two, five or six, occasionally three. Even here, however, the concept is hazy, as nobody will say the same thing as the next. And herein lies the crux of the issue. What does it actually mean to be from the island of Ireland?

In ancient times it was a strictly provincial concept, further subdivided by local kingdoms, clans and ruling families. Not that this mattered to the common man, as the daily life and cultural behaviours of each region was closely related and family would have been the primary marker of identification for the masses. And so it remained until 1541, when the single Kingdom of Ireland was created by the occupying politics of Westminster, once and for all forcing the Irish to subscribe to the heretofore alien notion of nationhood. Not that this meant that the island as a whole was its own ruler under a single, accepted government; it never has been. Nor was it ever a united country, much to the dismay of modern romantics.

And so Ireland moved into the early modern period and beyond with scrambled and uncertain concepts of identity, largely dictated by the divisive legacy of conquest. Further confusing the issue was the notion of post-Reformation Christianity. From the early medieval era until this point, Ireland had been Christian, if in a unique form in many ways foreign to accepted Roman Catholicism. But the advent of Protestantism and the forceful policies of Tudor and Elizabethan planters gave rise to a cultural divide still being negotiated to this day; the labelling of people as Catholic or Protestant, as opposed to simply Christian.

But it would be erroneous to accept that the sectarian divide of the modern day has been continuous since the Plantation. One has only to point to the highly popular and nationwide United Irishmen movement that attracted supporters on both sides of the religious divide.

If the current social ghettoisation is not down to continual, if habitually recurring, sectarianism of the kind that finally undid the United Irishmen, nor is it the result of social incompatibility. The Scots and Irish share more than many in the current day are willing or able to acknowledge (see ‘Shared Origins’ article for more information). On the contrary, it is largely due to confused and desperate attempts to forge security out of the ruins of conquest. 
Ireland has never been the golden chalice of promise as believed by some, and those who point to the Battle of the Boyne as a way to sure their argument are grossly misinformed. As Winston Churchill tellingly put it, ‘we have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English.’ In the rawest evaluation, the modern problems of identity are the direct result of external influence.

These conflicting ideas of nationalism, regionalism and identity are highly tangled and largely contradictory notions that fail to see the bigger and more important picture; the inhabitants of Ireland are culturally and genetically the same, and share the same linguistic origins. This is largely ignored, forgotten and dismissed, and as Conor Cruise O'Brien observed, ‘Irishness is not primarily a question of birth or blood or language; it is the condition of being involved in the Irish situation, and usually of being mauled by it.’

Inhabitants of the island are torn and confused by the situation, and the scholar must look no further that the highly romanticised notions of pan-Celticism and the idea of a pure Celtic race, made popular in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These notions were the construct of desperate idealism, born in a climate of frustration and uncertainty due to the political machinations of Ireland being torn apart by various claimants, and given weight by the poetic musings of the likes of William Butler Yeats. Yeats, a Protestant, reflected fondly on the idea that Ireland should cast off the constraints of external rule and forge a modern interpretation of Celtic identity. The fact that ‘Celtic’ in this sense was a recent fabrication seems not to have entered into his thinking.
Indeed not all were convinced, not least of who was Yeats' contemporary James Joyce. Joyce, a Catholic, viewed the Irish as a people who had never known a singular, all-encompassing identity, and argued that its fluid state was well suited for pragmatic evolution and development. In his work, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce criticises the notions favoured by allies of Yeats, and instead invites the Irish to consolidate the notions of identity and in doing so move forward for the first time in a singular notion of pan-Irish identity.

One must be careful not to dismiss Yeats as a dreamer, nor Joyce as a shamefaced cultural critic. Both men present important interpretations of identity upon which an enduring and all-encompassing notion of modern ‘Irishness’ can be built. The Yeats camp encourages the consideration that the ‘Gaelic-Irish’ and ‘Scots-Irish’ share a singular cultural and historical heritage, while Joyce reminds us that Ireland is a modern country, an Old World melting pot which must adapt, learn and settle before it can progress.

While the tricky political condition resulting in the border must not be taken lightly, people of this island need to learn to transcend political reckoning with social cooperation. So where does this leave us? It leaves us without a single, identifiable voice; a petty and embarrassing construct born from invasion, divide and conquest. Indeed, if the island is to move forward, it is time for the people to reconsider their history with a fresh perspective and rethink what exactly it means to be of this island.

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