The British Empire and Ireland


Sir, – I was greatly disheartened to read the article entitled “President’s view of British Empire is too one-sided” (Opinion & Analysis, March 10th).

In a year when The Irish Times has been an oasis from the rabid hysteria of the British press, to publish such sepia-filtered views of a neo-colonial theologian seems at best peculiar and at worst editorial harakiri. Prof Biggar’s post hoc fallacy that the British Empire is to thank for the revival of the Irish language is not only perverse but ludicrous.

Perhaps we would have been more grateful had the language, and the people, never been suppressed at all.

But then Prof Biggar believes that to maintain the good of public order, domination is required, and violent domination, if necessary. An interesting view for a man of God. – Yours, etc,



A chara, – Professor Nigel Biggar writes: “If colonialists can ‘other’ the natives, essentialising them into contemptible stereotypes, nationalists, too, can ‘other’ the imperialists.” This is a classic case of “both sides do it” as if there is an equivalence between the actions of the oppressor and the oppressed. The slave is not equally guilty of slavery as the slaver, even if he has reconciled himself to his fate, and ends up working for his enslaver.

The Irish literary and language revival was an act of opposition to colonial rule, not an expression of it, as Prof Biggar seems to imply. The fact that there were many outstanding individuals, some earning their living as servants of the empire, who did not subscribe to the “imperial project” and indeed ameliorated its worst effects, does not alter the fact that the main thrust of UK government imperial policy was one of domination and suppression.

History is complex, with many interwoven narratives, but to try to obscure its main thrust with anecdotes about those few people who swam against the tide is hardly an “ethical remembering”. It demeans the achievements of those who stood out against the worst aspects of imperialism and uses them to justify or mitigate the acts of its worst perpetrators. Far from constituting a balanced historiography, it is a shocking washing of hands by a professor of moral theology. – Is mise,


Blessington, Co Wicklow.