Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ethnic Nationalism in Ireland

Before Christmas I had to write an academic proposal for a survey as part of a college project, and I decided to propose a survey exploring ethnic nationalism in Ireland, a phenomenon I've explored here before. I discovered some fascinating things while researching this project, such as the explicit racial language used by Ireland's republican founders to justify Irish independence. Below is a section of the proposal, with the technical bits about survey design excluded. Enjoy!

It has been common to explain national identity as being either of an ethnic or civic nature (Ham 2001). Hans Kohn argued in the 1940s that a liberal civic nationalism was associated with the western states of France, Britain, and especially the multiethnic United States, while an illiberal ethnic nationalism was associated with central and eastern Europe:
The one was basically a rational and universal concept of political liberty and the rights of man, looking towards the city of the future…. The other was basically founded on history, on monuments and graveyards, even harking back to the mysteries of ancient times and of tribal solidarity. It stressed the past, the diversity and self-sufficiency of nations. (Kohn 1945, p. 574)
Muller pointed out that during the 20th century there was a decisive shift in Europe away from multiethnic empires like the Hapsburg Austrians, the Ottoman Turks, and the Russians, towards smaller, largely monoethnic nation states, justified on ethnic nationalist grounds. He added that many modern countries, including Ireland, grant ‘automatic or rapid citizenship to the members of diasporas of their own dominant ethnic group’, a ‘subtle forms of ethnonationalism’, concluding that ethnic nationalism is more prevalent and influential in modern Europe than is usually believed (2008).

Kissane (2007) stated that national identity in Ireland developed the ethnic, exclusive form due to its emergence under British domination. As the Irish language declined and the Catholic majority lagged economically behind the dominant Protestants the humiliated Irish nationalists called for: ‘revenge against the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, justice for the Catholic religion, land for all, and the restoration of the cultural and political autonomy of Ireland.’ As many Protestants aligned with Britain and Catholics with Ireland, national identity split along religious ethnic lines.
When Ireland emerged with partial independence in the 1920s ethnic nationalist rhetoric among the political elite was commonplace. Arthur Griffith, founder of the nationalist Sinn Féin party, explained violent Irish rebellion in 1920 by arguing that Ireland was a natural nation with an ancient history of independence, and with natural and obvious borders that included the unwilling Protestant North:
Ireland and England are different nations, and Ireland enjoyed for fourteen hundred years a separate political existence. That existence England has for generations attempted to crush by force of arms…. If Yorkshire and Cheshire sought to withdraw from the jurisdiction of England, England would rightly prevent their doing so – they are an integral part of England and can have no right to separate themselves from the English nation. (Freeman’s Journal 1920)
Griffith was making a claim to territorial independence based on the notion of self-determination, a concept Davis finds popular amongst Basque ethnic nationalists today (1999).

The early Irish nationalist leaders had no embarrassment in celebrating an Irish racial identity. In 1922 an Irish Race Convention was organised in Paris to link the Irish with their ethnic cousins among the Diaspora, and was attended by future Taoiseach and president Éamon de Valera (Keown 2001). De Valera described Irishness in racial terms, stating that Irish people were originally Celts who were conquered by the Normans but who ‘adhered to their own way of thought and preserved their original Celticity’ (Davis 2003). Even after independence nationalist conservatives feared that the culture of the ‘Irish race’ was under threat. An alarmed journalist wrote in The Meath Chronicle in 1930 that foreign cultures introduced via radio and cinema were ‘crushing in the hearts of the Irish race …the beautiful and characteristic traits which without, this country must accept the role of a nation enslaved in mind and thought’ (Tully 1930).

There were some civic elements to the early Irish nationalism. The Declaration of Independence of 1919 referred to members of Dáil Éireann, the revolutionary parliament that sought power during the War of Independence, as ‘the elected Representatives of the ancient Irish people’, indicating an ethnic nationalist view of the Irish as a discrete people to whom the land of Ireland belonged ( 2011). Yet the Declaration also promised equal rights and opportunities for all citizens. Other early political texts tried to soothe Anglo-Irish Protestant fears that the new state would discriminate against them by using carefully inclusive language. The 1937 Constitution recognised four Protestant churches and Judaism along with Catholicism, implying a willingness to include these ethnic-religious minorities into Ireland (O’Reilly 2010). Perhaps Kuzio was right in stating that: ‘Each nationalism and nation has elements and dimensions that include both types of nationalism elaborated by Kohn (‘organic, ethnic’ and ‘voluntary, civic’)’ (2002).

Literature Review
Davis (2003) explored Irish attitudes towards national identity using data from the 1995 International Social Survey Programme. Davis found that Irish respondents were more likely than respondents from the other 23 surveyed countries to say they felt ‘very close’ to Ireland (53.8 per cent compared with an international average of 45.5 per cent) and very proud of Irish history (53.2 per cent against 33.5 per cent). They were unusually likely to express pride in Ireland’s achievements in sports, and in arts and literature. Irish respondents rated Catholic faith, being born in Ireland, and residing in Ireland, as important factors in being ‘truly Irish’, all at rates higher than the international average. Speaking the Irish language was rated much lower than the international average, probably because Irish language proficiency is not high for many people.

Davis also looked at results from a series of Eurobarometer polls on national identity. Consistently higher proportions of Irish respondents between 1982 to 2001 reported that they were ‘very proud’ to be Irish, compared with populations in other EU countries. Between 1994 and 2001 this difference became more pronounced, with declining levels of Europeans saying that they were very proud of their countries, and rising levels of Irish reporting this. Irish respondents were more likely than other Europeans to say that they never view themselves as European, and only see themselves as Irish, yet were also more positive about the European Union than the EU average.

Davis found that other surveys showed inconsistent results, with majorities in one survey agreeing that Ireland consists of all 32 counties, while just 41 per cent of respondents in the same survey thought that Northern Irish people were Irish. Davis argued that Irish national identity did shift in one important way over recent decades: by accepting the border with Northern Ireland and abandoning Arthur Griffith’s old demand for the unity of the whole island under one state.
As well as national identity, various polls have attempted to measure the relative levels of racism in different countries. A 1997 Eurobarometer poll asked respondents in EU member states to rate the extent of their own racism on a Likert Scale (Eurobarometer 1997). For that question Irish respondents reported some of the lowest levels of racism, with 45 per cent calling themselves ‘not at all racist’, compared with 34 per cent in the EU15, and only 17 per cent in Denmark.
Thalhammer et al explored a 2000 Eurobarometer poll on attitudes towards racism and immigration, finding that Irish respondents were more likely than respondents from other EU states (63 per cent against a 56 per cent average) to accept asylum-seekers only on a restricted basis. Irish respondents were the most likely to believe that minority groups were enjoying preferential treatment from authorities, and relatively few Irish respondents believed that minority groups were enriching the cultural life of the country. 16 per cent of Irish respondents said that all immigrants should be sent with their children back to their country of origin, lower than the EU average of 20 per cent. But a further 22 per cent of Irish people responded ‘don’t know’ to the same question, so the proportion of people rejecting the statement is lower than the EU average.
The poll also found that Irish were much less likely than the EU average to believe that minority groups are more involved in crime than others, and were unusually unlikely to find the presence of people with different religious beliefs ‘disturbing’. These seem to be ambiguous results, showing some inclusive and some exclusive perspectives (Thalhammer et al 2001).
Boorah and Mangan, using responses from the Human Beliefs and Values Survey 1999-2002, found that 12.3 per cent of Irish respondents would not want neighbours of a different race, higher than the average for Western countries. Irish respondents also showed relatively high levels of intolerance for neighbours who are immigrants or foreign workers (2007).
Davis’s results show a relatively high degree of national pride among Irish people, and a sense that national identity is connected to birth and residence on Irish soil, and Catholic faith. Yet it is not clear from this whether Ireland’s national identity is an inclusive civic one or exclusive ethnic one. The low level of self-reported racism in 1997 preceded the wave of large-scale immigration and may already be out of date. Indeed, Thalhammer et al noted that in Ireland: ‘The tendency to agree that minority groups can be a cause of insecurity increased from 16% in 1997 to 42% in 2000’, a period that coincided with a large increase in the immigrant population (2001). Likewise the high proportion of Irish people reporting Catholic faith as a necessary factor to be truly Irish in 1995 might be out of date now as religious trends have changed.
The ethnic or civic nationalist orientation of a country may change over time too. Kuzio argued that the United States began as an exclusionary ethnic nation and only shifted toward inclusionary civic nationalism during the 1960s:
After the US revolution an exclusive, ethnic Protestant consciousness evolved of a ‘chosen people’ based upon an identity of being white (not black or Indian), Protestant (not French or Hispanic Catholic), English in speech and Liberal (in contrast to the royalist British). Other immigrants from north western Europe and Britain were assimilated into a ‘WASP’ (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) identity…. The evolution of the US from an ethnic to a civic state is not unique but part of a broader trend among Western states (2002).
Before independence Ireland’s largest ethnic-religious minority group was the Church of Ireland Protestant community, making up 7.9 per cent of the population of the future Republic of Ireland in 1911. The Protestant population fell steeply after independence, down to 2.5 per cent in 1991: from 250,000 adherents to 89,200 (Ó. Gráda and Walsh 1995). Ireland was becoming more homogenous, while many of its European neighbours were experiencing immigration and increased ethnic heterogeneity. Thus for most of its existence, the Irish state coincided with a perceived Irish Catholic people and loyalty to one may have implied loyalty to the other. Large-scale inward migration since the late 1990s means that the discrete ethnic Irish population is no longer the exclusive fit for the Irish state. It is not clear if Irish people today feel loyalty to an open, civic nationalist state, or to the ‘primordial’ ethnic nationalist people (Mason 2006 p. 105). What are the Irish now? When President Michael D Higgins said during his inaugration speech that ‘We Irish are a creative, resourceful, talented and warm people’, (RTÉ 2011) to whom did he refer?

Recommended research

While this research seeks to explore attitudes towards national identity in Ireland only, international comparisons made by rolling out these ethnic nationalism scales in other countries could be revealing too. Kohn identified the United States as a typical civic nationalist state, ‘born in liberty by the will of the people, not from the roots of common descent, a geographic entity, or the ambitions of king or dynasty’ (1945, p. 271). Kohn also called France a civic nationalist state, but Waldinger’s analysis of the 2003 International Social Survey Program module on National Identity found that ethnic majority respondents in both the US and France wanted less immigration, and that three quarters of French respondents thought that immigrants should assimilate at the expense of their original cultures. Waldinger concluded that ‘ethnic nationalism is more heavily endorsed among the French, though a sizeable minority of Americans take the same point of view’ (2010, p. 58-59). Waldinger suggested that in the US ‘immigration is part of the national mythology in a way that is not, and probably cannot be, true in France’, because of the American historical experience of multiethnic immigration. Ireland, like France, lacks that immigration mythology.
In the future, international surveys of explicit racism or anti-immigration could include studies of ethnic nationalism and explore the extent to which it remains influential.

Mason explained that debates about ethnicity replaced those about race during the late 20th century, shifting the emphasis from genetic ancestry to culture. The terms race and ethnicity are, however, ‘used interchangeably in both policy and academic discourses, as well as everyday speech’ (2006, p. 104-105). Mason concluded that ‘there is no universally accepted definition of the term’ ethnicity, and that for some ‘there is a primordial element to ethnicity that explains the fervour of commitments to particular cultural identities’ while for others ‘ethnicity is little more than a symbolic resource to be used instrumentally’.
If ethnicity is thought to be something an individual can accept, reject, or exchange, then an ethnic nationalist nation might still be relatively open to the admission and integration of foreigners, so long as they are willing to adopt the native cultures. If ethnicity is, on the other hand, presumed to be something inherent to a group of people and based on a common genetic ancestry, then descendants of immigrants who are visibly different from the native majority may face difficulties in ever being accepted and assimilated.
For the purposes of this study, then, it is assumed that ethnicity does refer to ancestry, something non-negotiable and often quickly apparent by an individual’s appearance. It is ‘a permanent element of identity that is not subject to choice’, and ethnic nations are ‘rather closed societies in which bloodline or skin color may continue to brand you as an “outsider”’ (Ham 2001).

Leaving out the technical parts explaining the administration of the proposed survey...

Final comments
Muller wrote that the development of fairly monoethnic states across Europe since World War II means that ‘there are fewer disputes over borders or expatriate communities, leading to the most stable territorial configuration in European history.’ He added that the modern wave of immigration from poorer Asian and African countries is challenging that stability, and may provoke ‘a resurgence of traditional ethnonational identities in some states’ (2008).
Understanding whether modern Irish national identity is still associated with the old concept of a common, non-negotiable, Celtic racial heritage, or with a new inclusive and non-ethnic identity, could help us to predict the willingness of Irish people to accept non-ethnic Irish as fellow citizens. If ethnic nationalism lingers in the presence of rising ethnic diversity, there may be tension and segregation. At the launch of the Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit in 2011, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said:
From the sixth century, when our monks brought Europe from the Dark Ages, the Irish have had a sense... that Irishness and all that it signifies or implies....involves the strange geology of heart and mind….
The Diaspora works out at 70 million. 70 million men and women. Our Diaspora. Our people. That’s some opportunity.
There is something deep in our Irishness brings us together.....creates that need to connect (Taoiseach, 2011).
This talk seems an acknowledgement of ethnic nationalism, of Kohn’s ‘harking back to the mysteries of ancient times’ and tribal solidarity. It seems to have survived in some form.
Muller argued that ethnic nationalism would remain for many generations and that: ‘One can only profit from facing it directly’ (2008).

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