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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 6 Conclusion 165


chapter 6 Conclusion The Irish nation after independence was largely imagined according to the tenets of cultural nationalism, that is, as a community that was Gaelic, Catholic, rural and self-sufficient. From the 1960s onwards the internation- alisation and modernisation of Irish society challenged these nationalist tenets and encouraged new ways of imagining Irishness. In addition, the armed conflict in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s onwards on one hand, and historical revisionism on the other, gave impetus to the process of reimagining Irishness. In the 1990s, economic growth and the social and political changes it brought about accelerated the process. With the rise of the Celtic Tiger, definitions of Irishness were reviewed, broadened and extended as the nation was being reimagined. Irish cinema, which in the 1990s rose to become a central cultural channel of national expression, contributed significantly to the process. One of the notable contributors was Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins, which examined the relationship of contemporary Ireland to its own past. By telling the relatively well-known, but then still largely untold story of Irish history on screen, the film invited the Irish audience to consider where they, as a people, were coming from and where they were going. There seems to have been a great need for this part of their history to be openly discussed, especially at the time when the guns in Northern Ireland had finally been silenced by the peace process and the IRA ceasefire. The Irish people demonstrated their interest in the telling of...

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