Michael D Higgins writes powerful article about British empire’s lasting impact on Ireland

Michael D Higgins

Irish President Michael D Higgins has written a powerful article in which he laments the impact the British Empire continues to have on Ireland.

Mr Higgins was writing for the Guardian to mark the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland, which remained part of the UK after the Republic became independent.

He and said there is a there is a feigned amnesia about the UK’s history, and it must be overcome so the two countries can move forward and have a positive relationship.

Michael D Higgins

He hopes we can ‘understand more fully the complexities of those times’ as well as ‘recognise the reverberations of that past for our societies today’.

Mr Higgins said: “A feigned amnesia around the uncomfortable aspects of our shared history will not help us to forge a better future together.

“The complex events we recall and commemorate during this time are integral to the story that has shaped our nations, in all their diversity. They are, however, events to be remembered and understood, respecting the fact that different perspectives exist.”

The president wrote about the importance of understanding the British imperialist mindset of the time to understand how Irish people viewed life under British rule.

He said: “While our nations have been utterly transformed over the past century, I suggest that there are important benefits for all on these islands of engaging with the shadows cast by our shared past.”

He added about how the British ruling class didn’t view the Irish as equals and that many Irish people had to resist British rule for fear of losing their rich culture.

Mr Higgins said: “From the perspective of the British imperialist mind of its time, attitudes to the Irish for example, were never, and could never be, about a people who were equal, had a different culture, or could be trusted in a civilised discourse of equals. From the perspective of the Irish, who had their own ancient language, social and legal systems and a rich monastic contribution to the world, this view had to be resisted.

“Some resistance was through an intensified cultural activity, literature, poetry, music and song. Others sought it within the domain of parliaments or through exerting political pressure from engaged emigrant populations in the United States. In other circumstances, the Irish found it through covert and overt violence. Most resorted to available strategies of escape through emigration, or survival within the empire, with a widespread, if suppressed, anger over humiliation experienced or remembered.”

He also discussed how people in Britain and Ireland were able to accommodate living with imperialism, suggesting that, while the Irish often resisted British rule, the British were distracted from their class issues by being encouraged to be proud to part of the empire.

He added: “At its core, imperialism involves the making of a number of claims that are invoked to justify its assumptions and practices – including its inherent violence. One of those claims is the assumption of superiority of culture and it is always present in the imperialising project. Forcing an acceptance on those subjugated of the inferiority of their culture as a dominated Other is the reverse side of the coin.

“Injustices perpetrated in the name of imperialism, and in resistance to it, often had a brutalising effect, leaving a bitter residue of pain and resentment, sometimes passed down through generations and left available to those willing to reignite inherited grievances.”


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Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcallingJoin our community