The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. has been accused by a major Irish scholar of rewriting Irish history to make it far more favorable to the British perspective in their new exhibit entitled “Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland.”
Ironically, the Irish government has been supportive of the exhibition which runs through May and will be in D.C. over the St. Patrick’s period.
Cóilín Owens, Professor Emeritus, George Mason University, is the editor of three books on Irish literature, language, and drama and has written to the library strongly protesting how the major exhibit treats the Irish.
Among other claims he says the exhibit says that the Flight of the Earls, one of the most tragic eras in Irish history, was undergone voluntarily by the Irish chieftains taking up opportunities elsewhere, instead of being driven out by the British after the Battle of Kinsale.
That’s “About like saying Sitting Bull abandoned Dakota or the Jews abandoned their homes in Germany," said Stella O’Leary, a major irish community figure in Washington D.C. and head of Irish American Democrats.
“We all agree to a new era of friendship but not to the rewriting of history.
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Owens claims that far from being a benign presence during the period the British intent was ethnic cleansing,
“If honestly presented, even many of the documents on view demonstrate that the major object of this entire enterprise was what is now euphemized as ethnic cleansing.”
“I protest the theme and tenor of the exhibition entitled which opened last week at the Folger Shakespeare Library.” he writes.
“Purporting to represent Anglo-Irish relations, cultural and political, between 1580 and 1700, its major claim is that the period was not marked by conflict but by 'cooperation.' If this be so, the lexicographers have deceived us.
“The long century in question was perhaps the most violent and destructive in the catalog of Ireland’s tragic history. During this period, the longtime residents were subject to the largest land confiscation and (even including the Great Famine of the 1840s), the largest proportional loss of population ever.
“The systematic destruction of the native polity and the institutions it patronized—legal, political, cultural, and religious—put an end to a civilization older than that of its rapacious conquerors.
“A succession of wars, rebellions, and massacres resulted in the disappearance of over half a million people: into violent death, European exile, or slavery in Barbados. The Penal Laws enacted at the end of this period reduced the remaining population to virtual slaves. The colonial endeavors of the 'nobility' and 'newcomers' had neither the intention nor the effect of 'civilizing' Ireland, but of turning its resources to their exclusive economic benefit.
“The exhibition alleges that this small island, which had an advanced civilization for a millennium before the century in question was 'at the edge of the known world,' and was in need of a Protestant reformation, an Anglicized 'pacification,' and benign 'investment.' It represents the native Irish as 'exotic,' 'fantastical,' and 'intractable.'
“It proposes that the Irish chieftains freely abandoned their ancestral lands for Continental opportunities. It they had any values worth defending, this exhibition does not consider them worthy of mention. Instead, we get complacent colonial disinformation.
“We are repeatedly told that all of this was conducted in the spirit of humanism, improvement, and ennoblement. This despite the preponderance of the historical evidence—excluded from the exhibition—that it was a brutal military conquest.The corner stone of the British Empire rests on these bones which, current political necessities aside, will not lie still.”
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