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Let Us Do Evil That Good May Come

Ireland in chains
Éire in chains

Sometimes I wonder if there is an entire generation of Irish historians and writers who are so cocooned inside an anglophone (and indeed anglophile) view of the world that they find it impossible to think outside of that carefully delineated box? It’s as if the whole length and breadth of European history is invisible to them. It reminds one of that old British joke about a fabled – if possibly apocryphal – London newspaper headline: “Fog in the Channel – Europe cut off!” 

From that position the whole of Irish or indeed European history is only viewable through an English lens.

From the Irish Times:

“Ireland owes its freedom to the spread of the English language which allowed for the spread of Irish nationalist ideals by writers such as Thomas Davis in a way that would not have been possible through the Irish language, according to historian, Prof John A Murphy.

Emeritus Professor of History at UCC, Prof Murphy said he had always been intrigued by the paradox that the growth of Irish nationalism in the 19th century was exclusively through the English language.

“It’s arguable that the advance of English literacy from the 1830s onwards was a good thing for Irish nationalism – we are reluctant to acknowledge that we owe the growth of Irish nationalism and essentially our freedom to the English language,” he said.”

So when other peoples in Europe were struggling to assert their national rights in the 19th and 20th centuries, peoples whose languages were oppressed by far larger or more powerful neighbours, did they find themselves at a disadvantage by refusing to speak the languages of the rulers rather than that of the ruled? This is not the first time that we have encountered this “What have the Romans done for us?” argument or versions thereof and they are a gross simplification of the linguistic and cultural forces in Irish history, dumbed-down newspeak appealing to the shallow end of the populist pool. But then, as always, the true ideological motivations for such claims are sure to emerge:

““Davis found it hard to accept that the political allegiance of most Protestants lay elsewhere just as subsequent nationalists denied the reality of two nations in Ireland,” said Prof Murphy.”

Ah yes, the “Two Nations” theory. For many Irish people a “revisionist historian” is simply an “apologist” for the invasion, occupation, colonisation and annexation of our island nation and all subsequent actions by that invader up to and including ethnocide. An excuser of the inexcusable with the veneer of academic respectability. And that is the fault of the “revisionists” not their critics.

9 comments on “Let Us Do Evil That Good May Come

  1. A Shéamais, ar léamh tú an alt seo ar Bella? Is an shuimiúil é agus fa ábhar cosúil le seo.


  2. I like your graphics (Eire handcuffs).


  3. I am not sure why people, historians, would have such a blatant political motive to re-interpret history in such a way as to make completley meaningless and/or incoherent.

    There are various ways of writing about history… but hiding from the truth in order to make it more “fun” less “depressing”… I have no words for that!


  4. an lorcánach

    John A. Murphy has form on this: there’s nothing new with his sentiments – along with Edward M. Walsh of UL



    Athbhlagáladh é seo ar Bampots Utd..


  6. an lorcánach

    “Whether or not the nationalist version of history is in any way accurate, many people believed in it and we cannot understand Irish history without some discussion of nationalism”


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