When a group of people is trying to generate support for a cause, they often rely on the idea that their cause has an existing historical basis. From the mid-19th century onward, during an era when nationalism was increasing and tied to anti-colonial activism, traditions and customs that were allegedly based in well-established ancient precedents were frequently used to justify the independence of a given nation or the rights of an ethnic group within that nation.
In addition to locating existing ancient traditions, culturally based political activists also elaborated on the significance of those traditions. Furthermore, new cultural items were often created—including material culture items such as clothing, and practices such as rituals—which drew on ancient ideas. British historians Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger applied the term “invented tradition” to this phenomenon.
This type of attention often included the publication of texts, such as myths, epics, or sagas. Typically, these texts would feature the contributions of a hero, often a king who had been unjustly deprived of his right to rule. One common colonial situation was the imposition of the colonizer’s language, and the denigration or outlawing of the languages of the colonized. Publishing the ancient texts in the oppressed language was one common method of drawing attention to the tradition and to the negative effects of linguistic colonialism. A similar tactic was writing and performing plays in the ancient language. In the late 19th – early 20th century Irish cultural nationalism, the hero figure of Cú Chulainn was prominently featured in such texts.