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7. Identity: A Cultural Anomaly

Genuinely Irish?

In the 1960s the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Mr Lemass, decided to open the economy to free trade and eliminate protective barriers. As a result, businesses folded, the “rag trade” collapsed and many owners died under the stress of the new economic order.

Bart & Son

Native Tie Makers Dublin

There was a strong feeling among Dublin traders that support, parallel to that given to the farming traditions was not on hand from government. For example, Charles Haughey in his capacity as Minister for Agriculture in 1966 stated that: … we must always think of farmers as people. We must not listen only to the economist and the bureaucratic planner who think of agriculture as simply another sector of the economy and who are concerned only with output, return or investment and so on.[1]

This type of comment underlined the sturdy perception in urban circles that native middle-class business people were not viewed with the same reverence as those who inherited the land and this served to highlight the favouritism, on the part of government, towards those who were regarded as being “genuinely” Irish.

Stereotypes in Irish Society

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A Native Business in Dublin

The Irish State’s myopia goes a long way towards explaining why Raymond Keogh, author of Shelter and Shadows, began to suspect the genuineness of his Gaelic roots.

It was apparent to him that his father’s ancestors, who were business and professional people, were part of a cultural anomaly, because there was little or no reference to it in the version of Irish history he had been taught. The focus of most Irish literature followed suit. Raymond writes:

Ireland has long been portrayed as a country of rural Catholic peasants dominated by a class of rich Protestant landlords. I had only to think of a play like John B. Keane’s The Field to understand the stereotyping of Irish rural society. Books and novels also portray the Irish in a similar perspective, such as Somerville and Ross’ Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. Most films have the same impact, such as Ryan’s Daughter or The Quiet Man and many others. Even urban Catholic Ireland is mostly portrayed from the point of view of abject poverty—as in Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes or Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars. The identity of the social stratum to which [my family] belonged was completely at odds with the stereotype and underlined the fact that this society has been, to a large extent, airbrushed out of Irish history.[2]

An Unexpected Breakthrough

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Uncanny familiarity

 

An unexpected breakthrough in clarifying the identity of his father’s people came about when Raymond’s friend persuaded him to read James Joyce’s The Dead. He states: I found it conveyed an uncanny familiarity. I related immediately and intimately to the Christmas-time party scene. The parties that were held in my grandfather’s house … may have been less dramatic affairs, but the sensations evoked by Joyce captured the feelings generated at these gatherings. I was so taken by the experience that I read the entire Dubliners. Here, at last, was a portrayal of Irish culture which I knew and was part of.[2]

Widespread ignorance of the Gaelic urban middle-class epitomises the unawareness that existed—and still exists in Ireland—about the totality of its cultural components. Shelter and Shadows provides a window into a much maligned and misunderstood class. It digs deep into the background of the Gaelic Irish in the urban environment, with particular emphasis on Dublin, and reveals surprising patterns that link native Dubliners to their rural roots. It also shows that, by neglecting this social order, native Irish history was distorted.

Without doubt, knowledge and accommodation of the entirety of its people—without exception—is the measure of a nation’s self-understanding.

Refs

[1] Ferriter, D. 2005. The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000. Profile Books; p. 551.

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

Photos: R. M. Keogh

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