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Men for All Seasons? Carson, Parnell, and the Limits of Heroism in Modern Ireland

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)414-438
Number of pages25
JournalEuropean History Quarterly
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009


Charles Stewart Parnell and Edward Carson both failed in their fundamental political objectives (a socially and geographically united and autonomous Ireland, as against a wholly Unionist Ireland). However, both men were the objects of great reverence during their lifetimes; and each was the focus of careful image building. Their heroic reputations were swiftly defined in regal, mystical and sexual terms: the reputation of each was commodified. Both were redefined according the needs of later generations: Parnell's alleged radicalism grew with the passing of the years, and with the establishment of an independent Ireland under bourgeois Catholic domination; the complexities of Carson's career were masked by the demands of later Unionist generations. Both men have to some extent been superseded by rival heroic reputations within their respective cultures. Parnell's standing has been challenged by the insurgents of 1916—21, while Carson's legacy has been sometimes overshadowed by that of his former lieutenant, James Craig.

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