In the 1841 census three-quarters of houses in Ireland were placed in the lowest two classes, one-roomed mud cabins and slightly larger mud cottages. What Harriet Martineau describes as ‘Irish cabin life’ was a matter of fascination for visitors to Ireland before and after the Famine, and the cabin became a key site of ethnographic exploration. Curious or philanthropic observers were either shocked by the poverty and wretchedness they saw, or puzzled or even offended by the seeming happiness and healthiness of cabin-dwellers. During the Famine, the cabin was a scene for tragedy and horror: the place from which the people were evicted, from which they emigrated, in which they were quarantined, where they were found dying or dead, where they were buried. The roofless cabin later eloquently attested to their suffering and absence, and has become one of the most significant visual icons in the commemoration of the Famine. This chapter examines the representation of the cabin in literature from the time of the Famine to the present day, in the works of authors such as William Carleton, Anthony Trollope, Margaret Brew, Carol Birch, Anne Enright, and Tana French, considering the ways in which social hierarchy and communal relations are mediated through its space in texts set during the Famine, and its spectral significance in modern and contemporary literature as a concrete or symbolic inheritance, a time-machine, a haunted house, a place to desecrate or take refuge in, and a crime scene.
Fegan, Melissa (Liverpool University Press, 2018-11-30)
Fintan O’Toole includes a lace collar from Youghal, Co. Cork in his A History of Ireland in 100 Objects, noting it ‘epitomises one of the more remarkable achievements of Irish women in the second half of the nineteenth century – the creation from scratch of a world-class craft industry’. It was an industry largely founded in response to the Famine, by philanthropic upper- and middle-class Irish women who recognised the failure of famine relief measures for women and girls in particular; the Youghal lace collar is a legacy of the lace school founded there by a nun during the Famine. Lace-making offered rescue not just for them, but their families; in 1852, among fishing families in Blackrock, ‘the strong and powerful father’ and ‘the vigorous son’ were now ‘protected from hunger and misery by the fingers of the feeble child, and saved from the workhouse by her cheerful and untiring toil’. This chapter will examine the representation of textile and lace making during the Famine in texts such as Mary Anne Hoare’s ‘The Knitted Collar’, Susanna Meredith’s The Lacemakers, and Brother James’s Eva O’Beirne, or the Little Lacemaker, as narratives of self-help, critiques of inadequate state intervention, calls for support of the trade and charitable donations, and an impetus to emigration. It will also consider the relationship between depictions of mid-nineteenth-century Irish textile workers and the representation of seamstresses in Victorian literature more widely.
The experience of travel, the figure of the traveller, the relationship between landscape and nationality, and a complex attitude towards colonization are extremely important in the poetry and prose of Aubrey de Vere. Alongside ideas of emigration and exile in the Irish context, the wider intellectual and spiritual significance of travel is explored in poems such as ‘A Farewell to Naples’, ‘Lines Written Under Delphi’, or ‘A Wanderer’s Musings at Rome’, and in de Vere’s travel book Picturesque Sketches of Greece and Turkey (1850). De Vere’s ideal traveller must be hardy, embracing “an emancipation from the bondage of comforts”, and reining in his exuberant Romantic sensibility with careful “management of the mind” and “moral temperance”. This is very far removed from “that universal nuisance”, the Philistine Englishman abroad, of whom he is reminded all too frequently, particularly in Greece and in the Ionian islands, a British protectorate. But de Vere’s self-definition against the English traveller begins to unravel in Constantinople, where he embraces a new national identity as a Frank among an alien people. His experiences in the East also redefine his understanding of Ireland as “an Eastern nation in the West”.
This book chapter examines the representation of the Great Famine in literary texts from 1846-1896, including novels and short stories by William Carleton, Margaret Brew, Louise Field, Emily Fox, Mary Anne Hoare, T. O'Neill Russell, Anthony Trollope and W. G. Wills, and poetry by Jane Francesca Wilde, Thomas D'Arcy McGee and James Clarence Mangan, among others.
Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea (2002), uses an extended family – the Merridiths, Duanes and Mulveys – crossing class, religious, cultural, ethnic and political divides, to explore the failure of personal, local, national and international networks to save vulnerable individuals during the Great Famine of 1845-52.
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