Between the years 1778 and 1784, groups that had previously been excluded from the Irish political sphere—women, Catholics, lower-class Protestants, farmers, shopkeepers, and other members of the laboring and agrarian classes—began to imagine themselves as civil subjects with a stake in matters of the state. This politicization of non-elites was largely driven by the Volunteers, a local militia force that emerged in Ireland as British troops were called away to the American War of Independence. With remarkable speed, the Volunteers challenged central features of British imperial rule over Ireland and helped citizens express a new Irish national identity.
In A Nation of Politicians, Padhraig Higgins argues that the development of Volunteer-initiated activities—associating, petitioning, subscribing, shopping, and attending celebrations—expanded the scope of political participation. Using a wide range of literary, archival, and visual sources, Higgins examines how ubiquitous forms of communication—sermons, songs and ballads, handbills, toasts, graffiti, theater, rumors, and gossip—encouraged ordinary Irish citizens to engage in the politics of a more inclusive society and consider the broader questions of civil liberties and the British Empire. A Nation of Politicians presents a fascinating tale of the beginnings of Ireland’s richly vocal political tradition at this important intersection of cultural, intellectual, social, and public history.
Winner of the Donald Murphy Prize for Distinguished First Book, American Conference for Irish Studies