Kennedy shines light on Irish nationalism

Hunter Deas, Copy Editor

Dr. Christopher M. Kennedy, assistant professor of history at FMU and author of the recently published book, “Genesis of the Rising 1912 – 1916: A Transformation of Nationalist Opinion,” is looking forward to beginning work on another book next spring.

Kennedy graduated from University College Cork/National University of Ireland with a Ph.D. specializing in Irish and British history. He began teaching at FMU in the fall of 2006, and currently serves as the faculty adviser to Phi Alpha Theta, National Honor Society for History.

His book, “Genesis of the Rising,” was published by Peter Lang Publishing as part of a series on Irish history. The object of Kennedy’s book was to examine public opinion from 1912 to 1916 in order to refute the “turning of the tide” theory in Irish history. The theory, long held by many historians of the Irish nationalist movement, suggests that Irish nationalism turned almost at once from peaceful pro-British constitutional nationalism to violent anti-British physical force nationalism after the public execution of the Irish leaders of the 1916 “Sinn Fein Rising.” Kennedy argued that the Easter Rising had been mislabeled by calling it the Sinn Fein Rising and that public opinion and Irish nationalism had been changing slowly since home rule was denied after being promised in 1912.

“The English tended to be the only people reporting on the Easter Rising, and they mislabeled it the Sinn Fein Rising, because it wasn’t the Sinn Fein involved with it,” Kennedy said. “In fact, Arthur Griffith, the leader of Sinn Fein, the founder of Sinn Fein, came out during the rising, and the rising leaders told him, ‘Go back home.'”

Kennedy supported his argument by writing his book based on research material that had been overlooked by other historians. He used personal documents from the period to show the true nature of Irish sentiment during a time when the Irish faced persecution if they were open about their true opinions.

“I look at documents – a lot of documents written in the Irish language, a lot of personal correspondence, diaries, many newspapers, things like that,” Kennedy said. “I dig underneath. I kind of ascertain the true feeling on, you know, kind of people’s hearts and minds, so to speak.”

Kennedy was inspired to write the book when he read a book given to him by his parents as a Christmas present in 1990. The book, “Ireland 1912 – 1985: Politics and Society,” was written by J. Joseph Lee. Lee said in one line of the book that public opinion was unclear during the time of the Easter Rising. That one line gave Kennedy the direction for his doctoral thesis and the idea for his book.

“I got the idea from, essentially, this Christmas present, this Irish history book, that kind of led me on to this kind of quest of trying to track down that answer, and looking at the grassroots level,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy planned to pursue his doctoral studies at Boston College. However, when he sent his thesis to Lee, who taught at Cork, Kennedy was invited to pursue his doctoral studies in Ireland.

Kennedy’s research into personal documents led him to the diaries of Liam de Roiste, who went by William Roche at the time to avoid persecution when being Irish was a social handicap. He was a technical college instructor in Ireland, was a part of Sinn Fein and became a member of the first Dail Erinn, the lower house of the Irish parliament. The diaries contributed significantly to Kennedy’s book, and gave him the idea for a second book.

“In one of his diaries, he actually wrote this: ‘I write this down in the hopes that some future historian, if there even be one, should come across this,’ and he’s like talking to me,” Kennedy said. “And when I read that, I might have been the only person ever to look at this guy’s diaries, and I’m looking at this stuff, and he’s talking to me. I’m that future historian that came across that record.”

The diaries are in the possession of the Cork Archives Institute, where they have been since de Roiste’s sister donated them. They sat in the bottom of a bin, bound in rope and string, until Kennedy came across them. The diaries were very detailed and have proven to be important documents for the history of Ireland. Many of the entries, particularly controversial thoughts and observations, were written in Irish. Kennedy had to learn to read Irish script while he researched in order to translate the diaries.

Peter Lang Publishing wrote into Kennedy’s contract that he had “first dibs” to any subsequent book. They were happy with the first book, and gave him a working contract based on his proposal to dig deeper, and translate and print the diaries of de Roiste. Kennedy plans to set the historical stage through editing, but wants de Roiste to tell the story in his own words. Kennedy is excited by the concept of one man’s life shining light on the turning point of Irish nationalism from a local perspective. 

Kennedy hopes to see his second book published in late 2012 or 2013, but he first needs to travel to Ireland. The diaries are held in archives and cannot be borrowed. He wants the book to at least be published by 2016, the 100 year anniversary of the Easter Rising.

In the meanwhile, Kennedy will be offering an honors colloquium on Irish history during the spring semester of 2011. While he covers Irish history in his classes on the British Isles and the British Empire, he looks forward to being able to focus on Irish nationalism and the rise of the modern Irish state.

“It’s a really cool time when the modern Irish state is formed,” Kennedy said. “This is a really complex time in Irish history. The cool thing about it is I’m going to be doing an honors colloquium, and I hope to really talk about this. This is my specialty.”