TMA04: The Invention Of Tradition.
How selective did Irish Nationalists have to be to establish continuity with the national past?
The Invention of Tradition as described by Hobsbawm and Ranger,
“Is taken to mean a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values as norms of behaviour by reputation.” (E. Hobsbawm, T Ranger, 1983. p.3)
The concept of tradition is the passing down of practices and beliefs from one generation to another. This valuable connection to the past, helps to form personal and cultural identity. Tradition however, can be reinvented and depends upon perspectives of the people at the time. The invention of tradition in Irish Nationalism, where supporters drew inspiration from the relevant past to unite Ireland, was used to instigate a rising up against British rule. They did this by contrasting their oppressed present against the nature, practices and morality of Ireland's 'true form'.
The population of Ireland consisted of rural Roman Catholic communities, poor and facing high rents from British landlords, evictions, and lack of education systems; contrasted against the wealthy British and the minority of Irish protestants that were put in privileged positions by protestant England, meant three quarters of the country was unhappy. The 19th century was one of unrest, seeing the rise of Irish nationalism.
In 1893 The Gaelic League was founded. Supported by Patrick Pearse, an admirer of social radicalism they stressed the importance of reviving an Irish language. Based on little historical evidence the League proclaimed that Gaelic went back to a time free of British influence and gave supreme 'Irishness' credibility. The nature of a national language was a powerful political tool in the desire to separate from other nations, “none is more fundamental, none more important, none strikes deeper roots, none is more far-reaching in its result, than a national language.” (Rev M.P. O Hickey, 1898. p.2) Gaelic as a tradition was selected to provoke visions of a proud civilisation in Irish people, to set Ireland apart from other nations and legitimise nationalism as the righteous path to free Ireland. A glorious shared heritage, that definitely didn't include Britain, and was repressed by its influence.
The Irish Republican Brotherhood was the most influential of three organisations involved in planning and organising a rebellion against the London government. However after failed uprisings in 1848 and 1867, many members opposed another physical force protest unless it had majority support of the people. Along with the Irish Volunteers, the IRB struggled to agree on what Irish independence would look like. It was crucial to win public approval. The Military Council appointed Patrick Pearse and James Connolly. These prominent rebel leaders would revive physical force tradition, making bloody protest against British presence in the 1916 Easter Rising.
In attempting to establish continuity of the Irish rebels with past Fenian rebellions, they ransacked history to justify action in the eyes of the community. James Connollys views that social and political change were linked saw some Fenian traditions selected and popularised as an ideology of an Irish nation. The development of Irish individualism begun, an Irish Identity separate from foreign influence was connected to Irish history to ensure British rule was cast as a threat to the well being of Ireland. Building upon earlier ideas from supporters, for example groups like 'Young Ireland' that helped promote Irish folk culture as a campaign tactic in the 1840's: They drew on sketchily recorded distant historical attributes that were strategically romanticised to outrage the public. So Civil wars and unrest and their major roles throughout Irish history, the 16th century religious clashes, the rise of protestantism, Anglo-Irish relations...