Stephen Boyd

Neither Here Nor There: Irish American Nationalism in modern American Cinema

Year: 2008

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Trinity College Dublin
(at time of presentation)

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Stephen Boyd is a lecturer in Media Studies, Visual Culture, Popular Culture and Non-Western Cinema at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin and is also a PhD student at Trinity College Dublin. His most recent publication is is entitled ‘Surfing a Postnationalist Wave: Surfing and Irish Popular Culture’.

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This paper will explore modern depictions of Irish-American nationalism in 3 independent American films, Patriots (1996), My Brothers War (Brolin, 1997), and IRA: King of Nothing (Chapa, 2006).  Emphasising a transnational element within these potentially inflammatory films, the paper will attempt to reconcile the fact that these films contain expressions of both an American ethnic identity and an Irish national identity. The paper examines how the unusual connection between the ethnic and the national in films such as these have helped to formulate worldwide opinions of the Irish nationalist movement and also to polemically misrepresent the position of Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland.

Hollywood films from the 1990s concerning the depiction of the IRA and Irish nationalism have been discussed by authors such as Brian McIlroy, Ruth Barton and Martin McLoone. These include such thrillers as Patriot Games, The Devils Own and Blown Away.  However, as the Northern Irish troubles are used as a backdrop for typical Hollywood genre productions it can be difficult to argue that these films are inherently political in either their production or consumption. Yet didactic films such as Damian Chapa’s IRA: King of Nothing, made in 2006 (an era of supposed peace in Northern Ireland, but overshadowed by the Northern Bank Robbery and the alleged murder of Robert McCartney), offer an extreme nationalist opinion of the current status quo in Northern Ireland, without attempting to provide any level of historical or contemporary social context. The film also continues and reemphasises the equating of Northern Irish citizens from the protestant/unionist tradition with gangsterism and racism.  This is a continuation of a polemical cinematic tradition in modern American film, in which smaller productions such as Patriots and My Brothers War have coexisted with larger Hollywood productions which have received greater media attention

Employing Jack Holland’s study of the Irish-American nationalist movement, the paper will explore how Irish-America has perpetuated a modern myth regarding the Irish nationalist movement of armed struggle, based primarily on romantic immigrant/ethnic experience. Combining theoretical notions of national and ethnic identity with cinematic texts which occupy a position of