From Local to Global: New Perspectives on Early Modern Ireland

Author: Marc Caball (University College Dublin)


The papers presented at ACIS-CAIS 2014 reflect new trends in research on early modern Ireland, a pivotal period in the island’s history and whose demographic, cultural, social, linguistic, religious, and political legacy continues to resonate contemporaneously. Reflecting current developments in the study of Irish history generally, a concern with cultural and social topics was especially evident in the papers. This focus on broader questions of identities and complex intersections of social, cultural, and political experience in an insular, European, and global context was further developed.

An emphasis on placing early modern Ireland in a comparative or wider geographical context was a feature of the ACIS-CAIS papers. Given Ireland’s constitutional position as a component state of the Three Kingdoms and the island’s role in the expansion of British dominion across the Atlantic in the early modern period, such a comparative approach promises new insights and is potentially transformative in facilitating a global perspective on the Irish experience. Kathryn Sawyer (University of Notre Dame) placed the history of radical Irish Protestantism in the 1650s in an Atlantic context when she compared Baptists and Congregationalists in Ireland and New England. John McCafferty (University College Dublin) situated seventeenth-century Irish Franciscan writings in a national and European context when he argued that Irish members of this global order developed a binary identity that was simultaneously national and international. My own presentation argued that the Gaelic master poet Aogán Ó Rathaille (c.1670-1729) was in many respects a deeply traditional artist who combined a local outlook with an acute awareness of contemporary British and European politics. Liam Mac Mathúna (University College Dublin) explored the worldview of the Gaelic scholar and scribe, Tadhg Ó Neachtain (1671-c.1752), who kept a school in the Dublin Liberties. Drawing on the evidence of Ó Neachtain’s extant manuscripts, Mac Mathúna demonstrated how he followed and recorded current affairs from newspapers of the day and how his translations of material from English enabled him to present his own reading of history, culture, and geography. Brendan Kane (University of Connecticut) reflected on questions of popular protest in early modern Ireland and suggested that Irish “commoners” were not without agency in their determination and acceptance of what forms of power were to be deemed legitimate or illegitimate. Sarah McKibben (University of Notre Dame) explored homosocial bonding in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Ireland. Using sources such as bardic poetry and colonial prose tracts, she argued that queer theory readings of such texts help make sense of the complexity of colonial encounters.

The early modern papers presented at ACIS-CAIS were diverse and stimulating in their exploration of the global and national dimensions of early modern Ireland and in their varied social, cultural, religious, and political manifestations.