Emigrants and exiles
The political nationalism of the Irish diaspora since the 1790s
in British and Irish diasporas
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In 1995 President Mary Robinson of Ireland, in an address to a joint session of the Irish Parliament, argued that the Irish people in Ireland should ‘cherish the diaspora’ abroad. By 2015 the once little-used idea of the Irish diaspora had been incorporated into the Irish Constitution, with its own government minister, with a bespoke diaspora policy. The term ‘diaspora’ seemed to suit because as well as including the descendants of Irish emigrants, it implied an element of compulsion in Irish migration. This idea of Irish emigration as one of exile has a long pedigree going back to the early seventeenth century. At the beginning of the nineteenth, images of exiles were reinforced by the political refugees of the 1798 rebellion. Mass migration after 1815, however, complicated this notion of migration as exile. Were all those millions of Irish who left between 1815 and 1995 truly exiles? Did they represent themselves as exiles? Was exile their reality? This chapter uses the concept of diaspora as a way to assess the ways Irish emigration was seen by the Irish who left, their descendants and those they left behind. It does not overlook the Protestant. Ultimately, this chapter will attempt to show how Irishness itself was often defined through the diaspora and the formation of a distinct Irish national identity.

British and Irish diasporas

Societies, cultures and ideologies


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