Sylvester O'Halloran's General History: Irish Historiography and the Late Eighteenth-Century British Empire.
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This study views Sylvester O'Halloran's A general history of Ireland (1778) within the context of an innovative attempt to initiate Irish Catholic participation in the British Empire by engaging London, the administrative capital of the empire, directly in Catholic relief politics. The political context which informed O'Halloran's approach was the consolidation and reorganisation of the British Empire in the post-1763 period, and the threat to imperial security presented by the advancing war in the American colonies. The argument has three principal strands. The London publication of A general history of Ireland indicated that this work was directed at an audience outside of Ireland as well as within Ireland. The analysis of the subscription-list confirmed that that audience consisted of members of Britain's political élite and successful émigré Irishmen in the service of European Catholic powers. The analysis of the narrative of A general history of Ireland, when compared with its principal sources, Keating's seventeenth-century Foras feasa ar Éirinn and the twelfth-century Lebor gabála Érenn, shows that O'Halloran altered his source materials to construct an historical picture of a Milesian maritime empire. O'Halloran's argument for Catholic inclusion in the British Empire was twofold. He altered his source material to suggest an ancient parity with the contemporary British Empire to demonstrate an Irish historical fittingness for an imperial role, while his subscription-list confirmed a current aptitude. This argument was directed at, and partly endorsed by, another section of the subscription-list, London's political élite. O'Halloran's A general history of Ireland was the first attempt by an Irish antiquarian to address the Catholic relief debate to an audience outside of Ireland, marking its publication as the most politically potent work by an Irish Catholic antiquary in the latter half of the eighteenth century.
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