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Book Review


Angela McCarthy, ed., Ireland in the World: Comparative, Transnational, and Personal Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2015. pp x + 248. Bibliography and Index. $145 (hardcover).


     The writing of Irish history has often suffered from an inward-looking perspective, with little in the way of comparative work that places Ireland in broader global contexts. This has thankfully been challenged in recent years, with research comparing the Irish mass movement to the New World with Polish, Italian, or Jewish migrations and with comparative studies that place Irish nationalism alongside other European or postcolonial movements (depending on the authors' perspective). Transnational studies of Ireland have also taken off in recent years. This edited volume on Ireland in the World is consciously positioned as part of this emerging literature.

     In her introduction, Angela McCarthy discusses how the various essays in this volume are not representative of all global Irish experiences tout court. Rather, "they seek to highlight the diversity of comparative, transnational, and personal approaches to Irish migration" (1). McCarthy provides a useful literature review of the transnational turn in Irish Studies and points out how this collection takes multi-faceted approaches to the study of Irish migration, often situating several countries in a single analytic frame. These essays thus push beyond conventional understandings of Irish identity and are as much exercises in methodology as they are studies of Irish history.

     The first chapter, by Trevor Burnard, compares the political fate of white Protestants in Jamaica and Ireland in the 1780s, two minority communities who made up roughly the same proportion of their respective islands, with both being surrounded by majority populations seen as socially dangerous or racially problematic. Burnard shows how Irish Protestants maintained an uncontested sense of whiteness, while Jamaica's settler population, the target of abolitionists, began to be seen as a degraded and dangerous people themselves. Burnard thus uses the imperial context to contrast the unique points of both islands' demographic and political history.

     John Kavanagh and Dianne Snowden's paper is a biographical study of the life of Eliza Davis, an unfortunate woman born in an orphanage in Dublin, convicted of infanticide in Wexford, and then transported to Van Diemen's Land. There, via two marriages, she sought to remake herself along more respectable lines. This is a micro-historical piece but one that reveals a number of important macro-historical issues, not least the ways in which transported convicts remembered and strategically forgot certain aspects of their pre-Australasian lives as they adjusted to new lives and to the new societies of Australia and Tasmania.

     Richard Hill's essay continues the focus on Ireland as a part of a broader imperial system, bringing the history of the paramilitary-style Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) into conversation with the history of policing in England and Wales as well as the farther reaches of the Empire. The RIC has long been seen as a kind of prototype for colonial gendarmeries, their methods in stark contrast to the supposedly consensual civic policing in Britain proper. As Hill intriguingly shows, though, not only was policing in the home countries never so peaceable, but also ideas about policing and social control trafficked forwards and backwards between the metropole and the colonies, between Ireland and the colonies, and between the colonies themselves. There was a complex three-dimensionality at play here.

     Stephanie James' review of Irish Catholic newspapers in the Southern hemisphere operates along similar lines, what Jones calls (drawing on Enda Delaney's work on the Irish Diaspora) "a triangular dialogue between the homeland and new communities" (81). James discusses how Irish Catholic papers in Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina reported on events at "home" whilst also building up a journalistic network that connected each place: the workings of Irish identity are thus presented, again, in fascinatingly complex terms.

     The next two chapters change direction, with a focus instead on Irish Protestant migrations, though with more uneven results. Patrick Coleman's paper is a statistics-heavy study of female participation in various international branches of the Orange Order. Coleman draws heavily on the idea of an "Orange Diaspora", a problematic term that has been uncritically promoted by D.A.J. Macpherson and Donald MacRaild. As a later paper in this collection points out, "diaspora" is term that can easily slip into depoliticising the "political and economic causes of mass emigration" (204). This is especially apt in discussions of an Orange, Irish Protestant, diasporic identity. Both at home and abroad, Orange identity was deeply bound up with pro-Imperialism. Coleman (like MacPherson and MacRaild) does little to deconstruct the meanings of a "diasporic" identity that emerged among white settler communities in the colonial holdings of the British Empire. Was this diasporic consciousness comparable to Armenians, Jews, the Black Atlantic, etc.? Or was this just good old-fashioned imperialist nostalgia for the metropolitan home? Philip Bull's biographical discussion of Edward Moore Richards, an Irish Protestant landlord who moved between Parnell-era Ireland and pre- and post-Civil War America, is a more satisfying contribution. Where Coleman ignores Canadian or American influences on the "Orange Diaspora", this paper gives due attention to the ways in which its subject's Irish identity was (re)formed in an American context. Bull is more alert to political developments in antebellum America that affected how this one Irish Protestant performed his own complex identity. Even then, though, more could have been done here to place this one case study in some broader historical contexts.

     The final three chapters bring this collection to a close on a strong point. Robert Lindsey's discussion of Welsh-Irish "collaborative action" moves from language-activism to subterranean links between nationalist paramilitary groups. He raises interesting questions about the limits of what can ever be uncovered in the historical analysis of shadowy organisations of dubious legality, in this case the Welsh Patriotic Front, the Free Wales Army, and Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru [Movement for the Defence of Wales], all of which may (or may not) have had links with the Irish Republican Army in the 1960s and 1970s. Graham Walker recounts the emergence of Scottish-Irish Studies in the last couple decades. And in addition to providing an overview to this new field, he places its emergence in the context of the Northern Irish peace process and the question of Scottish devolution in an increasingly federal United Kingdom, both of which entail a rethinking of various national identities. Finally, Fidelma Breen's essay on contemporary Irish migration to Australia shows how the themes raised across this collection remain an unfinished history, with new technologies and social media affecting a change in the very nature and experience of Irish migration in the twenty-first century.

     While the overarching themes of this collection make it of primary interest for Irish Studies scholars and teachers, several of the papers included here—Richard Hill's, Robert Lindsey's and Fidelma Breen's in particular—could be usefully brought into conversation with research and teaching material from other national contexts. Moreover, the diverse and adeptly deployed methodologies on display could make this a useful text for the classroom.

     This edited collection, of generally strong quality, is a positioned as a contribution to the transnational study of Ireland. But Ireland in the World is, unfortunately, limited by its British imperial focus. Of all the places where Irish identity is situated here, only a brief excursion to Argentina takes the focus outside of the former lands of the British Empire. These essays, and their sophisticated methodologies, could be profitably used to study the broader history of Irish migrations to Latin America, Continental Europe, perhaps even Irish-Jewish aliyah to Israel after 1948. To paraphrase a famous campaign slogan from Irish politics, this edited collection highlights the current state of transnational studies of Ireland: a lot done, more to do.

Aidan Beatty is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Azrieli Institue of Israel Studies and a Scholar-in-Residence at the School of Canadian Irish Studies, Concordia University, Montreal. He can be reached at or via


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