How and why were traditions from prehistoric or early Christian Ireland used to win support for an Irish republic?

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Irish political nationalism greatly intensified during the late 19th century. One of the movement’s core tenets was that Ireland already had a long history of self-governance before the English took over the country. In the view of the rebel movement, independence would restore the rightful rule to the Irish people. Tracing this history of successful self-rule as far back as possible was a fundamental strategy that supported this line of reasoning.

After 1829, Irish politicians won seats in the English Parliament. In doing so, they represented the continued colonized status of what many native Irish understood as a sovereign nation. The Catholic Association, under the leadership of Daniel O’Connell or the Liberator, stepped up their campaign to gain full self-governance. Unable to maintain a total oppositionist stance, however, O’Connell’s movement lost traction.

Later, around the middle of the century, James Stephens formed the Irish Republican Brotherhood, or the Fenian movement, which advocated retaking the country by force. The focus on land rights within Ireland, through the Land Movement, reconnected with Parliamentary representation through the person of Charles Parnell. His struggles to achieve Home Rule through legal means were ultimately unsuccessful.

In the post-Parnell phase, the tactics of cultural nationalism—which sometimes included denying political motives—increasingly gained sway. The hero Cuchulain or Cu Chulainn, descended from both humans and gods, was an appropriate representative of the warrior spirit and the honor and integrity of a noble hero. His unique role in defending Ulster from invasion also positioned him as a defender of the realm. His exploits were known through the Táin Bó Cúailnge epic, especially including an early 20th-century version adapted by Father Peadar Ua Laoghaire, and the publication of several texts by Lady Augusta Gregory and William Butler Yeats cemented his association with republicanism.

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