The predominant goal of article
s one through eight in the Irish constitution
is to establish an Irish identity
that is separate from England
. Ireland’s pride has been injured by too many outsiders taking over and ruling the nation. This has made Ireland defensive, and some defensive language is seen in the constitution. In the wake of its oppression, Ireland needs to build a new identity. Article one states that Ireland will govern
itself “in accordance with its own genius
,” not according to the ideas of other nations. It is important that Ireland reject English ideas and customs, in order to distinguish itself from its oppressor. This sentiment is seen again and again throughout the constitution. Still, we also see that after being imposed upon by the British for so long, the Irish had trouble throwing off certain British ideas and customs.
First, we see Ireland’s scarred national identity, which has left the nation defensive. Article one asserts Ireland’s “inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign” right to govern itself, including its foreign policy, economy, and culture. So many adjectives are used to establish this right that it can be seen as protective. It seems that the author is using words to build a wall around Ireland in order to keep the strangers out. Merely using “inalienable” is good enough for the United States. But the United States was a new nation that had never been invaded by outsiders. Ireland’s different history has left the nation more self-protective. This is seen again in article five, which asserts that Ireland is a “sovereign, independent, democratic state.” It seems that this article only means to state that Ireland is a democracy. But for some reason, the writer adds that Ireland is also sovereign and independent. The word sovereign is repeated from the first article. This repetition demonstrates the huge importance Ireland places on its autonomy. Again, many words are used to describe Ireland’s self-rule, and the words are technically superfluous. So they can be seen as a wall. They are there to guard against any attack on Ireland’s independence. This seems a bit strange until one considers that the nation had been under outsiders’ attacks for centuries.
Article two goes beyond defense and makes an aggressive statement toward England. This article states that the national territory consists of “the whole island of Ireland.” This is strange because it’s incorrect. Ireland didn’t control Northern Ireland when this was written. The nation was fragmented, and England controlled Northern Ireland. Ireland is claiming territory that belongs to another nation, so this is an aggressive statement. It could even be seen as a passive-aggressive declaration of war. With this statement, Ireland indicates that it is no longer going to be oppressed.
Articles four and seven establish the foreignness of English culture, language, and values. This article says that the nation’s name is Eire, “or in the English language, Ireland.” Italics are usually reserved for words written in foreign languages. So writing the English word in italics is an understated way of saying that English is foreign. Article seven states that the Irish flag is “the tricolor of green, white, and orange.” Britain’s flag is predominantly red and blue, and Ireland has rejected both of these colors for its own flag. This shows a rejection is British values. But there is important symbolism in the colors Ireland chooses. Ireland traditionally represents itself with the color green. And an Irish Protestant organization, the Orange Society, uses the color orange to represent itself. So Ireland and the Protestants are symbolically separated on the Irish flag. The color that comes between them to separate them is white, which traditionally represents purity and virtue. So the flag can be understood to say what separates Ireland from Protestants is the degree to which each party is pure and virtuous. This is a harsh rejection of Britain’s religion.
Article six describes Ireland’s mode of self-government. It states that power comes from God, who gives power to the people. Then, the people can bestow the power to govern upon those that they see most fit. This article demonstrates the huge importance Ireland puts on religion. The Catholic religion is a huge part of Ireland’s national identity. This is especially important since Ireland wants to distinguish itself from Protestant Britain and govern itself “in accordance with its own genius and traditions.” The Catholic religion helps Ireland separate itself from its oppressor. But this article is a bit problematic because it mimics a governmental model proposed by John Milton. Milton was British, not Irish. When Milton argued against the divine right of kings to rule, he said that power flows from God to the people to the ruler. The ruler is chosen by the people and has power only for as long as the people want him to have power. The Irish constitution reproduces this model exactly, but the idea doesn’t come from Ireland’s own tradition. It seems that Ireland and England have shared an identity for so long that Ireland is having trouble making a complete break from the ideas imposed upon it by England.
Article eight establishes a hierarchy of languages within Ireland. Irish is “the first official language,” and English is “a second official language.” Not only is Irish first and above English, but Ireland is “the” language and English is merely “a” language. This subtle difference in articles hints that the Irish language is the true language that is essential to the nation, while English is an option that can also be used but is not truly necessary. Still, the Irish people cannot totally do away with the English language. It has been used in Ireland for too long. So many people speak English that it has become an indispensable part of the nation’s culture. As much as Ireland wants to shake off British influences, some things will not go away.