Home > About > Conferences > Mexico 2009 > Abstract: Mac Éinrí

Heroes, victims or villains? Irish Presentations and Representations in Latin America and the Caribbean

Morelia, Mexico, 15-18 July 2009

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A whiter shade of green?

Mac Éinrí, Piaras (University College Cork)

Immigration into Ireland is all too frequently represented as an entirely new phenomenon arising at the close of the twentieth century. Discursive and policy responses are accordingly located within a framework bounded by the recent past. Current official discourses concerning immigration, integration and diversity have tended to follow a Canadian-style liberal multiculturalism, frequently accompanied by assertions that Ireland is a comparatively ‘raceless’ society, not dissimilar to assertions which used to be made that the country was ‘classless’. Yet if Irish nationalists are Herder’s children, to use Professor Bryan Fanning’s phrase, the roots of that tradition can surely best be located in nineteenth century Romantic exceptionalism – a bounded, antiquarian, culturally defined and fixed vision of the nation. Irishness may have been represented in British discourse as a subaltern identity within a hegemonic British polity in which the Irish were frequently positioned as a racialised other. But the response on the Irish side sometimes took the form of the rejection of this subaltern status, not through a radical critique of the project of racialisation in the first place, or through an expression of solidarity with other subaltern peoples, but via the assertion of a ‘separate but equal’ status for the Irish within a dominant culture of white entitlement. Moreover, Irish representations of themselves frequently and dismayingly internalised stereotypes of the ‘mystical’ and ‘spiritual’ Celt, possessed of quite different traits of character and behaviour than the ‘pragmatic’ Anglo-Saxon. These inherited myths of a nation of poets and dreamers, united by a shared cultural history, formed a key part of modern Irish identity construction. They also form a significant part of a discourse which, in the context of a present-day multi-ethnic and diverse society, could best be described as a form of disavowed multiculturalism.


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