St. Patrick, Irishness & Identity

Saint Patrick and Irish heritage

The novel St Patrick’s Letter to Prosper will be serialised on this website from March 2022. But what has this novel to do with universal identity? Why is it being circulated on this website? First, it is necessary to understand the distinction between “Irishness” and identity.

‘Irishness’ and Identity

Often, a nation’s heritage is thought to be part of a people’s identity. The new paradigm of universal identity (here) separates “sense of self” and identity. In other words, the concept of identification of someone with a people and the essence of what is meant by identity (or essential “sameness”) are not the same. But both issues complement each other. By separating “sense of self” and identity–yet juxtaposing them–tends to highlight the differences while underlining their complementarity.

What is the impact of this separation on the perspectives we have of ourselves, including our heritage, belief systems, determination of who we are in terms of being local, Irish, European or a global people? The Irish tend to pride themselves on having become a modern nation. What does this really mean? The conundrums faced by citizens regarding perceptions of themselves (as in the term ‘Irishness’) are legion. This is apparent as conflicting answers surge in relation to a myriad of questions related to who we are. Most of these questions remain unresolved.

For example: Do we give up who we have been if we embrace a European perspective? Does a local focus run counter to a global viewpoint? Is our historical inheritance mere baggage accumulated from the past that is best discarded because it is an embarrassment? But if we ditch the past, on what basis do we face the future? Have we created a Mao-Zedong-style revolution; a tabula rasa? On what foundation do we now rest? What set of principles have we to guide our future or is personal autonomy alone our guiding light? Or are we leaving it to others (e.g., the EU) to decide our future? More on this in future articles.

What set of principles have we to guide our future? Is personal autonomy alone our guiding light?

For those who fear that a focus on locality implies a narrow, backward, outdated and parochial vision–the reality happens to be completely different. Dr. Martin Kohli of the University of Bremen, notes that sense of belonging to the European union … still lags far behind that of belonging to one’s nation state.[1; p. 126] At the same time, those who possess a more cosmopolitan outlook tend to consider themselves world citizens rather than European. An unexpected finding is that universalism does not counter, but rather, encourages particularistic and local attachments. In the words of Professor Kohli: This is because universalism comprises and affirms the right to one’s own culture.[1; p. 129] That is to say, individuals should not fear that by embracing the concept of universal identity they risk losing attachments to their own culture. This view is further supported in an article by Raymond Keogh that appears in the March/April issue of History Ireland 2021 entitled Post-Independence Perspectives on ‘Irishness’ and Identity.[2]

Saint Patrick and Irish heritage

Catholicism has a bad press in Ireland at this point in its history. The Church in Ireland has developed out of a long tradition that has had a chequered history. The failings of some of its people are all too evident. But to concentrate exclusively on failings and not the depth of that tradition and its wider influence on Irish heritage and, through it, Ireland’s influence worldwide would be a grave mistake. For this reason, OOI’s website will examine–amongst many other issues–Catholic heritage. It will peer into Irish faith in the context of what it calls The Decade of Catholic Commemorations (DCC), which begins precisely at the end of the secular Decade of Anniversaries that ends in 2022. The DCC begins with independence and the controversy over the 1922 constitution [3] and ends in 2032 on the 1600th anniversary of the coming of Saint Patrick to the pagan Irish in 432 AD. This period also contains the important commemoration of Catholic Emancipation in 2029 and events that led up to this remarkable breakthrough.

It is for this reason that Our Own Identity is serialising St Patrick’s Letter to Prosper at the beginning of the DCC next year.

References

[1] Kohli, M. (2000). The Battlegrounds of European Identity. European Societies Vol. 2(2):113-137.

[2] Keogh, R. M. (2021). Post-Independence Perspectives on ‘Irishness’ and Identity. History Ireland Vol. 29(2):50-53.

[3] Ó Drisceoil, M. (2020). Catholicism and the Judiciary in Ireland, 1922-1960. Irish Judicial Studies Journal Vol. 4(1): 1-24.

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St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin (R. M. Keogh)