This thesis, entitled Irish Identities: New Narratives of a Diverse and Multicultural Ireland, explores the way in which issues of identity are being addressed in the Republic of Ireland in the context of a growing awareness of the presence of a non-Irish population. As a result of rapid changes in migration patterns and the resulting consequences to the Republic of Ireland, I have focused my research primarily on the South.
During the 1990s and, most particularly, from the second half of the last decade, the growing number of immigrants arriving to settle in the South has been an important factor in problematising the traditional concept of Ireland as an ethnically homogeneous society. I argue however, that this so called monoculture described as white, conservative and Catholic was a construct based not on actuality but in order to serve nationalist aims in the struggle for achieving and maintaining
independence. As a result, ethnic minorities long present in Ireland have been obscured and forgotten in the annals of Irish history. Discounting the myth of Ireland as a coherent, unified state devoid of ethnic or racial differences, and essentially a monoculture, engenders new narratives of identity. I argue that this process of identity (re)construction should entail the recovery of the history of ethnic minorities in the Republic.
The recent focus on diversity in Ireland has opened up opportunities for migrants, Travellers and other minorities to commence the recovery of their history. It has also re-energised the debate on identity, in which the Travellers and Irish women, among others, have deconstructed traditional notions of "Irishness". Another key issue is the "place" the Irish Diaspora should take. This thesis deploys some theorisations of identity to discuss the cultural practices of the above groups, with
particular attention to literary works. The definition "Irish" literature is in itself contiguous to the debate about the meaning of "Irishness".
The first chapter shows the extent to which Ireland has never been a monoculture. In analysing demographic changes and the extent to which Ireland past and present is a multicultural state, an altered image of Irish society from the more commonly accepted ideas of national identity in Ireland is produced. The first chapter also discusses interculturalism as opposed to multiculturalism as terms used by governments and academics in Ireland to describe diversity. The last section discusses some organisations focussing primarily on cultural events and productions used in the task of interculturalism - created specifically to address the problems of racism and integration.
The second chapter examines the way internal and
external forces are shaping identity in the modem Republic, its malleability in the hands of cultural revivalists of the past, and factors influencing its deconstruction and construction. The chapter pays particular attention to the subjugation of Irish women and how national identity was formed on the basis of a patriarchal system, disallowing the participation of women in roles other than symbolic. Another focus is the differing racisms suffered by Travellers and people of colour that reveal some complexities in determining who is the 'Other'. Finally, a section of the chapter examines the Irish Diaspora and the way in which it impacts upon Irish identity.
Chapter three analyses some new literary material published in the Republic, selected specifically for its treatment of the theme of identity in the South. These works demonstrate that multiple identities are under construction in Ireland today, challenging the perpetuation of a narrow definition of
'Irishness'. I argue that as the literature in English from former British colonies can be viewed as an element in the process of decolonisation, so too Traveller literature, especially when written in cant, can contribute to the empowerment of the Travelling community, thereby releasing them from stereotypical definitions which perpetuate their subjugation. Similarly, stereotypical notions of 'race' in the other works analysed, emphasise the impact that cultures may have on each other and of the fluid, as opposed to fixed, nature of identity. Through these narratives, voices otherwise mute/muted in the past are audible and offer alternatives to the traditional themes of Irish literature, and dominant constructs of Irish culture and society.