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London, 1992), pp. 2“5; C. O™Halloran, ˜Golden ages™, pp. 222“3; Hill, ˜Popery and
Protestantism™, 124“7.
The weave of Irish identities, 1600“1790 177

tant Gaelicism was far from extinct, and, Xourishing anew between about
1830 and 1848, and again from the 1890s, it would prove inXuential in
the formation of modern Irish nationalism.¦ ’

Comparisons: ancient constitutionalism, gentry
patriotism and colonial regnalism
The constructions of ethnic identity in early modern Ireland bear strong
aYnities both with the common run of identity formation in most early
modern European kingdoms and political cultures, and with European
colonial identities in the Americas. More recently, Connolly and Cadoc
Leighton have questioned the colonial model of early modern Irish his-
tory, assimilating the island™s experience instead to the norms of early
modern Europe.¦ “ Neither the colonial nor the European model on its
own adequately conveys a fully rounded picture of early modern Irish
history, and diVerent types of ideological constructions associated on the
one hand with the colonial expansion of Europe and on the other with
regnal identities of the European ancien regime together complicated the
formation of identity in early modern Ireland. However, the colonial
context was only one facet of identity construction in early modern
Ireland. Historic Irish identities were shaped by ideological pressures
common to other early modern European nations. The identities of early
modern Irishmen were constructed out of the familiar conceptual build-
ing blocks of early modern political thought.
Political and ecclesiastical legitimacy was derived from the Milesian
past; but this did not mean that Irishmen felt obliged to avoid tampering
with that history. There is little sense of a taboo against trimming the
Gaelic heritage to meet current ideological needs. Rather Irish antiqua-
ries regarded their ancestral past “ a remote and sketchy Milesian an-
tiquity “ as a partly completed canvas whose empty spaces could be Wlled
with ideologically appropriate images. The hallmark of the Gaelic past
was its utility. Though largely constructed out of indigenous materials,
the shape of the Milesian mythistoire conformed to wider European pat-
terns. The criteria and recognised procedures of political and ecclesiasti-
cal debate were of international currency. Thus early modern Milesian
identity tended to be calibrated against a variety of external standards. In

¦ ’ T. Dunne, ˜Haunted by history: Irish romantic writing 1800“1850™, in R. Porter and
M. Teich (eds.), Romanticism in national context (Cambridge, 1988); J. Leerssen, Re-
membrance and imagination (Cork, 1996); Hutchinson, Dynamics of cultural nationalism;
J. Sheehy, The rediscovery of Ireland™s past: the Celtic revival, 1830“1930 (London, 1980);
R. Foster, ˜History and the Irish question™, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th
ser. 33 (1983), 169“92; F. S. L. Lyons, Culture and anarchy in Ireland 1890“1939 (1979:
Oxford, 1982), p. 28; S. Deane, Celtic revivals (London, 1985), pp. 20“1.
¦ “ Connolly, Religion, law, and power; Leighton, Catholicism in a Protestant kingdom.
178 The three kingdoms

the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this was to entail,
at various stages, mimicry of the ideological contours of English mixed
constitutionalism, an assimilation of Gaelic antiquity to the civilisations
of classical antiquity and the casting of the Druidic paganism of the
Milesians in the mould of Enlightenment civil religion.
Early modern Gaelic ethnocentrism was shot through with humanistic
values. It was driven not by a self-conWdent assertion of the particular
characteristics of the Gaelic people, but by an aspiration to prove that
ancient Milesian culture had been the equal of the civilisations of classical
antiquity. Even historians from within the ranks of Gaelic nationalism
eschew essentialism and acknowledge the contemporary European in-
Xuences on the construction of seventeenth-century Milesian identity.
Breandan O Buachalla and Brendan Bradshaw, for example, have de-
scribed the reception of a ˜new political lexicon™ in seventeenth-century
Irish discourse, which included Gaelic terms for kingdom, crown, sover-
eign, commonweal and majesty. Furthermore, Bradshaw has argued that
seventeenth-century Irish discourse has to be understood in the context
of Counter-Reformation humanistic antiquarianism. Foras feasa ar Eirinn
was similar to the sort of ˜project being mounted at this time by patriotic
antiquarians elsewhere in Europe™.¦ “
There are other European comparisons to be drawn, notably with the
phenomenon of racial elitism. In the century after the Treaty of Limerick
(1691) the term ˜Irish™ had numerous meanings, and there was no single
term which did service for the Protestant community. The Protestant
Irish referred to themselves on occasions as the Irish nation, which, as
Connolly points out, involved ˜accepting, in some vague way, an identity
that overlapped with that of the native population™.¦ ” However, Protes-
tant writers appeared to forget that the predominantly lower-caste Cath-
olic population existed as a community with its own identity. Consider
the Irish Protestant patriotism of the penal law era when Wgures such as
Molyneux, Cox and Henry Maxwell “ who claimed that ˜the people of
Ireland are naturally the oVspring of England™¦À» “ appeared to conXate
the Irish nation with the English in Ireland, to the exclusion of the wider
population over whom they ruled. David Hayton argues that the use of
labels such as ˜wild Irish™ or ˜mere Irish™ not only made ˜the ordinary
peasant appear less than human™ but also made it ˜easier for the Protes-
tant gentleman to appropriate his nationality™.¦À¦ In this respect, the
¦ “ Bradshaw, ˜Keating™, pp. 167“8; O Buachalla, ˜James our true king™, p. 14.
¦ ” Connolly, Religion, law, and power, p. 124. See also p. 119, where Connolly points to the
terminological ˜absurdities™ arising from the identiWcation of the Protestants as ˜the
people of Ireland™ and the Catholics as ˜the Irish™.
¦À» Henry Maxwell, An essay towards an union of Ireland with England (London, 1703), p. 19.
¦À¦ D. Hayton, ˜Anglo-Irish attitudes: changing perceptions of national identity among the
The weave of Irish identities, 1600“1790 179

Anglo-Irish identity resembled the aristocratic and gentry patriotisms of
continental Europe, such as the celebrated Frankish these nobiliaire articu-
lated by Boulainvilliers, the corporate patriotism of the Magyars and,
most especially, the Sarmatic identity of the early modern Polish szlachta.
A story of common Sarmatic origins not only united an ethnically diverse
caste of Polish and Polonised gentry, but also suspended disbelief in an
arrogant display of oligarchical ventriloquism. The Polish identity of the
szlachta, like the national consciousness of the Protestant Irish elite, was
quasi-republican, but only because it disregarded the subordinate peas-
antry as an identity-less mass with no genuine claim on nationhood.¦À 
Valuable insights into the construction of early modern Anglo-Irish
identity can also be gained from comparisons with the ways in which the
˜otherness™ of native American cultures was appropriated by Hispanic
colonists in the manufacture of creole identities. Creoles acknowledged
that their racial stock, or nacion, was Hispanic, yet they diVerentiated
themselves from Peninsular Spaniards, whom they termed gachupines, by
fostering a local territorial identity. The cult of the colonial patria fulWlled
a ˜yearning to secure roots that sank deep into the history of the New
World™, and also nourished a commitment to the colonial province as a
distinct political community. Putting a regnalist as well as an ethnicist
spin on colonial identity, creole mythmakers forged a ˜continuous, in-
structive and politically legitimating past™ out of the local histories of ˜the
very peoples their ancestors had conquered™. Thus, a polyethnic patriot-
ism could coexist with the sort of ethnic chauvinism typical of colonial-
ism. Anthony Pagden notes that, without acknowledging contemporary
Amerindians as fellow citizens, creoles could none the less appropriate a
mythical Aztec past as part of their civic identity: ˜The criollos might not
constitute one race with the Indians; but they could make some claim to
being the true heirs of their imperial past.™ The patriotic literati of New
Spain including Carlos Siguenza y Gongora (1645“1700) and Francisco
¨ ´
Javier Clavigero (1731“87), a colonial Jesuit consigned to exile in Italy

Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, ca. 1690“1750™, Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture
17 (1987), 150.
¦À  Leighton, Catholicism in a Protestant kingdom, pp. 26“7, 31“2, 36“7; E. Carcassonne,
Montesquieu et le probleme de la constitution fran§aise au XVIIIe siecle (Paris, 1927), pp. 19,
` `
43; P. Goubert, The ancien regime: French society, 1600“1750 (1969: transln, New York,
1973), p. 160; G. Chaussinand-Nogaret, The French nobility in the eighteenth century
(1976: trans. W. Doyle, Cambridge, 1985), pp. 16, 23; S. Cynarski, ˜The shape of
Sarmatian ideology in Poland™, Acta Poloniae Historica 19 (1968), 5“17; J. Tazbir, La
republique nobiliaire et le monde: etudes sur l™histoire de la culture polonaise a l™epoque du
´ ´ ´
baroque (Wroclaw, 1986), esp. pp. 15, 22, 32“3, 51“3, 160; J. Lukowski, Liberty™s folly:
the Polish“Lithuanian commonwealth in the eighteenth century (London, 1991), pp. 3“22;
N. Davies, ˜Polish national mythologies™, in G. Hosking and G. SchopXin (eds.), Myths
and nationhood (London, 1997), pp. 143“4.
180 The three kingdoms

after the expulsion of his order from the Spanish empire, invented a
Mexican identity founded on a ˜syncretised past™ comprehending pre-
conquest Aztec history. In other words, the colonial situation of early
modern Latin America spawned multiple identities. Mexico™s Hispanic
colonists could have satisWed themselves with responsible and accurate
histories limited to their own relatively modest post-Conquistadorial
roots in the New World. However, according to John Phelan, this authen-
tic tradition ˜was too brief in duration and too European in content to
satisfy their need to identify with a historical tradition indigenously
American™. There were further parallels with early modern Ireland. The
Amerindians were like the Gaels. Their pasts were appropriated, sanitised
and rendered useful to the colonial cause, but as a real contemporary
people they were despised, downtrodden and excluded. Phelan has de-
scribed the phenomenon of ˜neo-Aztecism™ as the classicising of the
Aztecs. The Aztec past was glossed as an American equivalent of
Europe™s Graeco-Roman antiquity, a civilisation which yielded a rich vein
of moral and civic exempla, a native iconography and patriotic inspira-
tion. Although Mexican creole identity embraced a noble civic lineage
stretching back to the glories of the Aztec state, only historic Aztecs were
included. Modern Amerindians and even mixed bloods were not accep-
ted as citizens of the glorious Mexican patria. Phelan suggests that con-
temporary Indians were ˜considered remote and rather brutish descend-
ants of the ˜˜classical™™ Indians of Aztec antiquity™. Lafaye dwells on the
important role of ˜spiritual hybridisation™ in the formation of a creole-
sponsored Mexican national consciousness. In the eighteenth century
Mexican clergy argued that the indigenous deity Quetzalcoatl was a
corrupted memory of the apostle Thomas; thus, according to Edwin
Williamson, ˜Christianity was presumed to have roots in America which
were independent of the [Spanish] Peninsula.™¦ÀÀ
Ireland bore witness to similar dual strategies combining both appro-
priation and denigration of the indigenous culture as a means of ensuring
territory-speciWc legitimacy. Such tensions were apparent in the con-
struction of both Old and New English versions of settler-consciousness
in Ireland. In the case of the Old English, one can see how this colonial

¦ÀÀ J. L. Phelan, ˜Neo-Aztecism in the eighteenth century and the genesis of Mexican
nationalism™, in S. Diamond (ed.), Culture in history (New York, 1960), pp. 760“70;
A. Pagden, Spanish imperialism and the political imagination (New Haven and London,
1990), pp. 91“104, 116; J. Lafaye, Quetzalcoatl and Guadalupe: the formation of Mexican
national consciousness 1531“1813 (1974: trans. B. Keen, Chicago, 1976), pp. 7, 44“50,
62“7, 107“12, 173, 252; E. Williamson, The Penguin history of Latin America (Har-
mondsworth, 1992), p. 154. For a similar comparison, see N. Canny, ˜Identity forma-
tion in Ireland: the emergence of the Anglo-Irish™, in Canny and A. Pagden (eds.),
Colonial identity in the Atlantic world, 1500“1800 (Princeton, 1987), pp. 195“6.
The weave of Irish identities, 1600“1790 181

nation shed its sense of ethnic kinship with the motherland, and its
Catholic community assimilated in the course of the seventeenth century
to an indigenous Irish identity. The New English, on the other hand,
remained a colonial nation with a much stronger sense “ to use Pagden™s
terminology “ of nacion in its Anglo-Gothic stock, and a correspondingly
weaker, though nevertheless important, sense of Irish patria. A creole
pattern also prevailed in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Church
of Ireland where Ussher and his intellectual disciples attempted to estab-
lish an indigenous and fully Hibernian pedigree for Protestantism which
removed from it the taint of exclusive association with New English
Anglican colonialism. There was a stark diVerentiation in New English
attitudes to the modern Catholic Irish and their early Christian ancestors.
Suitably ˜sanitised™, historic Gaels were used to legitimise the predomi-
nantly New English Church of Ireland at the same time as the cultural
elite of the Anglo-Irish community denigrated the contemporary Gaelic
nation as barbaric and benighted.
Part III

Points of contact
8 Constructing the pre-romantic Celt

Since the nineteenth century we have become accustomed to the notion
of a vast historic gulf between the characters, values and achievements of
the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon worlds. However, in recent decades, scholars
working in a number of diVerent Welds have begun to dismantle this
paradigm. Some anthropologists, using core“periphery models, have
even gone as far as to suggest that Celtic is an empty category signifying
˜otherness™ whose Xuctuating cultural deWnition has depended more on
the vague prejudices of the centre than the actuality of the periphery.¦
Less contentiously, cultural historians have revealed the origins of the
modern duality of Celt and Saxon: the twin inXuences of romanticism
and racialism forged the modern myth of the Celt, and contributed to the
emergence of related phenomena such as the ideology of pan-Celtic
nationalism. The opposition of the pragmatic, freedom-loving Teuton
and the mystical, sentimental, but improvident Celt was not a feature of
early modern ethnic stereotyping. This romantic conception of the Celt
took shape gradually, beginning with the Ossianic vogue of the late
eighteenth century, and culminated in the vision of the high-minded Celt
peddled by Matthew Arnold. In the interim the romantic Celt had been
appropriated by Teutonic racialists as the hapless antithesis of the vigor-
ous and prosperous Saxon.  Pan-Celticism has even shallower roots in
ethnological thought, and Xowered in the late nineteenth century when
contacts were established between land leaguers and Gaelic nationalists
in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. Only in 1886“7 was the idea
mooted of mounting a Celtic League to promote the common interests of
the Celtic fringes of the British Isles, a venture which proved abortive,
though a pan-Celtic congress was eventually held in Dublin in 1901.À
¦ M. Chapman, The Celts: the construction of a myth (Houndmills, 1992); M. McDonald,
˜The invention of the Celts™ (O™Donnell Lecture delivered at Oxford University, Trinity
term, 1993).
  M. Chapman, The Gaelic vision in Scottish culture (London, 1978); P. Sims-Williams, ˜The
visionary Celt: the construction of an ethnic preoccupation™, Cambridge Medieval Celtic
Studies 11 (1986), 71“96; F. E. Faverty, Matthew Arnold, the ethnologist (Evanston, IL,
1951); P. Womack, Improvement and romance (London, 1989).

186 Points of contact

How unlike the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Scottish,
Irish and Welsh antiquaries advanced their own particular (and irrecon-
cilable) patriotic shibboleths without any sense of a common ˜Celtic™
identity or interest. The Celts were fashioned in a complex multipolar
world. The eighteenth-century literati who began to formulate many of
the modern myths of the Celts were heirs to long-standing patriotic
debates among English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish scholars over such


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( 52 .)