A global history of Irish Revolution, 1916-1923

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of History and Anthropology


Our project proposes a global history of Irish nationalism focusing on the 1916-23 revolutionary period. The aim is to integrate two sophisticated but separate historiographical fields - centring on the Irish revolution and on Irish migration - to develop a more inclusive framework which will incorporate the diaspora and other external pressures into the mainstream narrative. The key methodology is provided by a transnational approach which will investigate how interactions across national boundaries shaped Ireland's revolution. By investigating the relationship between revolution in the nation-state, diasporic nationalism, and other external pressures during an era of rapid international change, this research will contribute to a wider understanding of nationalism as a global force.
The project comprises two interlocking research strands. The first focuses on the impact of transnational influences on the revolution within Ireland. The second is concerned with analysing the significance of Irish nationalism beyond Ireland. Both address the same overarching question: to what extent must revolutionary change be understood within a global, transnational as well as a nation-state framework?
The research context is framed by the dominance of nation-centred historiographical approaches, reflecting a widespread tendency to regard the nation-state as the natural unit of analysis. Although gaining ground elsewhere, transnational approaches have had little impact on Irish historiography despite the importance of external factors on Ireland. For example, despite acknowledging the impact of Irish America on Irish politics, histories of Irish nationalism such as Richard English's influential Irish Freedom (2003) largely overlook diasporic influences. Similarly, studies of diasporic nationalism rarely analyse its impact on Ireland. As a result, key themes are often debated in insular terms. For example, nation-centred analyses of the Irish revolution can result in the imposition of arbitrary geographical boundaries and neglect of comparative dimensions and external pressures. Local studies, the dominant approach since the ground-breaking research of David Fitzpatrick (1977), provide a sophisticated anatomy of the revolution's impact on Irish society but a limited means of assessing the significance of factors which transcend the nation-state. They shed little light on how the destabilising impact of the First World War, the emergence of self-determination as the principal source of political legitimacy, and the establishment of new republics across Europe heightened political expectations in Ireland.
There is therefore a compelling rationale for looking to Ireland as a case study of the global character of nationalism. As a small country with a large diaspora, forming part of a multinational state and global empire, Ireland was highly susceptible to transnational influences. The well-documented nature of the Irish revolution, its small scale, and the sophistication of the literature on Irish nationalism and the Irish diaspora also point to its potential as a broader case study.
This approach will also contribute to wider British historiography. Although British historians generally emphasise how the UK avoided the First World War's destabilising fallout, the parallels between experiences in the Irish part of the British state and central/eastern Europe where imperial power gave way to democratisation, self-determination and ethnic nationalism are evident. A wider framework will allow for comparative analysis across the 'shatter zones' of empire (Wilson, 2010). Ultimately, our project aims to demonstrate how revolutions represent much broader political moments in global history, without losing sight of the distinctive aspects of national histories. More radically, it will question the assumption - implicit in most historians' work - that nation-centred models provide the best means of understanding the causes of political change.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit?
- (Irish) Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)
- National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) and National Museum of Ireland (NMI)
- Century Ireland
- History Ireland
- the Irish, Northern Irish and UK governments

How will they benefit?
Our project will assist the DFAT in its objective of interpreting the Irish revolution in an international context. Our collaboration with NMNI and NMI will provide both institutions with our historical expertise. It will provide Century Ireland and History Ireland with scholarly research. We will also support the Irish/N.I/UK government's commemorative programmes of historical reflection. For example, by interpreting partition within a European context, our project will enhance understanding of the most sensitive anniversary of the Decade.

What will be done to ensure they benefit?
With the support of the DFAT, our project will develop a portable ten-panel exhibition on the Irish revolution's global dimensions to be offered to Irish embassies across the world. The CI has worked closely with the DFAT to commemorate the 1916 Rising (see http://www.ed.ac.uk/history-classics-archaeology/news-events/news/easter-rising).

We will collaborate with the leading museums in Ireland/N.I. in developing their major exhibitions at the Ulster Museum and Collins Barracks. William Blair, Head of Human History, has welcomed our proposal to work on the Ulster Museum's Partition exhibition: 'The research would stream directly into the development of the exhibition and related programming. The scope of your research would fit perfectly.' As a member of advisory bodies for the Ulster Museum and National Museum's 1916 exhibitions, the PI has close links with both institutions.

We will partner with History Ireland (http://www.historyireland.com/) to produce a publication on the Irish revolution. HI has an international readership, with a 'hard sales' circulation of 5,000 per issue, while its 1916 publication sold c. 10,000 copies. Our publication will be supported by a podcasted Hedge School (http://www.historyireland.com/hedge-schools/). The PI has previously participated in Hedge Schools, and guest-edited a special issue on Fenianism.
We will work with Boston College/RTE to provide content for its online historical newspaper Century Ireland (http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/). Web-Traffic DATA?

Our project will exploit public engagement opportunities arising as a result of the 2012-2022 Decade of Centenaries (http://www.decadeofcentenaries.com/). Our project meets a key objective of the Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations: 'The commemorative programme should illustrate how events in Ireland were . . . part of the wider international story. A comprehensive commemorative programme should not only address the key events in Ireland but also enhance the understanding of the wider United Kingdom, European and world context in which they took place' (http://www.decadeofcentenaries.com/statement/).
For statements of Irish, British and N. Irish government commitment to programmes of historical reflection, see:
https://www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/ofmdfm_dev/together-building-a-united-community-strategy.pdf [pp 93-97]

* We will build on existing public engagement networks at QUB, including the AHRC-funded Living Legacies Centre (http://www.livinglegacies1914-18.ac.uk/), the AHRC-funded Commemoration of Partition and Civil Wars in Ireland 2020-23 project, and the Universities Ireland historians' committee (of which the PI is a founding member) (http://universitiesireland.ie/category/conferences/). In addition, due to his work on the 1916 centenary, the PI has links with a wide range of bodies responsible for commemorative activity (see Pathways to Impact for further details).


10 25 50
Description Blog post on dramatic portrayals of the Irish Revolution and its transnational impact. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact My blog post 'Gunrunners and Gangsters: Peaky Blinders, the IRA and Historical Drama' featured on the blog 'Historians for History' during September 2017. It discussed the popular BBC drama 'Peaky Blinders' and how research into IRA activity in post war Britain shows up interesting intersections with an inter-ethnic underworld. Within the first week it had been viewed over 500 times and retweeted by dozens of viewers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://historiansforhistory.wordpress.com/2017/09/14/gunrunners-and-gangsters-peaky-blinders-the-ir...
Description Full page article on the impact of the Russian Revolution on Ireland in the SIPTU trade union's newspaper Liberty. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact My article 'Recalling Red October' was published in the December 2017 issue of Liberty, the monthly newspaper of Ireland's largest trade union SIPTU. Online and hardcopy issues of Liberty are distributed to SIPTU's 206,880 members in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The article detailed the impact of the Russian Revolution on Ireland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://cloud.3dissue.com/86718/87064/194160/LibertyNewspaperDecember2017/html5/index.html?page=1&no...
Description Panellist at History Ireland magazine Hedge School discussing the Russian Revolution at the Electric Picnic music festival, 3 September 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The History Ireland Hedge School debated 'One hundred years since the Russian Revolution: the dustbin of history?' at the Electric Picnic music festival at Stradbally, Co. Laois, 3 September 2017. Podcast available online.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.historyireland.com/podcast/history-ireland-hedge-school-mindfield-electric-picnic/
Description Public discussion: 'Lessons of the Russian Revolution' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I was part of a panel which discussed the impact of the Russian Revolution on Ireland and more generally at Liberty Hall, Dublin, on 17th November 2017. The occasion was the 'Kevin McMahon memorial lecture' organised by the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Trade Union (SIPTU), Ireland's largest trade union.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Public lecture 'Red Scares and Rebels' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lecture entitled 'Red Scares and rebels': Ireland and Communism' delivered as part of a series run by Dublin City Library and Archives to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution. This lunch time lecture was held in the Council chamber of Dublin's City Hall on 17 October 2017. A podcast of the talk will become available in the near future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Submission to public consultation process, on behalf of the Expert Advisory Group, on commemoration of the Decade of Centenaries, 1918-23 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The following submission was submitted to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to assist the Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations in their work to advise Government regarding the State's approach to commemorations over the remainder of the Decades of Centenaries.
Ireland and the wider world: a submission to the Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations


We welcome the public call for submissions to assist the Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations in advising Government on the State's approach to the commemoration of significant historical events that took place between 1918 and 1923.

Our proposal is that the historical events and themes proposed for remembrance by the State over the remainder of the Decade of Centenaries acknowledge the role of the global Irish diaspora, and the impact of international events more generally, in shaping the Irish Revolution and its outcome. We also believe that an international dimension will engage the global Irish in matters relating to Irish culture and heritage, a key objective of DFAT's Global Irish: Ireland's Diaspora Policy (2015).

Context and rationale:

One of the most important developments in Irish historical writing over recent decades has been the effort to place the Easter Rising in its broader European context. Once viewed as parallel historical developments, the First World War and the 1916 rebellion are now seen, in the words of Keith Jeffery, to constitute a 'seamless robe' of Irish experience. Historians have been successful in conveying this idea to the general public during the 'Decade of Centenaries'. The international dimension of the State's commemorative programme has also strengthened important connections between the Irish people at home and abroad. One of the most successful aspects of the 2016 centenary, resulting from the DFAT's ambitious global programme, was the extent to which Irish communities across the world participated in historical reflections and ceremonies to mark the Easter Rising. A number of world-leading universities were involved in the 1916/2016 programme including Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Queen's University, and Boston College, bringing a much-welcome international context to the discussions and debates about the events of this period.
In contrast, there is less public awareness of the extent to which Ireland's campaign for independence was bound up with wider European and global developments after 1918. The attainment of Irish sovereignty depended not only on developments within Ireland but on those beyond the island. The popularity of the Wilsonian ideal of national self-determination in the immediate aftermath of the First World War provided a vital context for the emergence of democratic republics across much of Europe. The global Irish diaspora, not only in the United States but across the British Empire, played a crucial role in sustaining Ireland's struggle for independence. Events in Ireland also had a significant impact beyond Ireland, particularly on oppressed nationalities in other parts of the world.
Irish revolutionaries' appreciation of the need to win international support for Irish independence is evident from Dáil initiatives such as the Message to the Free Nations of the World, the success of the Dáil foreign ministry in establishing consuls across Europe and the wider world, and President de Valera's presence in the United States between June 1919 and December 1920. Despite this, events within Ireland, in particular the military aspects of the War of Independence, tend to overshadow the importance of the international and political dimensions of the struggle for Irish independence. Our concern is that an official commemorative programme which marks only military and political events within Ireland may reinforce insular perspectives on this period of Irish history. This may well have the unintended consequences of promoting insularity and inward-looking perspectives.
We also believe that a greater public understanding and awareness of the wider international context, particularly through exploration of the parallels between experiences in Ireland and other parts of Europe where empires gave way to nation-states, might provide an effective means of approaching some of the most difficult and contested events of 1918-23. Sensitive, and still deeply divisive, issues such as sectarian violence; partition; the experience of religious and political minorities; and civil war - which are often interpreted in a narrow Irish context - might usefully be assessed in a broader, comparative framework as these were features of many of the new post-war European states that emerged from the First World War's violent aftermath.


1. An event recognising the participation of the global Irish diaspora in the republican campaign for independence be included in The Independence Struggle 1919 - 1921 (military and parallel non-military activity) timeline of key events.

One potential date might be 23 August 1920 when a small group of American and Irish women began a protest vigil outside the British Consulate in New York to draw attention to Terence MacSwiney's hunger strike in London. Four days later, their protest spread to the New York harbour front when Irish, Irish-American and African-American longshoremen refused to unload the cargo of the S.S. Baltic, a White Star liner from which Archbishop Mannix had been removed by the British military to prevent his journey to Ireland. In addition to highlighting international involvement in the struggle for Irish independence, the ensuing dispute demonstrated how Irish demands for independence were, at times, bound up with wider progressive causes such as female suffrage, racial injustice and anti-imperialism.

2. The inclusion of 'Ireland and the Wider World' as a theme within the Significant Historical Events and Themes (1918 - 1923). This will, as the Expert Advisory Committee notes, 'provide an opportunity to highlight new and ongoing research and perspectives and to emphasise the huge broadening of the frameworks for interpreting the events of 1917 - 1923 in recent decades'. In addition to providing 'the opportunity to encourage scholarship at national and local level', these new scholarly interpretations should be made as publicly accessible as possible.

3. Establishing a short series of public lectures by leading international, diaspora and Irish scholars reflecting on global developments, such as the international impact of the shift from empire to self-determination, and the role of the Irish diaspora in shaping Ireland's revolution. This might be hosted at an appropriate venue such as the Royal Irish Academy, and further disseminated to the global Irish diaspora via podcast.

4. The convening of an international scholarly conference at an appropriate high-profile location, such as Boston or New York, bringing together historians of Ireland, the Irish diaspora, and other countries influenced by anti-imperial struggle during this period, to reflect on the global dimensions of Ireland's revolution and its wider impact on empire. Such a conference, organised by an international university or a partnership of a number of international institutions, might incorporate public events involving the Irish diaspora, other diasporic communities, and representatives of civic groups such as the American labour movement which played such a prominent role in the Irish Patriotic Strike of 1920.

Submitted on behalf of the AHRC-funded research project, A Global History of Irish Revolution: (http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk/projects?ref=AH%2FP00914X%2F1)

Prof. Fearghal McGarry, Queen's University Belfast
Prof. Enda Delaney, The University of Edinburgh
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.chg.gov.ie/news-centre/news-centre-consultations/