Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Writing Europe into the Narrative of the Nation: The 1972 EEC Referendum in Ireland




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



In May 1972, Ireland held a referendum on whether or not to join the European Economic Community (EEC), a political and economic question the Irish nation had been grappling with since 1961. Conducted largely by and between elites within the political establishment, the campaign was a rather droll affair. Questions of bread-and-butter economics, intergovernmental lawmaking and administration, and the cut-and-thrust of Irish politics dominated the debate. In the end, a somewhat disengaged Irish public rejected the arguments of the anti-EEC campaigns and affirmed Irish membership in the EEC, with eighty-three percent voting yes. On 1 January 1973, Ireland officially became a member of the EEC. Despite the perfunctory nature of the referendum, the campaign marked a momentous turning point for Ireland on a number of levels, politically, economically, socially, diplomatically. However, the struggle was also an ideological struggle between political factions attempting to redefine Ireland's conception as a nation. Would Ireland become a cosmopolitan, forward-looking member of Europe, as Sean Lemass and Jack Lynch articulated, or would it embrace a more independent role unfettered by the chains of British and imperialist domination, as anti-EEC campaigners like Anthony Coughlan argued? In the end, pro-Europeans succeeded in writing Europe into a new narrative of the Irish nation, but their success was by no means a foregone conclusion. This paper will explore these ideological dimensions of the 1972 EEC referendum in Ireland and the ways in which this struggle has contributed to the continual reshaping of modern Irish understanding of the nation.

Conference Name

American Conference for Irish Studies Midwest Regional Conference

Conference Location

Grand Rapids, MI

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