Martin Examines Irish Nationalism in New Book

In Alter-Nations: Nationalisms, Terror, and the State in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland, Amy Martin, associate professor of English, examines Irish nationalism while the country was under British rule.

“The book looks at British representations of Irish anticolonial nationalism in political theory and popular culture and examines Irish writings coming out of the nationalist tradition that challenge the British representations,” said Martin.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Irish nationalism, known as Fenianism, was looming as a threat not only to British rule in Ireland but to security within England in particular. In 1865, the British government established martial law in Ireland, allowing officials to arrest and convict Fenian leaders for treason, close the Fenian newspaper, suspend habeas corpus, and conduct numerous police raids.


The state’s actions were gleefully supported in British publications of the day, most notably in London’s Punch magazine, which published cartoons depicting the Irish “problem” as a monster.

This anti-Irish racism was used to de-legitimate Irish nationalist politics, said Martin. She contends that the modern idea of terrorism as irrational and racialized violence was introduced in these publications.

“The notion of racially derived terror was one way of suggesting that Irish politics that resist ‘empire’ are completely irrational and irrelevant,” she said.

“Of course, Irish nationalists were going to resist to that.”

The Irish resistance took a number of forms—from violence to art. In particular, Martin examines Fenian writings from the late nineteenth century that told the stories of early Fenianism and, in doing so, imagined a new future for Ireland.

“At the end of the nineteenth century, the Irish are definitely aware that they’re in a process of decolonization,” said Martin. “So this business of writing the history of the nation, from the perspective of Ireland–and not Britain–was a really important project.”

“How would you imagine a nation that didn’t mirror the forms of aggressive imperial nations; could you imagine something different?”