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spiritual “ did the papacy have over Ireland? Furthermore, did the primi-
tive church in Ireland established by St Patrick in the Wfth century
approximate more to the modern standards of apostolic Anglican Protes-
tantism or to Counter-Reformation Catholicism? These regnalist and
confessional controversies distorted any natural and straightforward cor-
respondence between ethnic groups and their proper pasts. A store of
precedents culled from one ethnic history alone could not supply the
answers to all these questions. As a result, in some cases polemical
antiquarians rode two horses simultaneously, oblivious of the hazards
attendant on the historical acrobatics being performed. To take the most
obvious example: the recent history of the New English immigrants was
of very little use in establishing the legitimacy of their institutional privi-
leges. Instead, the constitutional history of the Old English and the
ecclesiastical heritage of the Gaels were plundered to endow the Protes-
tant nation with a usable past.À Why did polemical antiquarians resort to
such implausible Wctions and appropriations? The primary role of ethnic
history was the legitimation of institutions. To invest in a variety of ethnic
pasts was to take out insurance, to spread the risk of one™s ideological
position becoming discredited.
Being in many respects vehicles for the advancement of particular

À See not only below in this chapter, but also ch. 10.
The weave of Irish identities, 1600“1790 149

ideological positions, such identities tended to be provisional. The Old
English, in particular, lacked Wxed ethnic bearings, and veered between
the twin poles of their Norman colonial heritage and an assimilated
Gaelicism.Ã Ethnic identities also shaded into confessionalism. Sean
Connolly has argued convincingly that after the civil wars of the middle of
the seventeenth century there was a ˜new primacy™ of religious confession
in the manufacture of identity. However, he also notes a time lag in the
adoption of the appropriate ˜terminology™ to describe the shifting propor-
tions of ethnic descent and religion in the structure of seventeenth-
century Irish society.• The New English of the seventeenth century did
eventually become the Irish Protestant nation of the eighteenth.
Not only were ethnic categories unstable and liable to mutate, but the
particularities of the individual family genealogies which lay behind these
broad communal identities undermine any casual assumptions that these
were rigid or totally consistent groupings. In the course of the seventeenth
century there was a considerable degree of intermarriage between, on the
one hand, the Gaelic and Old English communities and, on the other,
between the Old English and the New English settlers.’ Religion also
complicated traditional identities, especially given the growing opportun-
ities and penalties attached to confessional allegiance. From the Restora-
tion, the Protestant community included the Old English Dillons and
Fitzgeralds, and a few Gaelic families such as the O™Briens, O™Haras and
O™Neills, the heads of whose dynasties conformed as Protestants lest they
jeopardise their estates.“ On the other hand, it was not only proud Old
English families such as the Butlers who, lumped together with their

à A. Clarke, ˜Colonial constitutional attitudes in Ireland, 1640“1660™, Proceedings of the
Royal Irish Academy 90 (sect. C) (1990), 357“75.
• S. Connolly, Religion, law, and power: the making of Protestant Ireland 1660“1760 (1992:
Oxford pbk, 1995), pp. 115“19. Note the tension between religious and ethnic perspec-
tives in attitudes to Protestant Gaelic missions: was it more important for Protestants to
spread the Word or to maintain an Anglocentric language policy? T. Barnard, ˜Protestants
and the Irish language, c. 1675“1725™, JEH 44 (1993), 243“72; T. Bartlett, The fall and
rise of the Irish nation: the Catholic question 1690“1830 (Dublin, 1992), pp. 25“6;
R. Eccleshall, ˜Anglican political thought in the century after the Revolution of 1688™, in
D. G. Boyce, Eccleshall and V. Geoghegan (eds.), Political thought in Ireland since the
seventeenth century (London, 1993), p. 45. See Leerssen, Mere Irish, p. 286, for the
anonymous pamphlet Preaching the gospel in Irish not contrary to law (1713).
’ N. Canny, ˜Irish, Scottish and Welsh responses to centralisation, c. 1530“c. 1640™, in
A. Grant and K. Stringer (eds.), Uniting the kingdom: the making of British history (London,
1995), p. 160; Connolly, Religion, law, and power, p. 114; J. C. Beckett, The Anglo-Irish
tradition (London, 1976), pp. 39, 52; Bartlett, Fall and rise, p. 3; F. G. James, Lords of the
Ascendancy (Dublin, 1995), pp. 103“4.
“ Beckett, Anglo-Irish tradition, p. 40; Connolly, Religion, law, and power, pp. 103, 113;
T. Barnard, ˜Conclusion. Settling and unsettling Ireland: the Cromwellian and Williamite
revolutions™, in J. Ohlmeyer (ed.), Ireland from independence to occupation, 1641“1660
(Cambridge, 1995), p. 282.
150 The three kingdoms

fellow Catholic co-religionists, lost their ˜Anglo-Irish™ identity, but also
the most Protestant of the New English: in 1728 Archbishop Boulter
wrote of ˜the descendants of many of Cromwell™s oYcers and soldiers
here being gone oV to Popery™.“
Consider too the cases of prominent individuals who reshaped Irish
identities, such as Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh, the primate of
the New English-dominated Church of Ireland in the troubled reign of
Charles I. Though a committed Protestant of Calvinist convictions,
Ussher came from an Old English background. His family had been in
government service in Dublin for about four centuries, and it was this
loyal adherence to the establishment which provides the most likely
explanation for the conversion of the Usshers to Protestantism. However,
traditional Old English links remained: Ussher™s mother™s brother,
Richard Stanihurst (1547“1618), was an eminent Roman Catholic
apologist based at Louvain. To complicate matters further, on his forays
into polemical church history Ussher invoked a Gaelic ancestry for the
Protestant Ireland.” The eminent Protestant Irish patriot William Moly-
neux (1656“98) came from a similarly chequered background. Borrow-
ing the rhetoric of the Old English lawyer Patrick Darcy, Molyneux,
whose great-grandfather had come from the English community in Calais
to Ireland (via Bruges) during the reign of Elizabeth I,¦» asserted the
privileges of the triumphant but beleaguered ˜New English™ Protestant
nation of the 1690s by appropriating the history of the Old English
parliament of the later middle ages. Even more unusual, perhaps, was the
background of Charles Vallancey (1721“1812), who in the late eight-
eenth century championed the distinguished oriental provenance “ Phoe-
nician via Carthage “ of Milesian civilisation. Raised in England by
Huguenot parents, Vallancey came to Ireland as an oppressor, a military
engineer whose cartographic surveys for fortiWcations led him into anti-
quarian investigations, and eventually to Gaelicist fantasies.¦¦

“ Quoted in Connolly, Religion, law, and power, p. 113 n.
” R. Buick Knox, James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (CardiV, 1967), p. 7; H. Trevor-
Roper, ˜James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh™, in Trevor-Roper, Catholics, Anglicans and
Puritans (London, 1987), p. 126; N. Canny, From Reformation to Restoration: Ireland
1534“1660 (Dublin, 1987), p. 154; G. Parry, The trophies of time (Oxford, 1995),
pp. 130“1; U. Lotz-Heumann, ˜The Protestant interpretation of history in Ireland: the
case of James Ussher™s Discourse™, in B. Gordon (ed.), Protestant history and identity in
sixteenth-century Europe (2 vols., Aldershot, 1996), II, esp. pp. 110, 116.
¦» J. G. Simms, William Molyneux of Dublin (ed. P. H. Kelly, Dublin, 1982), pp. 11“12;
J. Smyth, ˜˜˜Like amphibious animals™™: Irish Protestants, ancient Britons, 1691“1707™,
HJ 36 (1993), 786.
¦¦ C. O™Halloran, ˜Golden ages and barbarous nations: antiquarian debate on the Celtic past
in Ireland and Scotland in the eighteenth century™ (University of Cambridge Ph.D thesis,
1991), pp. 92“105. For Huguenot and other alien Protestant elements within the
Protestant Ascendancy, see F. G. James, Ireland in the empire 1688“1770 (Cambridge, MA,
1973), pp. 219“20; M. Bence-Jones, Twilight of the Ascendancy (London, 1987), p. 15.
The weave of Irish identities, 1600“1790 151

There were, however, limits to the processes of self-invention. Al-
though considerable amount of ideological ingenuity went into the
fashioning of convenient identities, their fabrication was far from an
arbitrary act of will. Patriotic antiquarians were bequeathed the raw
material of Irish history, but were able to choose from a range of strategic
options, and to exploit polemical opportunities as they presented them-
selves.
Moreover, Irish politics in the raw did not conform to this pronounced
pluralism in historic ethnic aYliation. In the seventeenth century and the
classic penal law era of the early eighteenth century, the pluralism which
characterised the historical fantasies of legitimation penned by the is-
land™s literati was not matched by any real tolerance or burying of preju-
dices. The vivid imaginations of early modern Ireland™s antiquarians
produced very little diminution of ethnic or confessional hatred, though
they did provide cover for individual and dynastic reinvention. The
provisional and artiWcial dimensions of identity construction did not
preclude the emergence of ideologies of ethnic intolerance, nor did they
inhibit the execution of ethnically orientated policies of expropriation and
persecution. The horrors of ethnic hatred and paranoia coexisted with
confused ethnic classiWcation.


Catholic ethnogenesis: the Old English, the Milesians
and the pre-Milesian kingdom
Ireland™s troubled seventeenth century of civil war and expropriation
witnessed the coalescence of the two distinct ethnic Catholic groupings,
the Old Irish and the Old English, to create an embattled Irish Catholic
nation. In the course of this amalgamation, moreover, Old English anti-
quaries “ together with a continental clerical diaspora of Gaels and
Norman“Irish “ contributed enormously to elaborating and propagating
resilient successor-myths of ˜Old Irish™ Ireland, namely that an ancient
Milesian civilisation in pre-Christian antiquity had been followed by early
Christian Ireland™s pre-eminence in dark-age Europe as an ˜island of
saints and scholars™.
Not that the Milesian myth which the Old English refashioned was
itself a straightforward history of the Gaelic people. Milesianism also
included a polyethnicist dimension embracing the histories of the pre-
Milesian peoples of Ireland. The polyethnic framework provided by the
medieval chronicle the Leabhar gabhala, or ˜Book of Invasions™,¦  enabled
´
the Gaels to weave the pre-Milesian peoples of Ireland into a potent
regnal myth of immemorial Irish national autonomy. This medieval

¦  R. A. S. MacAllister (ed.), Leabhar gabhala (5 vols., Dublin, 1938“56).
´
152 The three kingdoms

origin myth remained the standard interpretation of the peopling of
Ireland throughout the early modern era. In 1631 a new edition of the
´
Book of Invasions was completed by Micheal O Cleirigh, a Franciscan
antiquary based at Louvain.¦À
The compound identity of the Gaelic nation embraced not only the
Milesian ethnie from whom the Old Irish claimed descent, but also the
pre-Milesian peoples of Ireland. The Book of Invasions recognised a
series of peoples in Ireland before the coming of the Milesians “ the
followers of Partholon, Nemedians, Fir-Bolg and Tuatha-De-Danaan.
´ ´
Gaels did not discard the pre-Milesian aspect of their heritage. Instead
the peoples described in the Book of Invasions were absorbed within
Gaelic identity. By embracing the history of the earlier ethnic groups who
had settled in Ireland, this greater Milesian past associated the Gaels with
the whole history of the island. Pre-Milesian antiquity held the same
appeal for Old English Catholics. In the course of the seventeenth century
the post-Milesian Old English invaders of the middle ages, the Norman“
Irish, Wnding themselves both marooned as Catholics from their tradi-
tional English allegiances and in the Counter-Reformation vanguard of
Irish Catholic life, would come to identify with their Old Irish co-religion-
ists, and, as fellow Catholics in adversity, to reshape “ and appropriate “
the ancient Milesian past. Conversely, the Old English would abandon
their commitment to the ancient English constitution (and its extra-
territorial embodiment in the medieval Irish legislature).
Catholic antiquaries did not locate the beginnings of the Irish kingdom
or of its institutions in Milesian antiquity. Rather they outlined the
establishment of political community and indeed of the pentarchical Irish
regnum in the pre-Milesian era.¦Ã The origin myth and ancient prescrip-
tive constitution of the ˜indigenous™ Old Irish nation was a polyethnic
hybrid, bearing in some respects marked similarities to the more obvious-
ly contrived creole identities of Anglo-Irish colonists. The pre-Milesian
past could not be ignored. Attempts to found immemorial rights or
privileges in the Gaelic nation needed to address the pre-Milesian history
of the institution under discussion if the Milesian position were to be
rendered watertight (not least because the New English saw the potential
of identifying the pre-Milesians with the ancient Britons).¦• Thus the
pre-Milesian past tended to be tacked on to Milesian history, the para-
¦À B. Cunningham, ˜Native culture and political change in Ireland, 1580“1640™, in
C. Brady and R. Gillespie (eds.), Natives and newcomers (Dublin, 1986), p. 156; M.
Caball, ˜A study of intellectual reaction and continuity in Irish bardic poetry during the
reigns of Elizabeth I and James I™ (University of Oxford DPhil. thesis, 1991), p. 8.
¦Ã Peter Walsh, A prospect of the state of Ireland, from the year of the world 1756 to the year of
Christ 1652 (London, 1682), ˜Preface™; Roderic O™Flaherty, Ogygia (1685: trans. James
Hely, 2 vols., Dublin, 1793), II, pp. 14“16. ¦• See below, n. 100.
The weave of Irish identities, 1600“1790 153

digm established by the Book of Invasions framing the histories of the
followers of Partholo Nemedians, Fir-Bolg, Tuatha-De-Danaan and
´n, ´
Milesians as the ancient national epos of Ireland. The pre-Milesian
peoples had to be absorbed within the Milesian past to lend the weight of
prescriptive antiquity and priority of settlement to Gaelic arguments. The
desire to assert a regnal identity was an important inXuence on the
construction of a polyethnic Irishness. The origins of the high-kingship
were traced back to King Slangy, a Fir-Bolg. The recognised line of Irish
high-kings began with eight Fir-Bolg kings and seven of the Tuatha-De- ´
Danaan followed by the Milesian lineage of 171 monarchs.¦’ The ancient
Milesian constitution, like the immemorial common law of the early
modern English nation, was conceived in terms of polyethnic continuity.
The Old English, or Norman Irish, retained until the seventeenth
century a corporate identity which was ambiguously Anglo-Irish and
distinct from that of the Gaelic Old Irish. After several centuries™ presence
on the island, the Old English were accused of having degenerated “ that
is, gone native “ by New English detractors of the early modern era, who
included the jurist Sir John Davies (c. 1570“1626).¦“ Yet, however Hiber-
nicised in customs and manners the Old English may have appeared to
the new colonists, there were limits to the processes of acculturation.
Stanihurst was, in his earlier writings, among the harshest critics of Gaelic
barbarity, as were English Catholics, including the Jesuit Edmund Cam-
pion.¦“ Although the emergence of a common Irish Catholic interest may
be detected as far back as the reign of Elizabeth,¦” the religious aYliations
of the Old Irish and the Old English were far from identical. Aidan Clarke
has demonstrated how the sixteenth-century Anglo-Irishness of the medi-
eval settlers mutated in the early seventeenth century into an Old English-
ness whose combination of politique allegiance to the Stuart monarchy in
the temporal sphere and self-consciously up-to-date Tridentine Cath-
olicism distinguished this community from both New English Anglo-
Irish and Old Irish Catholics. » The English constitutional component of
Old English identity gradually disappeared. Over the course of the seven-
teenth century, a Catholic nation was to be forged out of the Old Irish and
Old English communities, but this was to be a long process and marked
by ethnic diVerences which were quite manifest in religion and politics. ¦

¦’ Walsh, Prospect, ˜A catalogue of the Kings of Ireland™, pp. 9, 11.
¦“ H. Pawlisch, Sir John Davies and the conquest of Ireland (Cambridge, 1985); N. Canny,
Kingdom and colony: Ireland in the Atlantic world, 1560“1800 (Baltimore, 1988), pp. 36“7.
¦“ For later ambivalences in Stanihurst™s views of the Gaels, see C. Lennon, ˜Richard
Stanihurst (1547“1618) and Old English identity™, IHS 21 (1978), 121“43.
¦” Caball, ˜Intellectual reaction™.
 » A. Clarke, ˜Colonial identity in early seventeenth-century Ireland™, in T. Moody (ed.),
Nationality and the pursuit of national independence (Historical studies 11, Belfast, 1978).
154 The three kingdoms

Until the interrelated crises of the British civil wars of the 1640s, the
Old English community retained a proud sense of loyal Englishness,
which encouraged rather than inhibited their commitment to Irish parlia-
mentary institutions. The remonstrance compiled in 1640 under the
auspices of the Irish House of Commons, a body composed of Old and
New English, Catholic as well as Protestant, had proclaimed the rights of
the ˜loyal and dutiful people of . . . Ireland, being now for the most part

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