“Everyone in Belfast is Irish, but there is a sign in East Belfast that says ‘Irish Out,'” explained lecturer Tom Hayden, speaking to a full house last Monday night. “From the loyalist’s perspective, the Irish are the invaders, and the colonialists are the indigenous population.”
The lecture, entitled ‘Irish on the Inside: The Need for Ethnic Identity in an Era of Globalization,’ was sponsored by the Centre for Canadian Irish Studies.
Hosted by Hayden, social activist, author, and elected official, the lecturer addressed the issues of racism, oppression and historical neglect experienced by the Irish, and the effect this may have on other ethnic or cultural groups.
“Hawthorne called the Irish maggots,” says Hayden. “Emerson said that the Irish will never occupy any high place in the human family.”
As Hayden continued with his passionate, yet intellectually based arguments, the audience became more empathetic to the plight and suffering of the Irish people.
“In 1920, Chancellor Lowell of Harvard University said ‘What we need is not to dominate the Irish, but to absorb them through assimilation, and through this, they will come to share our sentiment,'” explained Hayden.
“[I]t is this oscillation between brutal oppression and absorption, that has been to make the Irish disappear into the ‘White-ness’ or ‘British-ness’, anything but Irish.”
Hayden’s arguments are outlined in his book Irish on the Inside: In Search of the Soul of Irish America, an autobiographical and historical examination of Irish history and culture in America and Ireland.
Hayden believes the pattern of oppression, and neglect faced by the Irish people can be applied to other ethnic groups.
“The removal from memory from the textbooks of British colonialism, the oppression of the Irish, the displacement of millions of peasant farmers into exile, to live in the slums of New York City,” helps to perpetuate the pattern of historical and cultural neglect.
Until recently, Hayden’s family heritage had been a victim of this neglect, and therefore he encouraged people to explore their heritage because “all of the memories and more should be recovered, because if they disappear, we would desecrate the memory of those who struggled in order to make our opportunity for a better life possible.”
“We will be deprived of a very powerful resource for understanding the identical sufferings, and struggles around the world today,” Hayden continued.
Hayden’s passion and intellectual curiosity on the subject echoed throughout the audience.
Participants asked questions ranging from the impacts of protestant politics upon Irish America, to the assimilation of the Irish in Ireland today. “It’s typical in post-colonial societies to mimic their oppressor, and disappear into the society,” explained Hayden.
“Splendid, an excellent presentation filled with passion, personal experience and intellectual thought,” commented Michael Kenneally, chair of the Centre for Canadian Irish Studies, on the success, and wonderful reception the event had received.
By perpetuating this global phenomenon, society validates “…a peaceful ethnic cleansing through education,” explains Hayden