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The Barmy British Empire

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It makes it easy to scan through your lists and keep track of progress. True, the Union of Great Britain and Ireland provided new opportunities within the empire for Irish Catholics after , but the Union itself was never as popular in Ireland as the imperial rewards it brought.


This was clearly a problem in the long run, because to like the effect of something but not its cause is to live with a dangerous, and perhaps untenable, contradiction. It would be redundant at this point to examine in detail each essay in this volume that affirms the book's essential thesis about the complexity, ambiguity and uniqueness of Ireland's status within the British empire, which is precisely what Kenny, Alvin Jackson, and Deirdre McMahon do in their respective chapters on "The Irish in the Empire," "Ireland the Union and Empire, ," and "Ireland, the Empire and the Commonwealth.

Kenny's essay is yet another even-handed contribution from the editor in which one learns that as a proportion of the overall population, Portuguese emigration levels in the twentieth century exceeded those of Ireland, as well as the fact that more southern Irishmen fought in World War II 43, than did Northern Irishmen 38, This book is full of such significant facts and statistics, which fly in the face of commonly held Irish and Northern Irish historical assumptions.

Jackson's stylish essay, for example, will unnerve as many Unionists as Nationalists for the pieties it questions and just as frequently rejects.

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This is no easy feat, and one which is to be applauded. McMahon's essay is perhaps less successful than the others, for lack of a clear thesis, but it too has its slyly subversive moments, such as when she concludes in wondering whether the Republic of Ireland should rejoin the Commonwealth. If there is a thematic division in the volume, it arises from whether the author's primary focus is on the more traditional domains of history, such as politics, trade, economics and emigration, or the historical artifact called literature.

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  • While the previously mentioned authors were concerned with the former, Vera Kreilkamp, Joe Cleary and Stephen Howe are more interested in the latter. That said, not all literary theorists are set against the historians.

    Introductions to British Cultural Studies

    Kreilkamp, for example, focuses on the "Big House" novels i. In short, she finds that Ireland was neither fully central nor peripheral, or, in longer historical terms, it was neither kingdom nor colony. Joe Cleary disagrees, and his chapter on "Postcolonial Ireland" comes closest of all to directly challenging the volume's overall thesis. Cleary claims that Irish postcolonial literary analysis is not a "renovated cultural nationalism" but the "most expansive and outward-looking of the various modes of socio-cultural analysis currently shaping Irish studies" p.

    This, of course, is where the argument gets slippery, because without strict or established definitions of what was or was not "colonial," everything or nothing becomes possible.

    Ireland and the British Empire

    Nevertheless, Cleary argues his point forcefully, although some of his colonial comparisons fail under the weight of scrutiny. For example, state formation and eventual partition in Ireland is hardly comparable with that of Cyprus and Palestine, as Cleary asserts. True, India merits a comparison because Britain had long been involved in governing the subcontinent, although strictly speaking the British government did not rule over India until Cyprus and Palestine, however, were acquired in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, respectively.

    Britain ultimately had very little interest in either territory, and there was essentially no resident British population outside of a very small administration.

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    This could hardly be more different from Ireland, where there was nearly eight hundred years of administrative interference and control by England and later Britain , and just as many years of British settlement and attempts at cultural transformation. But are his strokes too broad?

    Or, to continue the metaphor, does he paint Ireland with the same a colonial brush as India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Jamaica, etc. Clearly, some literary theorists and so-called "revisionist" historians would think so.