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The Gun and Irish Politics

Examining National History in Neil Jordan’s 'Michael Collins'


Raita Merivirta

In the 1990s, Irish society was changing and becoming increasingly international due to the rise of the ‘Celtic Tiger’. At the same time, the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland also fuelled debates on the definition of Irishness, which in turn seemed to call for a critical examination of the birth of the Irish State, as well as a rethinking and re-assessment of the nationalist past. Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (1996), the most commercially successful and talked-about Irish film of the 1990s, was a timely contributor to this process. In providing a large-scale representation of the 1916-1922 period, Michael Collins became the subject of critical and popular controversy, demonstrating that cinema could play a part in this cultural reimagining of Ireland.
Locating the film in both its historical and its cinematic context, this book explores the depiction of events in Michael Collins and the film’s participation in the process of reimagining Irishness through its public reception. The portrayal of the key figures of Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera comes under special scrutiny as the author assesses this pivotal piece of Irish history on screen.


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CHAPTER 1 Introduction 1


chapter 1 Introduction The newly independent Irish Free State set itself on a course of isolationism and protectionism in the 1920s. These policies were reinforced by the gov- ernment of Eamon de Valera and his party, Fianna Fáil, from 1932 onwards. Roy Foster points out that ‘the Fianna Fáil Ireland was a nation set apart, by Catholicism and nationality: the interlocking relationships of Church and politics helping to define a unique, God-given way of life. Economic ideals of self-sufficiency could obviously be related to this […]. And “pro- tectionism” could be cultural, too: a fierce suspicion of cosmopolitanism and what it stood for is evident in many Fianna Fáil manifestos’.1 The de Valera era in Irish politics ended in 1959 giving way to a modernisation process: protectionist policies were substituted with an outward-looking, international orientation in Irish society and culture. This meant, among other things, inviting international business to invest in Ireland, a process which gradually integrated Ireland into the international economy. These processes were slow and uneven with serious setbacks until the late 1980s, but in the 1990s Ireland experienced an era of affluence and prosperity with its economic growth rate surpassing those of the other EU countries thanks to commercial investment from the US, Japan and Europe, as well as EU development funds.2 The term ‘Celtic Tiger’ was coined in 1994, comparing Ireland to the so-called ‘Tiger’ economies of South-East Asia. Inevitably, 1 Foster 1989, 547. 2 According to Professor John FitzGerald of the Economic and...

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