Irish history is difficult to look at objectively because so often Irish history is presented having an agenda from one interest group or another. For this reason there are many myths and legends that have entered into Irish history. This fact causes problems for how Ireland’s history is interpreted and used. For instant, many important people and events are left out of Irish history, while other events are published by the Irish government to help promote tourism. When studying Irish history it is a good idea to first look at the fact that there are many opposing views depending on how you look at Irish history. It is important to understand this fact for understanding Irish history. Two authors’ writings were presented to us to help us understand this idea. In his book The Irish Story, R F Foster discusses this fact in a chapter titled “Theme-parks and Histories.” Brian Walker also takes a look at this fact in a chapter titled “The Use and Abuse of History in Ireland Today” from his book named Dancing to History’s Tune. In this essay I will examine the similarities and differences of the essays written by Walker and Foster.
Both authors recognize that many important events having been disregarded from Irish history. Coincidentally Walker and Foster use the example of WWI. The Irish soldiers that fought along side the British in WWI have been forgotten by Ireland because of what was happening in Ireland during the time of the war. The Easter Raising of 1916 is the main historical moment that stands out in Irish history during that time period, pulling away the attention that may have been given to Irish WWI veterans. There is no holiday for the Irish WWI veterans. It was not that the veterans were looked down on for fighting in the war, they were just forgotten.
The next thing that I noticed about the Foster’s and Walker’s text was that Foster’s views and even topics in the book seemed to be focused on the Republic of Ireland, while Walker’s viewpoints was were more based on the North of Ireland. Foster is discussing the policies the Republic’s government put into place to use history for the benefit of tourism in Ireland. Foster used the example of the 150th commemoration of the Irish famine. The government wanted American tourists, and it had a good plan to get them to come. During the summers of 1995, 1996, and 1997 a famine theme park was open in west Limerick. This was to attract the ancestors of the Irish Diaspora to come spend money in Ireland. The Irish government was not the first or will not be the last to exploit history for monetary reasons. Foster does a good job explaining that during 150th commemoration of the Irish famine other important dates in Irish history came and went with little or no commemoration. The 150th anniversary of both Thomas Davis’s and Daniel O’Connell’s death came and passed quietly in Ireland. Both of these men had been instrumental in organizing movements against British rule in Ireland during the 1830s and 1840s. Yet because they lack the popularity of Michael Collins or the tourist attraction of the commemoration of the famine, both men have faded into Irish history.
Walker’s chapter looks more at how the different sides in the troubles used history to support their beliefs. I did a little research on Walker and found out that he is the Director of the Institute of Irish Studies, at the Queen’s University of Belfast. This would imply that he probably would be interested in the parts of Irish history that have lead to the troubles. And his chapter makes this quite clear. He starts off his chapter by using a couple of interesting quotes. He quotes Dermot Bolger when he wrote “we must go back three centuries to explain any fight outside a chip shop.” I understand the exaggeration Bolger is trying to make, but in the Republic few people would take history that far back because it is mostly Catholics who live there. But in the North it could be said that a fight between a Protestant and a Catholic could not have been avoided because the fighting has been going on for over three centuries. Right here was when I began to suspect that Walker had lived in the North. His writing is very political, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, he makes it sound like all of Ireland is focused on the troubles in the North. This is not the case, and I think he could have done a better job explaining that.
Walker then shows more of his personal views when he talks about how the Irish continually blaming their present problems on past history. Walker wrote “The excuse of history can be used to diminish a sense of responsibility and initiative from the individual.” In many cases I think this is true. A lot of people on both sides would say that they joined the IRA or the Loyalist movement because of the history of both organizations. However, I think a lot of the problems in the North of Ireland over the last forty years steamed from current problems, not past history. The handling of the hunger strikers by Margaret Thatcher was a definitive point that angered many Irish people, and the IRA. This was probably a large cause for many of the IRA’s bombing during 1980s. Bishop Thomas O’Fiach, the head Irish bishop in the 1970s, angered a lot of people, especially Protestants, during the 1970s. He did this because he supported the IRA, even though he was a Catholic priest. He was a huge reasons for a lot of the troubles in the 1970s’ and on. I used these two examples to show that the troubles in the North were caused as much by present problems, as past history.
Another interesting point made by Foster was the issue of Celtic Ireland. He brings up briefly the term Celtic when he mentions the “short-lived Celtworld Mythology Center.” He quickly glances over this, but Foster is aware that Celtic Ireland is kind of a myth in history as well. It is interesting that the park had both the word Celt and myth in it’s name. Many people look at Ireland ancient past and just think Celtic, however Irish culture is a blend of a lot more culture than just Celts.
Both Foster and Walker brought up facts about how the Irish view their own history. They looked at important facts that had been forgotten or changed as the history of Ireland was used. Foster focused on how the government used history to promote tourism, while Walker looked at how groups like the IRA used history to endorse their ideology. I think Foster was right on most of his points. The Irish government have at times exploited their own history to encourage tourism. As I said earlier a lot of other countries have done the same. Yet Ireland’s history maybe a little easier to modify because Ireland has only been some what independent for less than a century. There are a lot of beliefs about the early politics that have been changed around. The political history was more of Walker’s focus. He showed Ireland as a country in a state of conflict because of their past, differences on ideologies, and the different religions in the North. Walker is right about a lot of this. The IRA and he Loyalist do have much different views on history. However, I think Walker dwells on the troubles to much. Ireland has a lot of other history as well. While both authors made good points, I preferred Foster’s chapter.