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19

Apr

2019

The Partition of Ireland: 1918-1925

Written by: Robert Lynch

 
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The partition of Ireland between the years 1918 and 1925 was arguably the most significant event in modern Irish history. From the ‘Troubles’ to Brexit, the division of the island into two antithetical states both embodying incompatible visions of Ireland’s past and future has been fundamental in shaping the political, economic, religious and cultural identities which emerged in its aftermath.

Despite this however, as a topic partition sits very much on the periphery of historical scholarship. The recent tendency to view the momentous events which overwhelmed Ireland in the decade which spanned the Great War largely through the prism of nationalist revolution has had the effect of reframing Irish history as a teleological biography of the southern nation state, thus sideling partition and reducing it to a dry and dusty act of administrative chicanery.

The Partition of Ireland: 1918-1925 seeks to challenge this view by relocating partition at the centre of our understandings of the period. It looks behind the irredentist claims of all governments by examining the way partition was constructed and imagined. Behind the high politics of the period lies a hidden story of millions of people whose lives and identities were being shaped by the elite high politics of London, Dublin and Belfast. Partition was by definition a mass participation event where political decision making was shaped by elections, demonstrations, popular refusal to participate in the new states’ institutions and the direct experience of savage acts of violence in defence or opposition to the new settlement.

Partition swept away a vast array of traditional institutions, mentalities and certainties. In seeking to foreground partition, this book attempts to paint a more nuanced and complex picture of the interaction of nationalism, religion and politics, going beyond the vitriol and pious truisms which emerged both during and after partition. It highlights the sheer chaos of the partition plan birthed amidst a rapid post-war decolonisation set against the backdrop of nationalist ‘revolution,’ followed by an ill-conceived and clumsy attempt to transfer power, midwifed by a cynical and war weary British establishment.

Far from the rational conferral of statehood on pre-existing homogeneous populations, partition was instead a series of ill-conceived responses to unpredictable and unprecedented political developments. It was made workable only through repeated short-term modifications to the plan and unspeakable acts of violence, leaving behind embittered minorities and a legacy of acrimony and political instability. This book seeks to challenge the sense of partition as a final settlement by pointing out how chaotic and confused the process was and how it failed to provide convincing answers to the complex and enduring problems of Irish identity ushering in a human tragedy.

 

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About the Author: Robert Lynch

Robert Lynch has worked, taught and researched at the University of Stirling, University of Oxford, Trinity College Dublin, Warwick University and Queen's University Belfast. He has published numerous articles and books on the early history of Northern Ireland and the partition era including The Northern IRA and the Early Years of Partition, 1920...

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