Young Ireland – Young Italy

Nation and Nazione

Peter Costello

The enthusiasts of Young Ireland, back in the 1840s, were initially inspired by the Young Italy movement, so Ireland owes much in its own emergence as a modern state to the patriots of that country. This collection of essays is on an interesting era, one with echoes for Ireland, but one complicated by Ireland’s ambivalent relations with the new Italian kingdom which seemed to many back in the mid-19th Century to threaten the papacy in a way that was profoundly disturbing.

No one can look back on the downfall of the Papal States with much regret. The era of the Vatican as a political player in the politics of the peninsula rightly came to an end. Though the Popes retreated into what they saw as the prison of the Vatican, the loss of the Papal States was also for the Church a real moment of liberation.

However, it had one consequence: deprived by the new Italy of its own estates as revenue  raising areas, the Church found that it had to rely increasing on ‘Peter’s Pence’, and much of that money came from the USA, whose politics and social outlook the traditionalists  at Rome (then and now) looked on with dismay.

There was talk of ‘the American heresy’ of too much democracy. Democracy was not a topic thatappealed much to papal prelatesmouldedin the more austere model of the autocratictraditionsof the 15th and 16th Centuries. Nor indeed to many of the citizens of the country that gave birth to fascism.

This book will interest everyone concerned not only with the creation of modern Italy, but to the interactions over the course of the 19th Century of the emerging states of the European Community with interactions and interrelations that  were both conflicting and fruitful.

Mazzini and O’Connell are considered and contrasted, but the Irish involvement in Italy too is covered with essays on the Irish Papal Brigade that went to the defence of Rome and the Pope. Opinion, as Jennifer O’Brien relates, was divided on the Risorgimento. Perhaps most significantly for Ireland and the Irish Church was Paul Cullen’s reactions to what he witnessed in Rome in 1848 that made him resolute against revolution here. This is discussed by Colin Barr. The fall of the Papal States is discussed by Marta Ramón.

But the volume it not all politics. The last three essays deal with matters of culture, especially as reflected in gender issues, with Emer Delaney discussing the role of women in both national movements (not always in Ireland an easy one, as another review on this page suggests).

The present state of things in both Italy and Ireland, suggests that the independent Ireland that Young Ireland aspired to create has found a better outcome to its problems that the Italy that eventuated from the acts of Young Italy.

Though this book is intended for an academic audience, the ordinary reader concerned with Europe’s recent past and immediate future will also find food for thought here.