chapter  1
18 Pages

Virgin Mother Ireland

If “all nationalisms are gendered,”1 the Mother Ireland trope merely indicates the operation of a fundamental structuring principle recognizable in both offi cial and insurgent nationalisms. It is one instance of the structural interdependence of gender and national identities. “The hegemonic process of constructing a nationalist ideology depends upon distinguishing between self and other, us and them, in the creation of a common (shared) identity; women as symbol, men as agents of the nation, colonized space as feminine, colonial power as masculine.”2 Miroslav Hroch argued in the 1990s with regard to both the then resurgent Eastern European nationalisms and to nineteenth-century nationalisms that:

Identifi cation with the national group . . . includes . . . the construction of a personalized image of the nation. The glorious past of this personality comes to be lived as part of the individual memory of each citizen, its defeats resented as failures that still touch them. One result of such personalization is that people will regard their nation-that is, themselves-as a single body in a more than metaphorical sense. If any distress befalls a small part of the nation, it can be felt throughout it, and if any branch of the ethnic group-even one living far from the “mother-nation“—is threatened with assimilation, the members of the personalized nation may treat it as an amputation of the national body.3