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Irish Identity


Starting Point for an Examination of Identity

Dublin GPO

Dublin GPO – headquarters of the Irish rebellion 1916

The 101st anniversary of Easter Tuesday 1916 has passed. It was the day that Gerald Keogh was gunned down at dawn by Anzac troops who were defending Trinity College Dublin against Irish freedom fighters.

Anzac Day 2015 was also the 100th anniversary of the landing of troops from Australia and New Zealand at Gaba Tepe on the Gallipoli Peninsula. This event is often described as the birth of nationhood of these countries.[1]

Given that the 1916 Rising is also considered symbolic of Ireland’s birth pangs into nationhood, Gerald’s death represents a double irony: an accidental clash of potent national symbols, executed through the heroic figures of Irish rebel and Anzac digger.

The collision of revered traditions becomes the starting point for our examination of identity, which is named after Gerald, the victim of this unintended clash.

We begin with the question:

What is Irish Identity?

Responses are often diametrically opposed, polemic or trite, but not necessarily enlightening.

The Irish Times asked readers to tweet their definition of “Irishness”.[2] Their selection included: #beingirishmeans …

  • Having freckles Niall
  • You can mime the whole national anthem Colm Keegan
  • Nothing really. Other than buying into the view that there could possibly be an all-encompassing national stereotype Cathal McQuaid

Academic notions of Irish identity

Academic notions of Irish identity do not guarantee that they are more informative than off-the-cuff tweets. Fintan O’Toole contends that: For very long time now, being Irish has meant negotiating between lots of different allegiances, experiences and contexts.[3] Perhaps this is why the Irish … seem to lack a clear sense of themselves and their own culture.[4] Desmond Fennell takes the argument to its extreme, contending that Ireland has become … a nothing mosaic with no binding identity.[5] In a milieu of cultural confusion it is understandable why Dermot Casey would make the comment that he … never had a good answer to the question ‘What does it mean to be Irish?’’[6]

What a sad fate—many will say—if the Irish emerge after a century of freedom, only to find that they have lost the very essence of what they set out to establish in the first place: their own identity. But what is IDENTITY?



Filetype: MP3 - Size: 11.71MB - Duration: 51:09 m (32 kbps 22050 Hz)

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