Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
McMahon, Timothy G.
This dissertation focuses on the ways in which the Shannon Hydroelectric Scheme influenced perceptions of Irishness in the fraught context of postcolonial nation building. The Irish Free State, established by a treaty with Great Britain in 1921, faced the difficult task of maintaining order and establishing stable institutions for the new state. One of the government's most audacious efforts to achieve these objectives was to construct the largest hydroelectric dam in the world on the River Shannon in 1925 with the help of German contractors from Siemens-Schuckert. The first half of the dissertation deals with several ideological issues brought to the fore by the Scheme. I will demonstrate how the Free State government usurped the project as a symbol of its own political success, and the ways in which the education system and the Catholic Church responded to the demands of modernity. The presence of hundreds of German engineers and their families, and the absence of any real participation by the British, provided an unparalleled opportunity for the Irish to explore concepts of "otherness" and race--hot-button issues in the interwar period. Regional tensions similarly allowed various Irish people to define themselves within the national community, as the people of Limerick distinguished their community from Dublin, Cork, and the Gaeltacht. The second half of the dissertation deals specifically with the promotional campaigns designed for tourists and women.
The Shannon Scheme served as a nexus where interwar and postcolonial issues converged and provided a space for the Irish to examine intricate facets of their local and national identities. In discussions about the dam, politicians, electricians, journalists, priests, and citizens articulated theories about politics, religion, education, race, and gender. By focusing on the promotion of the Scheme, I can reconstruct the ideal image of Irishness its advocates sought to cultivate, with Irish, imperial, and international audiences in mind. I argue that Ireland's former colonial status dictated the particular contours of identity formation, but that perceptions of nationalism, modernity, and Irishness were multifaceted and shaped as much from within national boundaries as they were by global responses to the new state demonstrating autonomy.