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Irish Historiography - Essay Example

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Irish historiography, just as is Irish history, is an arena replete with debate, often contentious, regarding the validity of historical date, the objectivity of perspectives and the role that nationalistically-fuelled myths have played skewing the truth.' The stated is not intended as an argument for the invalidation of popular history but as a remark on that literary, cum mythological, treasure trove which Irish nationalistic history is comprised of and with which Irish historiography must contend…
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Download file to see previous pages The Irish Potato Famine and Revolution comprise the twin pillars of the Irish nationalism's post-1923 ideal of the Republic. The two disparate events were celebrated, recalled and made into mythology for very different reasons. The Great Hunger was seen, within nationalist circles, as a largely avoidable food crisis, precipitated and subsequently exacerbated by British ineptitude and an attitude that saw the Irish as expendable quasi-citizens. The Revolution, on the other hand, was portrayed as a glorious event which successfully liberated an oppressed people, while making heroes and martyrs of men such as Michael Collins who, "in a span of six short years brought a country from bondage to a position where she could win her freedom." (Conlon & Barter, 2003, p.20). Both events would likewise serve as the twin axis upon which revisionism was to flourish - the backlash against nationalism both from within and outside of Eire.
Fuelled by frustrated patriotism and the deep-rooted influence of the Irish Diaspora in the New World, post-Famine Irish Nationalism espoused an interpretive view of history which conflicted with reality. Furthermore, the practice of history in Ireland has traditionally been merged with oral tales of the past, endowing Irish historiography with a romanticised view of the real life narratives which inspired it. The combination of these two external factors produced a history that was, following the mid-nineteenth century, a potent mix of literature, folklore and propaganda with the result that fact often made way for a more apt form of fiction, unchallenged until the advent of revisionism after 1930. As expressed by R.F. Foster, "rather like generals always fighting the previous battle, cultural revolutionaries rarely get the revolution they expected" (Foster, 2001, p.20).
Inspired by romantic writers such as Yeats, turn of the century Irish historians were highly critical of the British Government's sluggish relief tactics in response to the failure of the potato crops in 1845. 'Famine' was renamed 'starvation', with emphasis on the allegedly deliberate nature of the event, and it was taught in republican schools as the only correct version of events. Moreover, nationalist academic research appeared to prove the most damning charge levelled against the British, namely that there was indeed large food stocks available in England and withheld from the starving Irish. The selective use of primary sources determined that revisionist theory, following its emergence in the 1930's, be more concerned with evaluating all of the source material, rather than concentrating only on those facts that underpinned the nationalist republican political ideology. Throughout the dissection of modern Irish history, even after the 1930's, voices that dared to question the validity of the term 'starvation' were denounced as traitors or British sympathisers. Indeed, for many years, only those historians who shared the Nationalist viewpoint would receive patronage for their work: this was the historical compromise that mirrored the North/South, Protestant/Catholic divide in Ireland during the twentieth century.
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