Changes to Irish Historiography and Historical Debate

Discuss the growth of Irish historiography and historical debate since the 1960’s with specific reference to at least two of the following areas: women’s history, social history, labour history, economic history, local history, the history of the diaspora.

There has been without a doubt a growth in Irish historiography and historical debate since the 1960’s. The following will discuss and examine the reasons for the growth of Irish historiography and historical debate. Irish historiography had tended to focus on the relationship between England (and later Britain) and Ireland with its consequences for both countries’ developments and history. Irish historiography also highlighted key events that proved pivotal in shaping the Irish nation. Such events include the English invasions from the 12th century, the reformation, the plantations of Ulster, the consequences of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution. Further defining moments were also the development of Irish Republicanism that was shown by the 1798 rebellion and the emergence of the Fenian Brotherhood during the 19th century. The potato famine of the 1840’s would prove disastrous to the Irish population whilst encouraging immigration to Britain, the United States and Australia. Such immigration will as examined lead to the development of the diaspora. The way in which Ireland was partitioned to account for the two versions of Irish nationalism has become the central theme of historical debate. The Civil Rights Movement within the Roman Catholic community of Northern Ireland which inadvertently led to the troubles will be evaluated as to whether that is the prime motivator of changes in Irish historiography and historical debate.

Prior to the English involvement Ireland was an independent if divided country. One historical debate is whether the English were good or bad for Ireland. It had been influenced by mainly Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlements.[1] Irish culture was Gaelic and Christian in character. The English that came to Ireland were descendants of the Normans that ruthlessly conquered England a century before. In contrast to William the Conqueror these Anglo-Norman invaders did not intend to stay and were invited to cross the Irish Sea to join in with a conflict between Gaelic chieftains. For the Irish the involvement the Anglo-Norman in their affairs was a monumental change in their destiny. From Henry II English Kings came to regard stability in Ireland as in important part of their security. The accident of geography was to lead to the inter relationship between the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish that has brought both benefits and disasters to all concerned. There are people who believe that the English or British brought benefits to the Irish will tend to stress the good consequences of their involvement rather than the bad. Those who have an anti-English outlook stress the harmful consequences, [2]

Henry II himself was not in a hurry to invade Ireland; his possessions in France and England took priority. However once the English arrived in 1172 they would not be removed by the Irish for centuries, and even then not from the whole of Ireland.[3] English control of Ireland was never complete and centred around Dublin. The amount of control fluctuated depending on the power and interest of the King. Strong Kings such as Edward IV and Henry VII attempted to increase their power in Ireland. It was to be Henry VIII that would alter the shape of Irish history as much as he changed that of England. Henry VIII was a man of great ambition, in 1541 he proclaimed himself King of Ireland, thus showing the intention of gaining greater control of Ireland.[4]

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