By Kevin O’Sullivan
For the majority of individuals in this country, the concept of being Irish, of what ‘Irishness’ means, remains an elusive concept. Is it defined by religion? Sport? Music? Language? The written word? Is it based on identification with the land or the island of Ireland? Do the Irish share a particular concept of culture and politics? Do we see ourselves in terms of our postcolonial identity – i.e. not being British? Or, as Tom Inglis hinted in his excellent Global Ireland: Same Difference (2008), is it in fact hypocrisy that emerges as the defining trait of the Irish character? (Not that we are unique in our fealty to the hypocritical, but simply that we are better at it than everyone else.)
In attempting to answer those questions we’re led to another, equally vexed and elusive: just who are ‘the Irish’? We are happy to embrace the 70 million or so who claim Irish ancestry across the world, those for whom Mary Robinson lit a candle in the window of Áras an Uachtaráin. But what of the millions of others who love Riverdance, Yeats and U2 and drink just as much in Irish pubs in Shanghai, Dubrovnik and Boston as south Dubliners manage on a Leinster weekend in Toulouse? Closer to home, what of our Polish and other central and eastern European neighbours, of the Chinese-Irish communities in Dublin’s city centre, groups of Nigerian-Irish in its western suburbs, or the large Brazilian-Irish community working and living in Gort, Co. Galway? How do these communities, families and individuals view their role in Irish society and sense of identification with their adopted home? And what of Ireland’s religious minorities and their relationship with the overwhelmingly (if declining) Catholic ethos of modern Ireland?
Based on one hundred anonymised interviews with members of both Protestant and Catholic confessions, Heather Crawford’s new book, Outside the Glow, examines the lives of Protestant Irish men and women across rural and urban communities since the foundation of the state. Their histories and the identities they assumed are unsurprisingly diverse: separate in many ways from the dominant Catholic and nationalist culture, but no less part of the consciousness of the newly independent Ireland. Together they offer an alternative view of the emerging state, challenging the widely-held assumption that ‘there’s no such thing as a poor Protestant’, and exploring the construction of the country’s dominant stereotypes, including knowing and unknowingly derogative stereotypes like the land-grabbing ‘planter’, ‘English pig’ and ‘Protestant bastard’. Read More