Dreary Steeples/Hard Borders: Ireland, Britain, and Europe, 1918–2018

Éamonn Ó Ciardha, Mira Miladinović Zalaznik (Editor), Dean Komel (Editor)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


After World War I, the final dissection of four European empires and a root-and-branch transformation of the European polity, Britain confronted a more immediate and age-old problem. A triumphant, but resigned Winston Churchill quipped that “the whole map of Europe has been changed … but as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again.” As a composite part of one of Europe’s two victorious empires, Ireland found herself excluded from the subject peoples who clamored for recognition at the Paris Peace Conference (1919). Her newly constituted Dáil (Parliament) had rejected Home Rule, proclaimed a republic, set up a rival government to Britain , and dispatched delegates to secure recognition for another small nation. In vain, the Irish-American author Michael J. O’Brien hoped that President Woodrow Wilson, the ultimate arbiter of the post-war settlement, would remember America’s debt to the Irish and guarantee them a rightful place among these newly-emancipated nations of Serbs, Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks. One hundred years on, the once dreary steeples have re-emerged from the mists and Ireland again finds herself clamoring at Europe’s gates. The continent and context has changed beyond recognition but the problem remains similarly intractable. The small republic’s willingness to take a bullet for the Euro and pay the gambling-debts of European bankers since 2008 may have been exonerated by the centrality of her border in the EU’s blueprint for Brexit; the choreography and mood-music sounds good but the devil will be in the detail. Still, Ireland has come a long way in one hundred years since its peace conference delegation shivered outside Versailles on a cold January in 1919. However, good will, photo-ops on the border, and much-vaunted technology will not wish away the re-imposition of some sort of a border. Breaking down physical and psychological borders has been central to the European project; she needs to deliver on this key issue. Donald Tusk’s “Níl neart gur chur le chéile [There is no strength without unity]” will be put to the test in the coming years
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEurope at the Crossroads of Contemporary World
Subtitle of host publication100 Years after the Great War
Place of PublicationLjubljana
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2020


  • Ireland
  • Britain
  • Brexit


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