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Roots and Routes: Memory and Identity in the Irish Diaspora in Canada


Roots and Routes: Memory and Identity in the Irish Diaspora in Canada

Fitzgibbon, Linda (2019) Roots and Routes: Memory and Identity in the Irish Diaspora in Canada. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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Historians of Irish emigration have referred to the 1950s as a “lost decade.” During this ten-year window, half a million people (of a population of three million) left Ireland in search of new lives overseas. This dissertation focuses on Irish emigration to Canada in the decades after the Second World War and examines the complex social, cultural, political and economic forces that fueled the departure of so many young people from the new Republic of Ireland and its neighboring statelet, Northern Ireland. Whereas Irish emigration to Canada in the nineteenth century has been the subject of intensive scholarship, there is a serious lacuna in the written history of postwar immigration from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to Canada. This interdisciplinary thesis seeks to redress this historiographical imbalance.

Roots and Routes: Memory and Identity in the Irish Diaspora in Canada is based on an extensive case study that investigates Irish cultural memory and diasporic space in the National Capital Region of Canada; in particular, its Irish Seniors Social Group Ottawa (ISSGO) that was created in 2005. This cohort is part of a network of grassroots community organizations spread throughout the Irish diaspora that receives fiscal support from the Irish government. Recognizing contributions made by its expatriate communities to their homeland, this funding supports programmes that promote, preserve and foster Irish culture among various constituent communities of Ireland’s diaspora worldwide.

Despite the popularity and prevalence of “Irish culture and heritage” in virtually all corners of the globe, there is no agreement among scholars as to the precise characteristics of Irish culture and heritage—either in Ireland, or among Irish diasporic communities overseas. This lack of clarity and consensus begs critical questions such as: What is Irish cultural identity and cultural memory in Irish diasporic communities? Does such a phenomenon as a “sense of Irishness” exist? If so, how is it manifested and maintained, especially outside of Ireland? Identity is central to how people find meaning in their lives. Hence, scholars need to ask precise and probing questions about how Irish people construct their identities—both at home and abroad. This interdisciplinary thesis explores these questions in a specific diasporic setting—the Irish Seniors Social Group in the National Capital Region of Canada.

The members of this community network have carved out an Irish diasporic space in Canada and have formed a vibrant element of the Canadian mosaic during the past six decades. In unveiling their sociocultural lifeworlds, other questions naturally arise: Who are these people? What region in Ireland did they come from? When did they come, and what motivated them to come to Canada? Where did they settle in Canada? Did they maintain links with family and friends in Ireland? Why did they join ISSGO? What role did geography, time, class, education, religion, gender, and age play in how this cohort became attached to—or detached from—a particular place?

Drawing on an interdisciplinary research model that incorporates diaspora studies, gender history, space-place studies, and oral history, this thesis highlights the significance of roots and routes as fundamental elements in the creation of Irish diasporic lifeworlds in Ottawa, and situates these lifeworlds within a broader metanarrative of Irish emigration to Canada. This dualism will be explored in respect to Canadian immigration policy; individual and collective memories of emigration; settlement patterns; social, cultural and economic mobility; homecoming, and gendered histories.

The dissertation argues that Irish cultural identity is a complex and layered phenomenon, shaped and reshaped by spatial and temporal forces that impact the macro and micro lifeworlds of Irish people worldwide. Highlighting the twin impact of roots and routes as formative elements in the creation of diasporic communities, the dissertation focuses on the spatial settings in which ethnic identities are nurtured and maintained, and on how networks such as the Irish Seniors Social Group in Ottawa maintained and replenished Irish diasporic identities for over half a century.

Divisions:Concordia University > School of Graduate Studies > Individualized Program
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Fitzgibbon, Linda
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Program:Individualized Program
Date:April 2019
Thesis Supervisor(s):Ó hAllmhuráin, Gearóid
ID Code:985556
Deposited On:14 Nov 2019 18:36
Last Modified:14 Nov 2019 18:36
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