Discourses of authenticity and national identity among the Irish diaspora in England

Scully, Marc Donnchadh (2010). Discourses of authenticity and national identity among the Irish diaspora in England. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00006382


This thesis explores the ways in which Irish people in England draw on discourses of authenticity in constructing and articulating Irish identities. It is based on the theoretical assumption that identities are constructed through discourse, which is understood as a broad horizon of meaning-making. The Irish in England are discussed as a population that negotiate both their personal identities and putative collective identity within discourses of Irishness as diasporic and as a minority identity within multicultural England. It is argued that 'authenticity' is central to both these positionings, but that personal constructions of authentic Irishness may differ from hegemonic constructions. Additionally, a distinction is made between diasporic and transnational Irish identities.

Using a convenience sample, participants who self-identified as Irish were recruited from three English cities. Thirty individual interviews and four group discussions were carried out - the interview schedules and analysis was informed by ongoing 'informal' participant observation. In analysing the corpus of data, narratives of a 'typical' Irish life were attended to as well as the rhetorical means by which Irishness was contested. A clear canonical narrative of a 'collective' Irish experience in post-war England emerges, alongside three major areas of contestation through which claims on authenticity were made: public displays of Irishness, local identities, and generational differences.

It is concluded that 'authenticity' is central to understanding how individuals situate their personal identities within collective identities. In particular, three distinct but overlapping discourses of Irish authenticity are identified: authenticity through collective experience and memory; authenticity through transnational knowledge and authenticity through diasporic claim. The implications of these findings, the original contribution they make both to Irish Studies and the social psychological study of identity, and how they may inform future study are also discussed, with an emphasis on the need to further examine the importance of county identity.

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