Robert Kee – A Television History of Ireland – Episode 3 `Two Nations 1700-1845`

Nora Connolly 

© Image The Library of Congress photostream

Tis the most distressful country that ever yet was seen (John McCormack)

In a broad sweep Kee examines Irish nationalist development up to the Act of Union (1801) the episode concludes with the famine. The two nations described are identifiable by religious affiliation, the largest Catholic and by virtue of the Penal Laws a discriminated group. While religious observance for Catholics was difficult, it was grudgingly accepted by the authorities (though in reduced circumstances). The quid pro quo at the heart of this tacit arrangement was recognition that Catholic civil rights were completely curtailed. Catholics were not permitted to hold political office, disqualified from voting and as episode three illustrates, severe limitations were imposed on land ownership including the transfer of land through inheritance. The Presbyterian Protestant dissenter`s in the North (not identified as a separate group by Kee), were also penalised, e.g. the requirement of paying tithes to the Anglican Church. These grievances would be a unifying factor, in the formation of an embryonic Irish Republican movement. Read more of this post

Robert Kee: History of Ireland` – No Surrender` (Episode 2)

Nora Connolly 

copyright Kyz`s photostream

In episode two Robert Kee adroitly negotiates his way through a myriad of propaganda while separating myth from reality. This episode explains why modern Ireland became such a troubled and polarised nation. He does not pull his punches; atrocities are graphically outlined, making for uncomfortable viewing. Kee begins with the `Flight of the Earls` September 1607, when Hugh O`Neill and his entourage went into self imposed exile. O`Neill the last Gaelic/Catholic leader in Ireland, had after his rebellion with England, lost all authority in his own country. We are reminded that O`Neill was made an Earl by the English Crown, an example of what eminent Irish historian RF Foster calls “the Janus-face of Ireland”. When O`Neill departs, the enormous area of land under his possession in Ulster (hitherto the most Gaelic/Catholic region) was grabbed and forfeited to the English Crown. Donegal, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan and Armagh colonised or planted with largely Scottish settlers. Plantations had occurred in other parts of Ireland but this was the most successful because of its geographical proximity to Britain. Read more of this post

Robert Kee: `Ireland A Television History`: Episode 1 `A Nation Once Again`

Nora Connolly 

Celtic Cross

copyright amanderson2sphotostream

And Ireland, long a province be


This song was written by Thomas Davis, one of the founders in 1842 of the nationalist periodical, `The Nation` and appeared in his paper alongside similar verse described by Robert Kee in `The Green Flag` as “trite but often of stirring quality”. In this programme he explains the song served as the unofficial national anthem of Ireland. While pointing out the melody depicts an unrealistic version of nationhood which is also inconsistent with what the nation of Ireland had been and what it became. Further, how he asks could Ireland become `A Nation Once Again`, when a significant minority oppose the very idea?

Commentators seeking to analyse Irish Nationalism dispassionately, such as Robert Kee, can find themselves subject to criticism based on the unfounded notion that they are taking sides – a problem familiar to all historians. But the issue is more potent when it concerns Irish History/Nationalism. The resurgence of interest in Robert Kee following his death has lead to a rise in viewers to his television history on Youtube. Some of the comments give a flavour of the problem, as Kee is criticised on the one hand for producing an overly sympathetic portrayal of the Irish, while on the other hand criticised for being hostile to the Irish. Both assertions are ridiculous, the programme rightly received wide-spread acclaim when broadcast.  Kee`s `The Green Flag` contains an inscription, from AG Richey,”to appreciate the history of this or any other country it is necessary to sympathise with all of the parties”. Kee`s television history achieves this but his sympathy does not inhibit him from looking at Irish nationalism with a critical analytical eye. His inquisitorial approach allows for a balanced appraisal, while outlining the adversarial history of this most distressful country and the part played by Britain.   Read more of this post


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