Some notes on Nationality and myth
(with added reference to Ireland)

A nation-state is a double entity, in that not every state is a nation, and some are built (like the UK) from nations. To be a nation-state is to have stability, in that a national identity is bound into the state. Nations are formed or form a sense of ethnic identity and also a sense of geographic boundaries around territory. But some states have no real sense of nationality, or unstable competing nationalities, and some nations have no states (eg Kurds). Conflict comes from the unresolved matter of nation-states in either the lack of sense of nationhood, the absence of a state, ethnic competition or even uncertainty, and territorial dispute.
An individual becomes identified with the people, who are the people of the nation, whether that nation is realised as a state or not.
Culture becomes a way of identifying ethnicity through preference to an historical inheritance. But some of this history can be an invented tradition (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983), something old plucked selectively from the past that adds legitimacy to the present, but is used for present day purposes. Myth can be invoked to add to the layers of an ethnic culture, so that legitimacy for a nation's cause can be heightened.
There are two directions regarding struggles for identity and purpose. One is to remythologise, to give a sense of identity, and the other is to demythologise, to tackle present problems through reflection and relationships, and the interaction of institutions. The United Kingdom has in the past promoted the myth of its stability and identity through royalty, but it has also been understood, however it was forged, as having instrumental benefits. Much of the identity of being English was passed up to the United Kingdom, or Britain, from where the Empire was run, and maybe that it is returning again to Englishness. However, Englishness is very problematic, for while many ethnic minorities are happy to call themselves British, calling themselves English seems difficult. Darcus Howe has described himself as English, against the trend. Mythologising Englishness becomes very quaint and artificial, with references to Arthur (which is Celtic anyway) and perhaps a positioning of King Harold as important. The problem for mythologisers is that England was overlaid with Celts, Roman rule, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Norman French, a series of disparate kingdoms that became one, and religious change that resulted in compromises and rivalries. So Englishness becomes John Major's warm beer and cricket, or better Elgar (UK imperialism?) and Vaughan Williams. The Gaelic and Celtic nations (and Conwall can be included here, on to which Englishness so often draws) are clearer in identity, although not without multiple or compromised identities themselves.
In Wales people may still reasonably easily identify with the nation-state of the United Kingdom and probably do so sufficiently to reduce the impact of Welsh nationalism. Pure Welshness was only when the original Celts of the UK and the language so close to Welsh was driven into the Celtic fringe. "England and Wales" has a non-Scottish identity forged through a demise of the Welsh Kings and the Normans soon imposing their castles and rule on the Welsh. Another of the (related) reasons for the ambiguity of Welsh nationalism is the linguistic division within the country between Welsh speaker and English speaker of Wales. There have always been English linguistic areas of Wales, for example south of Hwllffordd (Haverfordwest). The Welsh valleys received thousands of miners from Scotland and England who produced at best a bastardised Welsh down the generations. Welsh nationalism to be a political success has to appeal to a general socialism as well as to the cymreig, it has to appeal to the English Welsh as well as Welsh Welsh.
The Scots retained their legal system even after losing their parliament. They retained a strong sense of nationhood, though at one end there is a sense of being closer to Scandinavia than Edinburgh and the other there is an Englishness in the borders. There is a linguistic division, between the Scots English that came from Northumbria, which has shrunk, a pure English from aristocratic sources which retained its purity than did London-Oxford, and the original Gaelic (that once bordered against the Celtic, this shared with Ireland, different from the Celtic of Welsh, Cornish and Breton). Gaelic lost the claim to pre-eminence that is seen by speakers of Welsh, and the Gaelic that once started around Pitlochry to the west and north north west has retreated west. Its nationalism then was only ever was partly linguistic, and mainly is English, for which there has been the Scots version, but its clear sense of retained nationhood (which Wales lost) was able to produce a greater sense of devolution, which unionist parties hope is adequate to meet the demands of the Scottish identity.
Then there is the complication of the European Union. Since the Treaty of Maastricht (1992) which created a more political and rounded European Community (more than an economic community), there has been a trend to supranationalism. This is still largely economic, to organise functions once of the nation-state on a larger scale level that is more appropriate for currency and finance, multinationals, competition and world trade. But the EU brings forward that intention of forging a European identity which is seen as being built through the effect of the necessity co-operation of institutions (beginning with the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951). What though stops Europe becoming a state is its absence of ethnic cohesion and identity, its strong diverse histories, the existence os strongly as well as weakly founded nation-states and its linguistic diversity. To tackle this Europe tries to build an economic (including currency), passport, citizenship, and liberal-democratic identities. Against this is the fact that it has a democratic deficit, in that executives of nation states form its chief legislature, the Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament is mainly a consultative body with limited powers.
In Ireland the battle has been about attaching an ethnic identity of that of a nation to the state and territory. The plantation Protestants who came from Scotland in effect took territory, and their descendents had an identity and were attached to the British state with which they identified. The Irish had loyalty to another state. The partition of Ireland in effect gave the Protestants their enclave if in a plural and democratic state, over which they practised discrimination over the threat of nationalists and republicans (a split of moderation and further political ideals rather than national outlook).
The principles of first the Anglo-Irish agreement and later the full aspects of the peace process and devolution have been to reduce the impact of the state over the competing nationalities. Whilst the ethnic groups are as divided as ever, and split into two (three or more allows for alliances, agreements, variations of disagreements), they have become revisionist as regards the attachment to a state. With devolution under a framework of law and the impact of the European Union, the old struggle for territory and replacement republican power is undermined. Those that retain the old power struggle for territory and control, a United Ireland (which adapts to their politics) have splintered off.
Myth of Irishness has always played a huge role with Irish Republicans (Kearney, 1997, 110-113) who created a myth of volunteers. Bloody Sunday was a title for the Derry killings by the British Army in 1972 taken from the killings by the British Army in Dublin in 1920. The blanket wearing hunger strikers were martyrs with a Christian symbolism of loin cloths, Christ-like posture and a crown of thorns from Long Kesh razor wire in popular depictions. The mass each day and the involvement of the Catholic Church in Long Kesh gave prisoners mythic food. They learnt Irish. They played on sacrificial martyrdom as well as secular military action and social struggle (Kearney, 1997, 113).
There is the invented tradition of Irishness in literature (see Kearney, 1997, 113-117). Yeats, joined by Clarke and Corkery, drew on an imaginary mystic life to create Irishness for contemporary times. He thought he could find it in Celtic Paganism as a unifying, identifying force, brought to life through poets. It was a kind of Jungian dream of drawing upon unconscious archetypes which lay in the background of Irish life and history, that would dwell up and inform both the religious spirit and collective identity beyond sectarianism.Yeats himself drew on the notion of ritual sacrifice of the generations to the motherland in relation to republicanism of 1916, which he called a "terrible beauty".
Unfortunately not everyone saw things his way, starting with the fact that he wrote in English and some wanted to promote Gaelic. Beckett, with Coffey, Devlin and McGreevy, opposed the suffering of real life being lost into illusory myth. and led the alternative of modernist self-reflection. It was a bleak, realist, anti-nationalist approach facing up to the absence of answers yet questions to be asked. Those who mythologised were ridiculed, but Beckett himself left for France (and French)even during wartime in preference to Ireland's neutrality and peace (Kearney, 1997, 116).
James Joyce revolted against Irish remythologising too. He did it through attacks on myths that Yeats and others had regenerated. Joyce wanted to Europeanise Ireland and Hibernicise Europe (Kearney, 1997, 116), a process which did begin. As Ireland has joined the European Union and modernised both economically and socially, Europe has seen a resurgence of the regions. The idea of undermining myths by others, particularly foreign ones was a way to avoid stark modernism. It was also a way to redefine and modernise Irishness. The character Molly was Irish because she was removed from its obvious generated stereotypes. Sometimes he would run myths together (Celtic and non-Celtic) to pluralise them. The character Anna Livia Plurabell is his particular example of opened up identities which exposes them as creations to be used as wanted.

Kearney, R. (1997), Postnationalist Ireland: Politics, Culture, Philosophy, London: Routledge.

Hobsbawm, E., Ranger, T. (1983), The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Past and Present Publications.