Posts By Darren O'Keeffe

Could Austerity Make the Poor a ‘Nation’ on their Own?

, , Comment Closed

The historian Robert Kee once argued that the Penal Laws, having endviolence and acts of legislation.owed Catholics with a special identity of poverty and social isolation, made the poor in Ireland a nation of their own. Prior to this he argues that the concept of Irish national identity was vague and hard to pin down and describe. Kee said that, before the inception of the Penal Laws, Ireland had very no real sense of itself. It was a collection of Gaelic, Gaelicized and Old English groupings ruled by Chieftains who propped up the ancient system of tribal governance. These chieftains, who comfortable with swearing allegiance to an English king, rarely rose up against the foreign monarchy. When they did it was far from being in the name of a national ideal but rather in defense of their own privileged positions in Irish society.

Exceptions are noted including the rebellion of Ulster's Shane O'Neill who, though still motivated by a challenge to his own power, was perhaps the first of these chieftains to look beyond the parameters of his own tribe. This ancient, tribal system was effectively brought to end by the Plantations, Cromwell's approach to Ireland, and the victory of William of Orange over James II. The introduction of the Penal Laws in 1703 was done in order to cement Protestant control over land through a programme designed in order to disenfranchise Catholics on a wider and deeper social scale.

Whether or not Kee is correct in all of his interpretations is a side issue. It is his proposition that the inhumanity of the Penal Laws resulted for the first time in a shared and observable identity for a majority of Irish people that is interesting. They were bound together not by Religion (although this was the label given to the legislation) but by the fact that they were systemically impoverished and socially marginalised by the state through policy, violence and acts of legislation.

The historian Robert Kee once argued that the Penal Laws, having endowed Catholics with a special identity of poverty and social isolation, made the poor in Ireland a nation of their own. Prior to this he argues that the concept of Irish national identity was vague and hard to pin down and describe. Kee said that, before the inception of the Penal Laws, Ireland had very no real sense of itself. It was a collection of Gaelic, Gaelicized and Old English groupings ruled by Chieftains who propped up the ancient system of tribal governance. These chieftains, who comfortable with swearing allegiance to an English king, rarely rose up against the foreign monarchy. When they did it was far from being in the name of a national ideal but rather in defense of their own privileged positions in Irish society.

Exceptions are noted including the rebellion of Ulster's Shane O'Neill who, though still motivated by a challenge to his own power, was perhaps the first of these chieftains to look beyond the parameters of his own tribe. This ancient, tribal system was effectively brought to end by the Plantations, Cromwell's approach to Ireland, and the victory of William of Orange over James II. The introduction of the Penal Laws in 1703 was done in order to cement Protestant control over land through a programme designed in order to disenfranchise Catholics on a wider and deeper social scale.

Whether or not Kee is correct in all of his interpretations is a side issue. It is his proposition that the inhumanity of the Penal Laws resulted for the first time in a shared and observable identity for a majority of Irish people that is interesting. They were bound together not by Religion (although this was the label given to the legislation) but by the fact that they were systemically impoverished and socially marginalised by the state through policy, violence and acts of legislation.

Read Post →