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‘I was brought up to think myself Irish without question or qualification,’ wrote the Irish author and politician, Stephen Gwynn, in the 1920s, ‘but the new nationalism prefers to describe me and the like of me as Anglo-Irish.’ This new nationalism maintained that the only true Irishman was a Gael, and Gaelic culture the only truly Irish culture. Other elements, if they could not be eliminated, must be given a label indicating their ‘foreign’ origin.
‘Anglo-Irish was the name given to the descendents and successors of the Protestant Ascendancy that had ruled Ireland in the eighteenth century, to which belonged Swift and Burke, Goldsmith and Grattan. They were, in general, members of the Church of Ireland and mainly, though not exclusively, of English extraction. But they certainly felt themselves to be Irish, however they might differ from the majority of their countrymen.
In this book J. C. Beckett maintains that the Anglo-Irish tradition is an essential part of the life of Ireland. He traces its history down to the Treaty of 1921, and discusses briefly the significance for Ireland of their decline, both in numbers and in influence, after that date.
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