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6. An Identity that Didn’t Fit

Clash of Cultural ValuesHurling old

In his book Shelter and Shadows, author Raymond Keogh tells us that—despite his decision to totally ignore his Old English background and embrace his Gaelic heritage—it became clear that his values clashed with those that were being lauded by the Irish State in the 1950s.[1]

Irishness in the 1950s

He expresses his views as follows: In the mid-twentieth century, Irishness was associated with speaking Gaelic, or at least lauding its virtues. My immediate family never spoke Irish; to us it was as foreign a language as Latin. In the eyes of some, this is heresy. We may have used the odd word here and there and participated in compulsory classes in school, but the full weight of officialdom could do little or nothing to change the basic reality: Gaelic was not a living language in my family on any side and, as far as I can tell by the records, we did not use it as a means of communication for generations. 

Sugar loaf

Owned no land

Irishness, in the 1950s, was closely linked with the land, even though the bond may have been through tenant-leasing or poor holdings. We owned no land and had little or no association with it …

Irishness, in the ’50s, was associated with participation in GAA games. I had never attended a match in Croke Park. I played rugby, followed rugby internationals, played almost no football and, when I was in early secondary school, some cricket. These were regarded as foreign sports. The GAA’s ban on its members playing such games built an enormous divide within society. I was on the wrong side of the partition, which implied disloyalty. All this accentuated the differences between us and country people; our accent exacerbated these differences. Yet I knew that it was unjust to equate us as traitors to the cause.[1]

 Native Urban Society


Native Urban Society

These tensions arose as a direct result of the state’s enthusiasm to embrace a Gaelic nirvana in the West of Ireland as the measure of its “national identity” (article #2 GKIS).

The attempt to fabricate a unitary view of itself were so deeply flawed that it even failed to recognise the composition of what it claimed as its own. By opting for cultural purity, the new nation not only downplayed the importance of competing cultures (e.g. remnants of the New English Protestants) but clumsily overlooked the fact that an alternative native society existed in the cities and towns of Ireland.

Raymond discovered that his forefathers belonged to this middle-class social grouping, which was made up of business and professional families. But in the 1950s it fell outside the narrow limits of what the state regarded as being “authentically Irish”.

Indeed, on the official level, Ireland went through a period in which it focused attention on a single cultural background and ignored the rest. But, it would eventually find out—in parallel to what Raymond discovered as an individual (article #4 GKIS)—that it could not live a false identity and be true to itself.


[1] Keogh, R. M. Shelter and Shadows. (Due for publication by Our Own Identity; September, 2016).

Coming Next

Identity: A Cultural Anomaly here

GKIS = Gerald Keogh Identity Series