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Nicholas Canny

Jan 19, 2022

Imagining Ireland's Pasts

Early Modern Ireland Through the Centuries

Oxford University Press 2021

Nicholas Canny is an Emeritus Professor at the National University of Ireland-Galway (NUIG). Since completing his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania he has pursued an influential publishing career spanning the early 1970s until today. He is the author or editor of 11 books and has written over 70 published papers. He was founding Director of the Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies at NUIG and served as Director there from 2000-2011 at National University of Ireland Galway. From 2008 to 2011 he was President of the Royal Irish Academy. He has served on the Scientific Council of the European Science Foundation and is a member of the American Philosophical Society.

In this interview he discusses his new book Imagining Ireland's Pasts: Early Modern Ireland Through the Centuries (Oxford UP, 2021) through the Centuries which surveys the contradictory ways in which Ireland’s different religious, ethnic, and linguistic communities understood the violent events of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Imagining Ireland's Pasts describes how various authors addressed the history of early modern Ireland over four centuries and explains why they could not settle on an agreed narrative. It shows how conflicting interpretations broke frequently along denominational lines, but that authors were also influenced by ethnic, cultural, and political considerations, and by whether they were resident in Ireland or living in exile. The book details how authors extolled the merits of their progenitors, offered hope and guidance to the particular audience they addressed, and disputed opposing narratives. Prof. Canny shows how competing scholars, whether contributing to vernacular histories or empirical studies, became transfixed by the traumatic events of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as they sought to explain either how stability had finally been achieved, or how the descendants of those who had been wronged might secure redress.

Aidan Beatty is a historian at the Honors College of the University of Pittsburgh.

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