Ireland's historical position within the British Empire has become a contentious issue for historians, literary critics and commentators. The debate has generated heated scholarly exchanges, exposing the fault-lines that run through Irish studies. At one end of the spectrum of opinion, Terry Eagleton has argued that ‘there are ... two kinds of invisibility: one which arises from absence, and the other from over-obtrusive presence’. This over-obtrusive presence, for Eagleton, is the colonial relationship between Britain, the colonial power, and Ireland, the colony, a relationship which makes it appropriate to consider Ireland's experiences as similar to non-European colonies. Eagleton implies that so obviously did Ireland comprise a colonized society of this sort that to argue otherwise must reflect a wider agenda. Seamus Deane is less elliptical, relating the dispute directly to the ideologies and mentalités underpinning the way Irish history is written. ‘The rhetoric of [historical] revisionism’, he asserts, ‘obviously derives from the rhetoric of colonialism and imperialism’. Whether this is symptomatic of historians’ unreflexiveness, of their incapacity to develop a consciousness of the discourses within which they write, or whether their innate conservatism renders them collaborators with colonialism, is not entirely clear.