The 11th Percy French Festival
Leaving in Irish History, Politics and Culture
For centuries, Ireland’s society, culture, politics, economy and history have been shaped to an enormous extent by the phenomenon of leaving. This ‘leaving’ has taken a variety of forms–perhaps most obviously and importantly that of mass emigration, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with all its attendant social, cultural and economic changes and impacts. When one looks at Irish politics, on the ‘macro’ level one can point to the departure of 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties from the United Kingdom, a process with many beginnings, one of the more important of which was the War of Independence, the first shots of which were fired 100 years ago; another major political leave-taking whose 70th anniversary occurs this year is Ireland’s departure from the British Commonwealth in 1949. And, of course, this year also sees another major political departure, as Northern Ireland, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, leaves the European Union. At the time of writing, the consequences of this most recent manifestation of Irish ‘leaving’ remain to be seen, but they are unlikely to be minor. On a ‘micro’ level, Ireland’s politics have also been profoundly shaped by what Brendan Behan regarded as the first item on the agenda of any Republican meeting, that of ‘the split’. According to the author of The Irish Times ‘Irishman’s Diary’, Republicans did not have a monopoly on ‘the split’, when he observed that ‘the split, of course, is not [just] a Republican thing, but an Irish thing; and great “whose-side-are-you on?”Divisions have occurred so often in Irish life over the centuries that we must conclude they are a national characteristic.