Irish identity stereotypes – same old same old?

A friend (tks Steven) drew my attention to a review in the Irish Independent of a just published book by Heather Crawford called Outside the Glow: Protestants and Irishness in Independent Ireland (UCD Press).

Its findings are, on the face of it, surprising. Despite surface change, attitudes that defined Catholic-Protestant relations in the 1950s are as deeply entrenched and as stereotypical as ever. The author notes how these attitudes are present in younger generations. [Note: I haven’t read the book so this is second hand]. For example:

– Protestants are still seen as ‘Anglo’ and their religion seen as inferior

– They are perceived as rich, snobbish and elitist, irrespective of their actual circumstances

– They are thought to be universally hostile to Irish culture and sport

– They are seen as antagonistic to the Irish language

– They are viewed as lacking ‘Irishness’ and are perceived as somehow ‘alien’.

In other words, Irish national identity is still interpreted in terms of being Catholic, nationalist and Gaelic.

Does this sound right from your experience? And I wonder how’s it connected to how local non-Catholic churches are perceived in their communities? And I wonder what about all those other ‘Protestants’ – from Africa, Romania, China etc ….

Way back in ancient history I spent a lot of time thinking about nationalism and identity. National identities are deeply rooted and change very slowly so I don’t find the continued existence of negative stereotypes that surprising.

However such has been the dramatic unravelling of’ old Ireland’,  I would be pretty surprised if those attitudes are as common and deeply held as ever, especially in Dublin and other urban areas.

Immigration, secularisation, pluralism, post-Christendom, globalisation, the rise and fall of the Catholic Church – all these have had a profound effect in broadening once narrow dualistic horizons.

Or is Ireland less changed than we think? Are changes more at surface level and does the more liberal, pluralist media give a misleading impression of life on the ground?

An aside: – stereotypes are exactly that – an exaggeration of a grain of truth: Martin Maguire is a historian who has done work on how Partition and the subsequent Protestant exodus meant the departure of what had been a working class Protestant population mainly associated with the British military presence. The remaining Protestant population was far more mixed than the stereotype of aristocratic landlords with posh West-Brit accents riding horses down to the local shop to buy their prawn sandwiches . Most were small farmers struggling to survive.


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