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Reimagining Irish Studies for the Twenty-First Century


Edited By Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

This landmark collection marks the publication of the 100th book in the Reimagining Ireland series. It attempts to provide a «forward look» (as opposed to what Frank O’Connor once referred to as the « backward look») at what Irish Studies might look like in the third millennium. With a Foreword by Declan Kiberd, it also contains essays by several other leading Irish Studies experts on (among other areas) literature and critical theory, sport, the Irish language, food and beverage studies, cinema, women’s writing, Brexit, religion, Northern Ireland, the legacy of the Great Famine, Ireland in the French imagination, archival research, musicology, and Irish Studies in North America. The book is a tribute to Irish Studies’ foundational commitment to revealing and renewing Irishness within and beyond the national space.

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3 Between Britain and Europe Once More: The Significance of Brexit for the Reimagination of Ireland



When I began my PhD in University College Dublin in 1999, its working title was ‘Ireland Reimagined’. That postgraduate flash of inspiration was hardly an original one. Even within the ensuing three years of my doctoral study, there were several eminent publications and conferences on that very theme. The turn of the millennium played its part in stimulating this notion, as did the juvenile Celtic Tiger, and the ‘Boston or Berlin’ debate.1 But there is no doubt that it was the 1998 Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement that was the primary prompt for widespread recognition that Ireland had reached an historic moment of change. As it happened, my doctorate ended with a rather more circumspect thesis than the one I had set out with. Yes, ‘Ireland’ was being redefined in official discourse and, indeed, this was embodied in the Good Friday Agreement. But this was not a wholly radical ‘reimagination’. In many ways, the concept of Irish nationhood underpinning it would have been remarkably familiar to Irish nationalists a hundred years beforehand. The Agreement states that the right to self-determination is held ←59 | 60→by ‘the people of the island of Ireland alone’.2 And it confirms that it is the birthright of all people born on the island of Ireland (including Northern Ireland) to ‘identify themselves and be accepted as Irish’.3 As this chapter elucidates, it is what accompanies these statements that makes the ‘Ireland’ imagined at the start of the twentieth century quite different to that...

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