Cultural Nationalism and the Gaelic Revival

'Come in you Anglo-Saxon swine
And drink of my Algerian wine.
'Twill turn your eyeballs black and blue,
And damn well good enough for you.'

(Brendan Behan, from a slogan painted on the window of a Parisian cafe)

Protestant fears were compounded by the development of the Irish cultural revival beginning in the 1880s and 1890s. This incorporated the Gaelic movement looking to restore the true identity of Ireland and the Irish people. Although some Protestants were sympathetic for Irish nostalgia and patriotism for the Gaelic culture, they were deliberately made to feel uncomfortable with a movement that described anyone descended from English incursions in Ireland as "Saxon interlopers".

The fall of Parnell shifted the focus of Irish nationalism from then Westminster polity to the revival of traditional, native Gaelic traditions. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and the Gaelic League spearheaded the cultural revival seeking to preserve Ireland's cultural heritage and counter-act the dominance of British culture - i.e. to curb the process of Anglicisation. The GAA was founded by Michael Cusack in 1884 with the intention of preserving 'our National Pastimes'. Members were banned from supporting non- Irish games or serving in the armed forces of the crown. The GAA grew rapidly in rural parts of Ireland, though soon took a more political activist arm into the movement with close links to the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The GAA was in many ways a 'school' for numerous nationalist leaders of the future, including the prominent leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. By 1900 the GAA had 411 branches across Ireland.

The Gaelic League was dedicated to the 'de-Anglicisation of Ireland' which it sought to promote with the revival and preservation of Gaelic as a spoken language and development of modern literature in Irish - in 1891 Hyde and W.B. Yeats established the Irish Literary Society. Founded in 1893 the Gaelic League was largely an urban-based movement, it Protestant founder Douglas Hyde wanted to create a forum for the Irish people, embracing all political and religious opinions, with the common purpose of forging a new Ireland with Catholics no longer 'crawling to social position' and Protestant acknowledging and acting upon historical maltreatment.

The GAA was explicitly anti-English, though the Gaelic League reiterated it was non- political. Demonstrating Ireland's cultural distinctiveness from England reinforced the argument against the Union and demands for self-government. Divisions in Ireland were also deepened by the cultural revival as Ireland and Irishness became equated with Catholic and rural values, with the obvious exclusion of Protestants, 'West Britons'.

However Gaelic enthusiasm of the late nineteenth century was not the essence of the problem in Ireland. The essential point was the Union created for Protestant security (and British self-interest), which after 1886 was in real danger with the political alliance of Irish Nationalist politicians, under Parnell and later Redmond, with the Gladstonian Liberals. Many felt Protestant survival in Ireland was at stake and therefore the Union had to be defended - hence the alliance of Irish Unionists with Conservatives and Unionists in Britain to defeat the Home Rule Bills of 1886 and 1893.

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