Explore UCD

UCD Home >

Irish Identity



Ireland is marking centenaries of civil war and independence, establishing a new post-Brexit relationship with Britain and Europe, grappling with COVID-19 and its consequences, and facing the global threat of climate crisis. This series of events at the Centre for Ethics in Public Life, opens discussions on what ‘being Irish’ means in these tumultuous times and what it could mean in the future.  How do Irish people take on their nationality and can we talk about a ‘good’ Irish nationalism? What would that look like? What are the values that are most important in being Irish?

While Irish people continue to emigrate abroad, and the Irish diaspora continues to grow; emigration is no longer the economic exile it used to be. Why is living outside Ireland still so much a part of being Irish? As many emigres return to Ireland, how are the experiences of being Irish abroad changing those of being Irish at home?

To what extent does Ireland live up to its own notions of being the most hospitable of nations? What is it like to be defined as not Irish for residents living in Ireland today? Ireland’s treatment of asylum seekers in direct provision has raised numerous human rights concerns and racist and exclusionary language is becoming more prominent in contemporary socio-political discourse.

Ireland’s long history of entwinement with the Catholic church has left its mark in the Irish language, non-religious cultural practices, attitudes to women, education, sexuality and even in the constitution. Recent census information indicates that more and more Irish people, and particularly younger generations, are defining themselves in secular terms. What impact does this have for redefining Irishness in the wake of the legacy of the Catholic church for the Irish state?

These seminars around the ethics of Irish identity face some of these and related questions by engaging scholars, public servants, and commentators in open public-facing conversations. Events are free and open to all but registration is essential.

  1. What Language do the Irish Speak?

Monday 12th April 16h-18h via Zoom

Speakers: Michael Cronin, Ola Majekodunmi, Regina Uí Chollatáin, Iarfhlaith Watson

Chaired by Dr. Lisa Foran

Ireland is officially a bilingual state but less than 1.5% of the population speak Irish daily. For many theorists, nationality is intimately connected, if not defined by language – what does it mean to be Irish without the Irish language? What place, if any, does Irish have in contemporary forward-looking notions of Irish identity? The growing number of Gaelscoileanna, particularly in urban areas, points to a moderately growing desire to maintain the language, traditionally spoken more frequently in rural areas. Is the urban-rural division usually associated with Irish changing? Are class issues at play here? The publication in 2020 of a new Irish-English dictionary saw recognition for modern language practices and new technological terms such as ‘Googling’ and ‘texting’.  Does this mean that Irish is indeed a ‘living’ language or is it soon to be relegated to the graveyard like so many lesser-spoken languages? What is the impact of this sense of threat to the language itself? Poets such as Nuala Ní Dhomnail and Biddy Jenkinson have paralleled environmental destruction with language loss – are there linguistic lessons we can translate to help us face the climate crisis?

2. Céad Míle Fáilte: How Hospitable is Ireland?

Wednesday 16th June 2021 16-18h

Join panellists Valéria Aquino (Immigrant Council of Ireland), Mastoureh Fathi (UCD Sociology), Paula Carolina Martinez Pavon (The Danú Project / UCD Sociology), and Danielle Petherbridge (UCD Philosophy) to discuss these and related questions.

Ireland promotes itself, at least in its tourism materials, as a friendly, hospitable nation: the land of a ‘hundred thousand welcomes’. Irish myths are full of the arrival stories of immigrants to Ireland: from Fénius Farsaid, the Scythian king who brought the Irish language to Ireland; to the Scandinavian Vikings; to the Anglo-Norman settlers who became ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’. Ireland is also a country with a legacy of emigration and exile, such that some element of the experience of being an immigrant – of being Irish elsewhere – is a significant part of the cultural memory, even for those who never left. 

Does Ireland live up to its own notions of being the most hospitable of nations? What is it like to not be Irish in Ireland today? Or to be perceived as not Irish? While many nations have mythical origin stories of arrival, the worst kind of nationalism centres on excluding arrivals from elsewhere or on an idea of a mythical pure lineage.  Ireland is not immune to this exclusionary nationalism: the treatment of asylum seekers in direct provision has raised numerous human rights concerns.  Racist and exclusionary language is becoming more prominent in contemporary socio-political discourse. Just how hospitable is Ireland today?

         3. How is Religion Part of Irish Identity?

Friday 19th November 2021 16-18h online via zoom.

Ireland’s religious history manifests in its language (Dia duit, Dia is Muire duit and even Dia is Muire agus Padraig duit), in its landscape dotted with the ruins of churches and monasteries, and even in the national holiday of St Patrick’s day. The entwinement of church and state from the constitution, to the provision of education and healthcare, the restriction of reproductive rights, to the institutionalization of thousands of women and children in the twentieth century, continues to be deeply problematic in the Republic of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, sectarian divisions between Protestant and Catholic, seen by many to be healing since the Good Friday Agreement, now seem to once again be widening post-Brexit. What does this complex history of Christianity in particular, mean to those who call themselves Irish today?

Despite a rising secularism in the Republic of Ireland, most citizens (>90%) continue to describe themselves as belonging to some religious faith. While Catholicism is still the most widely practiced religion, its numbers are declining. Conversely, the Anglican, Jewish, and Muslim communities are growing, as are the number of people professing no religious affiliation at all. What does this changing religious landscape say about Ireland today? How can religious inclusivity be part of a progressive understanding of what it means to be Irish today?

Join philosophers Felix Ó Murchadha (NUIG), Katherine O’Donnell (UCD), and Daniel Esmonde Deasy (UCD) to discuss these and related questions on the 19th November @16h. 

Contact the Centre for Ethics in Public Life (CEPL)

CEPL, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
E: cepl@ucd.ie