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France and Ireland in the Public Imagination

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Benjamin Keatinge and Mary Pierse

This engaging collection of essays considers the cultural complexities of the Franco-Irish relationship in song and story, image and cuisine, novels, paintings and poetry. It casts a fresh eye on public perceptions of the historic bonds between Ireland and France, revealing a rich variety of contact and influence. Controversy is not shirked, whether on the subject of Irish economic decline or reflecting on prominent, contentious personalities such as Ian Paisley and Michel Houellebecq. Contrasting ideas of the popular and the intellectual emerge in a study of Brendan Kennelly; recent Irish tribunals are analysed in the light of French cultural theory; and familiar renditions of Franco-Irish links are re-evaluated against the evidence of newspaper and journal accounts.
Drawing on the disciplines of history, art, economics and literature, and dipping into the good wines of France and Ireland, the book paints a fascinating picture of the relationship between the two countries over three dramatic centuries.
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The Influence of France on Ireland: Myth or Reality?

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The question mark punctuating the title of this chapter is not only a sign of prudence on my part, but is also a recognition of the fact that the topic I choose may appear, on closer inspection, incomplete and open to question. Incomplete in that it overlooks the inescapable and overarching influence of a third party, namely the island next door; and questionable in that the influence of one country on another, apart from war, conquest and colonization of course, is extremely difficult to quantify, especially when the country in question is as historically disputed, religiously divided and socially fragmented as Ireland was in the past. This preamble is not meant to deny France’s influence on Ireland, but it suggests circumspection in the study of an ambiguous and sometimes ambivalent subject.

Influence presupposes a certain receptiveness based on empathy and/or shared experience. That we were both true Celts and faithful Catholics was once said to be the bedrock of the empathy between the French and the Irish. Whether we were one, the other, or indeed both, is far from being clearly established. Furthermore, race and religion are not the lenses through which one would nowadays attempt to examine our relationship, past and present.

Of much more weight in the connection between our two countries would be our respective involvement in the great historical struggle for the domination of Europe between reformed England and Catholic France and later on between the British Empire and revolutionary...

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