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Unhappy the Land: The Most Oppressed People Ever, the Irish?


Liam Kennedy

October 2015

Challenging, contentious and highly original perspectives of the major controversies in Irish history; Kennedy confronts historical focal points such as the Ulster Plantation, the Great Famine, and the War of Independence with previously untold scrutiny.

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In Unhappy the Land Liam Kennedy poses fundamental questions about the social and political history of Ireland and challenges cherished notions of a uniquely painful past. Images of tragedy and victimhood are deeply embedded in the national consciousness, yet when the Irish experience is viewed in the larger European context a different perspective emerges. The author’s dissection of some pivotal episodes in Irish history serves to explode commonplace assumptions about oppression, victimhood and a fate said to be comparable ‘only to that of the Jews’. Was the catastrophe of the Great Famine really an Irish Holocaust? Was the Ulster Covenant anything other than a battle-cry for ethnic conflict? Was the Proclamation of the Irish Republic a means of texting terror? And who fears to speak of an Irish War of Independence, shorn of its heroic pretensions?

Kennedy argues that the privileging of ‘the gun, the drum and the flag’ above social concerns and individual liberties gave rise to disastrous consequences for generations of Irish people. Ireland might well be a land of heroes, from Cúchulainn to Michael Collins, but it is also worth pondering Bertolt Brecht’s warning: ‘Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.’


Table of Contents

Part 1: The Long View

  1. A Most Oppressed People?
  2. The Planter and the Gael
  3. Nationalism and Unionism in Ireland

Part 2: Famine in Ireland

  1. Cry Holocaust: The Great Famine and the Jewish Holocaust
  2. Ireland, Irish-America and the Man who ‘Invented’ Genocide

Part 3: The Revolutionary Decade

  1. The Ulster Covenant
  2. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic
  3. Texting Terror: 1912 and 1916
  4. Was there an Irish War of Independence?


About the Author

Liam Kennedy is Emeritus Professor of Economic History at Queen’s University, Belfast, as well as Visiting Professor in Economic & Social History at Ulster University. He is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and is the co-editor of An Economic History of Ulster in the 1980s and Ulster Since1600, among many other notable publications.

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