Tourism, Landscape, and the Irish Character: British Travel Writers in Pre-Famine Ireland

Tourism, Landscape, and the Irish Character: British Travel Writers in Pre-Famine Ireland

by William Williams
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

“Superb book. Students of tourism and national identity, as well as of British and Irish history, will all find a great deal of interest in this text.”—Eric Zuelow, H-Travel

“Certainly among the most comprehensive and engaging explorations of this literature yet to appear, not only for what it says about British travelers in Ireland but also for what it indirectly reveals about life I pre-famine Ireland itself.”—Mark Doyle, Journal of British Studies

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"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

“This deeply researched and engaging study explores how anxieties over rapid social and economic change in Britain influenced travelers and commentators writing on Ireland in the pre-Famine era. British travelers found in Ireland a physical and social landscape that did not reflect their idealized visions of the English countryside, but instead consistently reinforced their conceptions of the neighboring island as different and backward. As depictions of Irish rural poverty came to dominate travel narratives, British conceptions of the Irish ‘moral landscape’ increasingly emphasized the innate deficiencies of the Irish character. In addition to a fascinating examination of travel writing in itself, this important book offers critical insight into the formation of what became the dominant British understanding of Irish society and poverty, a view that had a devastating influence on the popular and official response to the Great Famine.”—Michael de Nie, University of West Georgia

“A valuable and lucid study . . . . This book will be instructive and enjoyable reading for all scholars with an interest in both British and Irish studies of the early nineteenth century, as well as those looking for insightful discussions of early tourism as a cultural practice.”—Stephanie Rains, H-Net Review in the Humanities and Social Sciences

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780299225209
Publisher:
University of Wisconsin Press
Publication date:
12/07/2008
Series:
History of Ireland & the Irish Diaspora Series
Edition description:
1
Pages:
280
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

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 'Twas Only an Irishman's Dream: The Image of Ireland and the Irish in American Popular Song Lyrics, 1800-1920.

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