Curators respond to views that history exhibition in Washington is offensive to the Irish
A strong defense of scholarship used in “Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland”
The two curators of the Washington exhibit on Renaissance Ireland, which has been slammed for portraying the British as benign invaders by a leading Irish scholar, have defended their work.
Thomas Herron and Brendan Kane claim the letter criticising them by Irish academic Coilin Owens unfairly caricatures their work.
“As co-curators of the exhibit "Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland," which has recently opened at the Folger Shakespeare Library, we are disappointed to find such an inaccurate and incomplete account of the exhibit as offered in your article. We would have appreciated being contacted so as to answer some of the charges against our exhibit before your article went into print.
“For example, your article was based (mainly) on the testimony of Professor Coilin Owens, who states erroneously that "Purporting to represent Anglo-Irish relations, cultural and political, between 1580 and 1700, [the exhibit's] major claim is that the period was not marked by conflict but by 'cooperation.'"
“This is simply not true. In both the exhibit and the accompanying catalog, we clearly highlight war (such as the Nine Years' War), rebellion (such as the Kildare and Desmond rebellions) and colonization (such as the Munster and Ulster Plantations, and Cromwell's transplantations) as major (indeed traumatic) factors in the history of the period, which for the purposes of the exhibit encompasses roughly the years 1450-1660 (and not "1580-1700" as reported by Owens). We clearly mention conflict in the opening panel of the exhibit (and in the opening to the catalog) and highlight it throughout the exhibit.
“For example, when we discuss the Munster Plantation (begun in the 1580s) and writers associated with it, we include discussion of the warfare against the earl of Desmond (who, it should be pointed out, identified himself as Old English, not Irish) that preceded the plantation (cf. Case 5). We also present a facsimile of the celebratory bardic account, in Irish, of the destruction of the plantation by the Maguire, in 1598 (cf. Case 6).
“One strongpoint of this exhibit is its extended and careful presentation of Irish-language materials, some of them extremely rare (such as the Book of the O'Byrnes on loan from Harvard), thus giving a clear voice to the Gaelic Irish, many of whom (but not all of whom) suffered from events in the period. (Co-curator Kane is expert in the Irish language and history of the period.)
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