From the Editor…

Published in Issue 4 (Jul/Aug 2006), Letters, Volume 14

Ireland and Africa?

What has Ireland got to do with Africa? While there was a modest level of emigration to South Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was nothing like the numbers who emigrated to North America, Australia or even South America. And yet on investigation there are many inter-relations (and not always benign, as the people of Baltimore in West Cork discovered to their cost in 1631).
Unlike many of our European partners, Ireland never possessed overseas colonies, African or otherwise, although the Irish did participate in (mainly British) empire-building. Major John McBride and his few hundred commandos may have grabbed the headlines for their exploits on behalf of the Boer republics, but the vast majority of Irish combatants (30,000-odd) fought on the British side in the Anglo-Boer war of 1899–1902. We may legitimately regard ourselves as historically the victims of imperialism, but in fact the Irish (like the Scots) were proportionately over-represented in the British colonial enterprise.
And where the territorial empire was being built, the Irish were busy within it, building a spiritual empire. The huge Irish missionary effort (both Catholic and Protestant) is but a vague memory for many Irish people today, especially the younger generation. For them Africa is represented by those of its people who have arrived to live among us or by the exuberance of its footballers in this summer’s World Cup. Yet surely it is no coincidence that the vast majority of recent African immigrants are from Nigeria, where most of the Irish missionary effort was focused. There has been relatively little scholarly research, however, into this area of considerable Irish humanitarian enterprise. In that light Eoin Dillon’s case for African studies (opposite page) is well made. We stand not only to learn more about Africa but perhaps also something about ourselves.

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