Cormac Gallagher – Ireland, Mother Ireland – An Essay in Psychoanalytic Symbolism

THE LETTER 12 (Spring 1998) pages 1-13


On June 21 1922, as the Irish War of Independence was tipping over into the Civil War, – two months later Harry Boland, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins would all be dead – on the longest day of 1922 then, Ernest Jones read a paper to the British Psychoanalytical Society entitled: The island of Ireland: a psychoanalytical contribution to political psychology’.

In it, he argued that the geographic fact that Ireland is an island has played an important and underestimated part in the idea that the Irish have formed of their own country. The signifier ‘Ireland’ has become particularly associated with the unconscious maternal complex to which all kinds of powerful affects are attached and this in turn has played a part in the formation of Irish character and in the age-old refusal of the Irish to follow the Scots and the Welsh along a path of peaceful and beneficial co-operation with England.

The 1922 paper applied to Anglo-Irish relations, which then as now were at a crucial turning point, the theses of Jones’ classic 1916 article on The Theory of Symbolism which is known to contemporary psychoanalysts mainly through a long and detailed study of it by Jacques Lacan. Lacan argued that far from being of merely historical or even pre-historical interest this paper articulated issues that are still at the heart of the debate concerning the proper object of psychoanalysis and the clinical impasses that result from a failure to articulate correctly the status of this object. …


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