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Any study of ethnicity, especially diasporic ethnicity, must somehow engage with the question of "authenticity," and Irish studies is no different. Irish cultural identity is performed on stage (with Irish plays, dance, and music), at St. Patrick's Day celebrations (witness the parade in New Orleans where Irish Spring soap, potatoes, cabbages, and ramen noodles are tossed from floats), in markets (where shamrock boxer shorts, Guinness hats, and Celtic cross snow-globes are sold), and in pubs. Such performances proliferate all over the world, often eliciting debate about the authentic representation of ethnicity. Is Martin McDonagh, touted as some by one of the most important Irish playwrights working today, really Irish, although he was not raised in Ireland? Does Riverdance really replicate traditional Irish dancing? Do the production values of Celtic Woman hearken back to the feis (Irish festival) or to pub music? At stake seems to be the need for members of the diaspora to align themselves with a romanticized and glorious past, one that has produced a considerable number of cultural artifacts, from James Joyce to Guinness. Because the story of Ireland has been largely one of emigration rather than immigration, the Irish diaspora can be found everywhere, not only in Boston and New York and San Francisco, but in Butte, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and Atlanta; not only in England and the United States, but in France, the Caribbean, Italy, South Africa, Hong Kong, Mexico, French Polynesia, and Croatia. Those who claim Irish connections, even when those connections are relatively tenuous or perhaps mendacious, can be found in a diversity of places far from Ireland. Consequently, how is Irishness marked? What happens to authenticity when it is exported, and how does that sense of the authentic contribute to (or detract from) participation in an imagined community, as defined by Benedict Anderson?


Originally published in Changes in Contemporary Ireland: Texts and Contexts, edited by Catherine Rees. ISBN 9781443844727. Published with the permission of Cambridge Scholars Publishing.