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Irish Studies / Cultural Studies / History / Travel


Tourism, Landscape, and the Irish Character
British Travel Writers in Pre-Famine Ireland
William H. A. Williams

History of Ireland and the Irish Diaspora

"A fascinating and absorbing account of how British travel writers contributed not only to the construction of Ireland as a particular place but how Ireland became a site for reinventing England."—Michael Cronin, Dublin City University, Ireland

British tourists in Ireland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were both charmed and repulsed. Picturesque but poor, abject yet sublime in its Gothic melancholy, the Ireland they experienced did not fit their British sense of progress, propriety, and Protestantism. Tourism, Landscape, and the Irish Character draws from more than one hundred accounts by English, Scottish, Welsh, and Anglo-Irish tourists written between 1750 and 1850 to probe the moral judgments British observers made about the Irish countryside and its native inhabitants.

Whether consciously or not, these travel writers defined their own British identity in opposition to a perceived Irish strangeness: the rituals of Catholicism, the seemingly histrionic lamentations of the funeral wake, cemeteries with displays of human bones, the archaic Irish language or the Celtic-infused English that they heard spoken. Overlooking the acute despair in England's own industrial cities, they opined that the poverty, bog lands, and ill-thatched houses of rural Ireland indicated failures of the Irish character.

By the eve of the Famine of the 1840s, travel writers were employing stereotypes of Celtic, Catholic carelessness in the south of Ireland and Saxon neatness and enterprise in predominantly Protestant Ulster, even calling for "Saxon" colonization of the west of Ireland. The Famine cleared the land of many of the peasants, but the western landscape, magnificent in its scenery but poor in its soil, eventually defeated most of the British "colonists," leaving the region to an ever-increasing number of tourists who could enjoy the picturesque mountainscapes without the distracting contradiction of an impoverished populace.

History of Ireland and the Irish Diaspora
James S. Donnelly, Jr., and Thomas Archdeacon, Series Editors

William H. A. Williams is professor of history at Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has published widely on Irish history and culture, including the award-winning book, 'Twas Only an Irishman's Dream: The Image of Ireland and the Irish in American Popular Song Lyrics, 1800–1920.

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Of Related Interest
Remembering the Year of the French
Irish Folk History and Social Memory
Guy Beiner

The cover of Williams's book is green, with an old engraving of a ruined castle on a hill above a thatched cottage.

First Paperback Edition
January 2008

304 pp.  6 x 9  10 b/w illus.

Book icon Paper $29.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-22524-7
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Updated September 15, 2011

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