September 10, 2004


Seminar: Irish Studies, 535


Meeting Date: September 10, 2004


Chair: Mary McGlynn


Speaker: Dr. Feargal Cochrane

Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Lancaster University, U.K.


Title of Talk:   "Re-Imagining Ireland: the construction of identity within the Irish

diaspora in the 21st Century."


Rapporteur: Cóilín Parsons


Attendees: Martin J. Burke (Lehman College & CUNY Graduate Center); Terry Byrne (The College of New Jersey); Maria McGarrity (Long Island University); Barbara Young (Molloy College); Patrick McNierney (Columbia University); Peter M. Leahy (CUNY Graduate Center); Rita Loughlin (American Irish Teachers Federation); Frank Naughton (Kean University); Alice Naughton; Diane Menagh (Fairfield University); Rosaleen Duffy (Lancaster University); Dermot Ryan (Columbia University); Bill McGimpsey; Gertrude Hamilton (Marymount College of Fordham University); Ken Monteith (Fordham University).


"Re-Imagining Ireland"

The following is a synopsis of the paper that Dr. Cochrane gave.


Dr. Cochrane stressed at the outset the fact that his paper was very much a work in progress, and drew on his own ideas and on the interviews he had conducted in New York.  The main theme he wished to stress was that political or cultural identity is malleable and may vary depending on the environment.  Dr. Cochrane opened the talk with his personal history growing up in Northern Ireland with a clear sense of his identity as Irish.  He was politicised by the hunger strikes of 1981, and by the miners' strikes, both of which set him on the path to studying politics.  He moved to Britain 6 years ago thinking that he would only be there for 6 months, but he is no longer thinking of moving back to Northern Ireland.  The irony of his situation was that he felt liberated in the very country that had played the role of the oppressor for most of his life, for in Britain no one questioned or doubted his Irishness. 

The question that has exercised Dr. Cochrane in recent years is whether he has emigrated from Ireland, whether he has become a member of the diaspora, and how he can claim a cultural identity without living in the area from which that identity comes.  The processes of globalisation have resulted in the loosening of the ties between the state and national identity.  Notions if identity are no longer constrained by the geographical space of the state, but have overflowed into what has been described as an "international place polygamy," where identity is mobile rather than fixed, where those who live outside the state inhabit a "Diaspora Space."  The global circulation of capital, culture, and people challenge the earlier twentieth-century notions of nation, community, and tradition.  Emigration has become a lifestyle choice rather than an economic necessity for many Irish people in the twenty-first century.  Travel is often undertaken not in search of employment, but before, after, or in between periods of employment.

Dr. Cochrane explained his interest in studying the nature of Irish identity in the U.S.--he wishes to determine where the balance lies in the hyphenated identity of Irish-Americans, and whether it shifts depending on the context.  He is also interested in the impact that the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the war on terror have had on the Irish-American community.  The tightening of immigration regulations after September 11, 2001 led to the detention and deportation of many who came to attention of the Department of Homeland Security.  The changed incentive for coming to the U.S.--seeking adventure and temporary employment--has had an impact on the nature of the Irish-American community.  The fact that few see themselves as being unable to return to Ireland seems to give them less reason to hang onto home through cultural organisations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  The key distinction in the group of Irish-born living in the U.S. is between those who are legal and those who are illegalÑthe latter group is insecure and afraid, and unable to leave the country for fear of being permanently barred.

Dr. Cochrane spoke about the phenomenon of patriotism in the U.S. after September 11, 2001.  He is interested in his studies to investigate whether the necessity to be patriotic squeezed Irish-Americans into identifying as American-American, to drop their cultural identity in favour of their state identity.  To add to this difficult position, many Irish-Americans spoke to him of having been victims of "anti-American abuse" while visiting Ireland.

Finally, Dr. Cochrane observed that perhaps the fluidity of national identity that comes from both the global economy and the technological revolution allows diaspora communities to get the best of both worlds, and not feel that they have been forced to make a choice between the two.




Q. What is your definition of Irish for the purposes of your study?

A. When I say Irish I mean those born in Ireland who have emigrated to the U.S., those born in Ireland who work in the U.S. but who have not emigrated, and those who were born in the U.S. but identify as Irish.

Q. You have spoken much about growing up in Northern Ireland.  Were there at the time British-state-sponsored forms of Irish cultural identity?  Was this a tactic of the British state in the 1970s and 1980s?  Were there other forms of nationalist identity in Northern Ireland that eschewed the Republic?  How is the U.S. "war on terror" viewed in Northern Ireland?  You have given an example of an Irish-born emigrant raising children in New York, politically engaged, and taking part in Irish cultural activities in New York, but whose brother in Dublin questions has no interest in the question of Irish identity.  It seems to me that certain types of identity are given authority and legitimated.  The person in Ireland can dismiss the cultural authority of the Irish in AmericaÑwhere does this authority come from?

A. I met someone a few days ago who was engaged in a debate on the war in Iraq when he was told that because he was not a citizen of the U.S. it didn't matter to him.  This seems to be the same idea of legitimacy as you just mentioned.  I definitely intend to study this phenomenon.  The issue arises in Northern Ireland tooÑthe change in articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution water down the idea of Irishness, and this is an important question in Northern Ireland, which ties into the concept of legitimacy to claim Irishness.  The Secretary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians found out that he was only one-sixteenth Irish, and yet no one could say that he had no right to claim to be Irish.  Regarding your first question, very little in this regard went on in the 1970s--there was little funding of the language, no G.A.A. sports on television, no funding for St. Patrick's Day festivals.  In the 1980s community relations projects started, which some say was a sign of British maturity, and others say was a sign of successful lobbying.  No republican group ever refused any British money for projects--they were never at risk of being accused of selling out.  The middle-of-the-road organisations were more likely to be accused.  Regarding your second question, I think it is a very good point.  Many would have said that the Dáil was illegitimate.  But pretty much everyone looked to Dublin and the Republic culturally, and understood that Dublin would be the centre of a new state.  To answer your third question, no one in Northern Ireland supports George Bush on Iraq.  Bush came to Northern Ireland to ask Sinn Féin to disarm, and now Sinn Féin is using this against him.

Q. I think your analysis of Northern Ireland is jaundiced--you are missing an important dimension.  You have tied the first part of your discussion to the constitutional idea that the Republic and Irishness are wedded.  If you are British and Irish is the idea of diaspora different?  The idea of devolved government has developed the notion of Irishness.  Are those who consider themselves British and Irish less Irish when they go away, or just as Irish?

A. I agree that this is an important dimension.  It is harder to find this group outside of Canada.  I wonder if they have assimilated more, or have become simply a part of the Irish diaspora.

Q. The British connection to the U.S. seems to be as strong as ever--David Trimble and Ken Maginnis supported the war in Iraq.  While Britain appears to have maintained its ties to the U.S., Ireland has turned to Europe.  Many Irish-Americans are angry at Irish anti-Americanism.

A. I met an Irish-American who was pro-Bush and very anti-Ireland because of its anti-Bush stance.  These questions are no longer as clear now as a result of the war in Iraq.

Q. I have noticed that in Queens, where I live, there has been a population shift, with many more new illegal immigrants coming from Northern Ireland, not from the Republic.  They are not seen by the U.S. government as Irish, and so they are not eligible for Morrison visas.  Most seem to be from Tyrone!

A. Yes, people from the Republic are now more likely to leave the country for transient reasons, so there is less long-term emigration.  It is liberating for many people from Northern Ireland to leave the country and be seen as Irish, if they want to be.  Of course, this is not the case for those who consider themselves British.

Q. Many Americans going to Ireland are finding that people say that the U.S. used to be much more tolerant.  The Irish are very strongly pro-Palestinian, and this affects the way they see the U.S.  Some Americans feel insulted in Ireland now.

Q. I travel to Ireland every year, and I certainly encountered a different atmosphere this year.  Anti-Americanism is common.  At other times I have almost felt like I was in just another American state, but not this year.

Q. Irish identity is not longer as clear as it has been in the past, thanks to the constitutional amendment this year--now identity is about race and citizenship.

Q. Is there much of a conversation in Ireland on the question of terrorism?  Is there sympathy, for example, for Palestinian terrorists?  I stayed with a group of nuns in 1995, when Belfast was burning, and the nuns sought sympathy for terrorism.

A. It is interesting that the Sinn Féin manifesto is no longer all about armed struggle, victims, war, and prisoners rights.  Sinn Féin and New Labour are no longer clearly separated.  Both activists in Sinn Féin and their supporters have moved away from paramilitary activity.  Now Gerry Adams can say to George Bush that he (Adams) is a peacemonger and George Bush is a warmonger.  Some Unionists came to the Republican Party convention in New York, but their position does not enjoy popular support.

Q. To what extent can the model of diaspora work?  The forced migration idea might give way to a more fluid global identity, to one that allows people to switch political allegiances.

Q. I know many Northern Irish Protestants who hate to be called Irish.  About the Ancient Order of Hibernians, it is a generational issueÑthe older generation of my family is heavily involved in the Order, but the younger generation wouldn't even think of joining.

A. The Order says that numbers of members are not falling, but the number of members turning up is falling.

Q. Technology allows people to dislocate, and identity is usually place-centred.  Is your model of technology as liberation not a problem?  I would question the idea of liberation.  Irish identity is performative and periodic--I, for example, was American at school and Irish at home.

Q. I think you need to open up the idea of what Irishness is to notions of hybridities and créolités.

A. I agree.