The historical study of Poland and Ireland is considered to be a new research area. Until now, the subject of both countries in diametrically opposed areas of Europe – in the historical dimension – has generally been overlooked. It is only in the last few years that has this topic been addressed by a small group of researchers, and the undoubted stimulus for this was the relatively recent enlargement of the European Union in 2004. This stronger integration of the two nations has also significantly influenced scientific development through the search for deeper elements of a common history.
In the view of the editors, this pioneering research project will contribute to the establishment and popularisation of Poland and the Poles, as well as Ireland and the Irish, in the historical discourse of both countries and will thus have a much greater European dimension than heretofore. Above all, it will contribute to the significant progress already being made towards the development of Polish-Irish historical studies.
The aim of this work is to highlight historical relations between Poland and Ireland, especially, though not exclusively, with regard to the nineteenth century, which in many ways is a special period in our common history. It presented strong, circumstantial similarities between Poland and Ireland: both were predominantly rural, overpopulated and backward countries (partly as a result of foreign dominance), in which the peasants did not own their land and, constantly threatened by evictions, were exploited by a relatively small group of landowners. In both countries, the national, religious and land questions were intertwined. Regardless of their respective national camps, their national efforts were characterised by the same traditions, namely, physical force, passive resistance, and peaceful means. However, the constitutional tradition (peaceful means) was considerably stronger in Ireland than it was in Poland, where the revolutionary means (physical force) dominated the national struggle. Furthermore, during this period, the direct and advanced relations between the representatives of both nations were exceptional in their intensity and nature.
The present project also involves a comparative study on the nation-forming processes of nineteenth-century Ireland and Poland, to include an analysis of the underlying similarities and considerable differences in their respective early stages of being shaped as modern nations. This, in turn, will unveil more profound reasons for the nineteenth-century perception of Ireland and Poland as ‘sisters’ in the struggle for freedom and will potentially contribute to a much broader motivation for advanced Polish-Irish studies, as part of the wider exploration of contemporary European processes of emancipation among nations. The latter will be particularly visible when the relevant interrelations/influences between Ireland and certain states in Central and Eastern Europe are considered. For example, these interrelations, which presented an interrelated chain of events, began with the newly emerging elite associated with Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847), whose members took advantage, at a very early stage, of the Irish interest in the Polish Revolution (1830-1831), known as the November Uprising. This Irish elite was also largely responsible for intensifying the growing excitement concerning Poland, and subsequently directed it towards its own goals, above all, towards the repeal of the union with Britain. Shortly afterwards, the Irish national movement (the repeal) became popular among the Czechs and influenced their liberal movement, thanks to the democrat, journalist and native of Borov, on the Bohemian-Moravian border, Karel Havlíček (1821-1856). Even earlier than this, another journalist and political leader George Bariţ (1812-1893), who emphasised the legal and anti-revolutionary nature of the Irish efforts, identified it as the basis for the Romanian national emancipation movement. In this way, the “communicating vessels”, so to speak, were clearly visible, linking Poland (the Kingdom of Poland) and Ireland, and subsequently Transylvania and the Kingdom of Bohemia.
The comparative analysis of the Irish and the Poles through their respective nation-forming processes will have much greater general implications for our perception of this dynamic period in European history. It will allow us to understand how some relations between Ireland and Central Europe became intertwined and had such a significant international dimension. With regard to the present, this project has a strong societal dimension by addressing the currently changing social structure in Ireland. This has become an increasingly important aspect of social integration: the Poles constitute the largest minority in Ireland and the Polish language is the most commonly spoken foreign language in the country. Therefore, a deeper understanding of our historical relations will not only succeed in enriching and developing the academic outlook, but will enable more than 120,000 Poles living in Ireland, as well as those who were born there but are now living in Poland, to identify more deeply with both countries. Ultimately, this may also contribute to even greater harmony and to the promotion of further European integration.
The effects of the project will present our Polish-Irish history from yet another, much deeper perspective. It is also intended to reveal – through extensive research and critical analysis of varied archival material – the profound dimension of common nineteenth-century comparisons and analogies referring to Poles and Irish.
The current interdisciplinary project has been undertaken with the support of Professor Józef Dobosz, Dean of the Faculty of History of the Adam Mickiewicz University, and under the patronage of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, which is the most advanced academic centre in the field of Polish-Irish historical research.
Dr Adam A. Kucharski and Dr Robert T. Tomczak