Reimagining Irish history.
The nine essays in this collection began life at a conference organized by graduate students at Oxford's Hertford and Jesus colleges. This, as Forster notes, reflects the fact that Irish history is now recognized by British academe "as a subject of intrinsic and internmational importance" (5). Section I, "Foundations," contains essays by Bernadette Cunningham, Mark Williams, and Alan Ford. Cunningham's essay illuminates "[t]he emergence of a 'rhetoric of nationhood'" (9) in the writings of Geoffrey Keating, Micheal O Cleirigh, and Michael Kearney. The works of all three men were concerned with shaping the historical method by establishing the antiquity and integrity of the Kingdom of Ireland. Mark Williams' "History, the Interregnum and the Exiled Irish," examines the histories written by the exiles of the 1650s and their influence on nineteenth-century nationalists such as the Young Irelanders Thomas McGee and Fr. Charles Patrick Meehan. For these men, Williams concludes, "the 1640s had become their 1840s, the necessity to visit the past in order to imagine the future was no less urgent. The past, as such, remained as immutable as the present" (48). "'Making dead men speak': Manipulating the memory of James Ussher," Alan Ford's contribution to the collection, looks at the work of Archbishop James Ussher and how high-church Anglicans, moderate Anglicans and hard-line Presbyterians all used Ussher's writings to defend and define their preferred ecclesiastical settlement.
MARK WILLIAMS AND STEPHEN PAUL FORREST, EDITORS. CONSTRUCTING THE PAST: WRITING IRISH HISTORY, 1600-1800 THE BOYDELL PRESS: WOODBRIDGE, SUFFOLK, 2010
In Section II, "Revolutions," Richard Ansell looks at competing versions of the Irish past published between 1689 and 1691. Protestant literature, he notes, emphasizes the depravity of the Irish and argues that their collective guilt for the massacres of 1641 justifies the Protestant land settlement. Gaelic poets, on the other hand, do not consider the events of 1689 as a repeat of 1641, but rather "a fulfilment of the delivery for which the Irish had been struggling for a century" (89). Toby Bamard's contribution, focusing on the career of Sylvester O'Halloran, explores the commercial resistance to publishing learned histories of Ireland, while "The Volunteer Evening Post and Patriotic Print Culture in Late Eighteenth-Century Ireland," by Martyn J. Powell, examines the way historians have used--and not used--Irish newspapers to assess the development of Anglo-Irish politics in the eighteenth century. while the Volunteer Evening Post is regarded by some "as a Dublin lapdog," Powell's case-study reveals that "its modus operandi was much more complicated [and] can actually be seen as a mid-1780s representation of an alternate strain of patriotic culture" (114). Ulthn Gillen's analysis of how counterrevolutionaries--members of both the Protestant Ascendancy and the Catholic hierarchy--constructed history to support their political positions concludes this section.
A particularly interesting entry in Section III, "Re-evaluations," challenges traditional Irish historiography that Commonwealth policies towards lay Catholics in Ireland were grounded in Cromwell's hatred of Catholics. If, as R. Scott Spurlock notes, this were the case, why did Catholics in Scotland fare better? Why in fact did some Scottish Catholics actually "herald Oliver Cromwell as the 'saviour' of Scottish Catholics" (158). The transplantation, transportation, and martyrdom of lay Catholics, he concludes, were driven by financial necessity, not "genocidal hatred." Raymond Gillespie's concluding essay, "Nature, Politics and Historians in early modern Ireland," also challenges traditional historiography. Political and land holding changes in early modern Ireland were not necessarily driven from the top down. Such changes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Gillespie warns, must not be seen as a single revolution concerned with "dispossession and expropriation," but rather as the products of linked revolutions in areas of everyday life such as the economy and the legal structure, the rise in literacy, changing patterns of landownership, agricultural developments, and the rise of towns. Recognition of this "has introduced a healthy dose of agency into our understanding of the native Irish community who can no longer be seen as the passive victims of change imposed from above but rather could make choices that made some winners and others losers" (182).
The essays in Constructing the Irish Past offer an interesting and refreshing look at the ways in which the events of the past, in this case the early modern period, can be "constructed" to convey particular political or religious viewpoints or to justify the actions of a particular group. Students of Irish historiography and the early modern period should find this collection to be particularly useful in that it challenges much of what can be considered traditional in the field of early modern studies. Graduate students can benefit as well from numerous references to early modern manuscript and printed sources and to questions of current historiographic debate that bear further investigation.
BY MONICA A. BRENNAN
--St. Joseph's College, New York
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|Title Annotation:||Constructing the Past: Writing Irish History, 1600-1800|
|Publication:||Irish Literary Supplement|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2012|
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