Minister Harris Launches Professor Jane Ohlmeyer's "Making Empire" book

22 November 2023

Ireland’s complicated and contradictory relationship with imperialism is examined in a major new publication by Prof Jane Ohlmeyer. The book, published by Oxford University Press, was launched by Minister Simon Harris in Trinity’s Old Library on Tuesday, November 21st.

Making Empire examines the unique position of early modern Ireland in the First English Empire, c. 1550–c. 1770s. Ireland was England’s oldest colony. How then did the English empire function in early modern Ireland, and how did this change over time? What did access to European empires mean for people living in Ireland? This book answers these questions by interrogating four interconnected themes. First, that Ireland formed an integral part of the English imperial system. Second, that the Irish operated as agents of empire(s). Third, Ireland served as a laboratory in and for the English empire. Finally, it examines the impact that empire(s) had on people living in early modern Ireland. Whilst the book focuses on Ireland’s place in the English empire, the Irish were trans-imperial and engaged with all of the early modern imperial powers.

Making Empire therefore explores connections and comparisons with other European imperial powers, placing the Irish colonial experience in a global context. Making Empire is based on the 2021 James Ford Lectures (especially Lecture 3), the most prestigious public lecture series hosted by the Faculty of History at the University of Oxford. Jane was the first Irish historian to be invited to give the Ford Lectures since 1977, and only the 11th woman since the inception of the series. (

Speaking at the launch, Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, said: “I’m delighted to be here today to launch an important new publication by eminent historian Prof Jane Ohlmeyer. In a ground breaking book ‘Making Empire’ gives a masterful overview of the history of empire in Ireland. Providing fresh understanding of Ireland’s roles in the British and other empires, this body of research is a major contribution to our knowledge of how imperialism has formed the present, and how it might shape the future.

“History undoubtedly forms such an essential part of the identity of our nation. Ohlmeyer’s research keenly illustrates the fundamental role arts and humanities research plays in informing our understanding of who we are and where we came from.”

Prof Jane Ohlmeyer, Erasmus Smith Professor of Modern History at Trinity, added:  “Ireland’s relationship with empire is complicated and full of contradictions.  On the one hand, as England’s oldest colony, the Irish had been victims of English/British imperialism from the twelfth century.  On the other hand, the Irish – both Catholic and Protestant – became active agents in the empires of Britain, Spain, Portugal, France, and others.  As well as serving empires, the Irish operated – at home and around the globe – as subversives within them.

“Many in Ireland have either conveniently forgotten our imperial past or are simply oblivious to it. However, events of the early twenty-first century – Brexit, the campaigns around ‘Black Lives Matters’ and ‘Statues must fall’ – along with calls for reparations and the repatriation of plundered artefacts have kindled a greater awareness of the importance of revisiting the history of empires. Like it or not, the past is no longer in the past; it is in the present.”

The VOICES ERC ( which started in September 2023, of which Professor Ohlmeyer is also Principal Investigator (PI) will extend the work of Chapter 3 on Assimilation. Together with Professor Declan O’Sullivan, PI at the ADAPT Centre, will combine pioneering digital approaches with historical scholarship to place data from a digital windfall (including the 1641 Depositions and Statute Staple records and well as the Virtual Treasury) into a Knowledge Graph to transform this unstructured data into knowledge that can be interrogated and visualised.

Harnessing the knowledge produced using the Knowledge Graph will revolutionise our understanding of the history of women in early modern Ireland. Ordinary women are not absent from the story of early modern Ireland. Instead, they have been hiding in plain sight. VOICES will recover their lived experiences and offer a new narrative which places women’s perspectives at the centre of Irish history.