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Star of the Sea : A Postcolonial/Postmodern Voyage into the Irish Famine

Why Ireland Should Be Categorized as Postcolonial

When scholars focus on the old definition of postcolonial theory, they completely eliminate the consideration of countries like Ireland, as postcolonial. But with the Flexible Foundation, there have been plenty of discussions as to whether or not they can be included in studies. Therefore, postcolonial studies have been split into those following the old definition, and the Flexible Foundation. Eugene O’Brien from University of Limerick has stated: “If by postcolonial one means writing from a place that was colonized by another government, then yes it must be. Ireland is an unusual case in that it is a first world country (some might question aspects of this) and white in racial composition” (qtd. in Duncan 322). O’Brien has a point with this statement, because Ireland does not remotely fit into Tiffin’s definition. 

Race is a major issue of postcolonial theory. Some scholars believe that the white people cannot be colonized, while others believe it to be a completely valid possibility. While Ireland is a country of the Western world, it seems to have a third-world memory in its remembrance of its colonial past. According to Ralph Pordzik, “Though largely white, Anglophone and westernized, Ireland historically was in the paradoxical position of being a colony within Europe” (332). It is possibly one of the most famous test cases of postcolonial theory, simply because historically it was not perceived as being on the same level as other European countries. At the same time, some scholars refuse to admit that it has a place alongside non-European colonies within postcolonial studies.

History shows that Ireland definitely was a colony, and the attempted Irish resistance against the oppressive British government was evident. This violence could not end until they were finally independent from them. David Lloyd in Anomalous States; Irish Writing and the Post-Colonial Moment has stated: “The violence of the Irish history is symptomatic of the unrelenting struggle of an Irish people forming itself in sporadic but connected risings against British domination” (Lloyd, Anomalous States 125). Any colony during history has rebelled against their colonizer, because it is not in their identity to stay dormant until the colonizers leave. Their culture is partly shaped by this idea, because they take certain things from their colonizer, but also form their own identity while still under colonial control. In Ireland’s case they started developing theirs in the beginning of their colonial experience, and Northern Ireland is still attempting to rectify their culture and identity after a long time as a British colony.

The Irish have struggled in rebuilding their postcolonial identity, and one of their problems is that postcolonial critics do not identify Irish authors as necessarily postcolonial. Because many scholars will not categorize them as postcolonial, the Irish postcolonial scholars are “most often heard chiefly within Irish studies rather than in the wider postcolonial dialogue” (Duncan 323). This categorization only contributes to the assumption that Ireland does not fit into the postcolonial dialogue, and it is difficult to change these assumptions. Therefore, it is important to change the way scholars think about this situation. Instead of attempting to force Ireland into the frames already established, the entire paradigm of postcolonial studies needs to be reworked in order to include the colonies that have previously been left out.

While the old definition of postcolonial theory puts a different emphasis on the “post,” it is evident that Ireland is quite different, the island having become partly independent (The Republic of Ireland) and partly still connected to the colonizing power of England (Northern Ireland). Because of this situation, the colonial moment is both past and present, though all are after (post-) the point of colonization. Ireland is a product of a combination of the British and the Irish system. It had not “merely been hibernating during the eight hundred years of British domination, ready to wake up on the day the last soldier will be withdrawn from their native soil” (Bachorz 12). Instead, it was developing its own identity while attempting to resist the British. They combined both societies in order to form a national identity, allowing the "Other" to help shape it. This behavior is synonymous with other postcolonial colonies that were forced to allow the colonizer to influence their own sense of self.

Sadly, some Irish adopted the attitudes of their colonizers when it came to race, thus leading them to insist that Ireland should not be considered a colony. Many prominent Irish nationalists, such as John Mitchel and Arthur Griffith, greatly protested against this categorization. They “considered it outrageous that Ireland should be treated as a colony because to do so was to put an ancient and civilized European people on the same level as non-white colonial subjects in Africa or Asia” (Cleary 27). Yet again the arguments return to the concept of race and location. Colonies in Africa or Asia were categorized because of the color of their skin and distance from Europe. In comparison, Europe was considered to be more civilized and respected than any other continent. Therefore, adopting attitudes of their colonizer, Mitchel and Griffith did not want to associate Ireland and people they saw as less civilized, further affirming racial stereotypes that were as damning of their own people as they of the peoples of Africa and Asia. However, not only do people now realize that notions of "race" and "civilization" are social constructs associated with power rather than with any biology or geography, but scholars within postcolonial studies can now recognize that Ireland's historical and social experience places it firmly among other colonized nations. 

Works Cited
Bachorz, Stephanie. “Postcolonial Theory and Ireland: Revising Postcolonialism.” Critical Ireland: New Essays in Literature and Culture. Ed. Alan A. Gillis, Aaron Kelly, and Edna Longley. Dublin: Four Courts, 2001. Web.

Cleary, Joe. “Misplaced Ideas? Colonialism, Location, and Dislocation in Irish Studies.” Ireland and Postcolonial Theory. Ed. Clare Carroll and Patricia King. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003. Print.

Duncan, Dawn. “A Flexible Foundation: Constructing a Postcolonial Dialogue.” Relocating Postcolonialism. Ed. David Theo Goldberg and Ato Quayson. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. Print.

Lloyd, David. Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Post-Colonial Moment. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993. Print.

Pordzik, Ralph. “A Postcolonial View of Ireland and the Irish Conflict in Anglo-Irish Utopian Literature Since the Nineteenth Century.” Irish Studies Review 9.3 (2001): 331-346. Web.
Researcher/Writer: Ellen-Marie Pedersen
Technical Designers: Derek Heilig and Sara Juntunen
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