The Irish Through British Eyes: Perceptions Of Ireland In The Famine Era

Hardcover | May 1, 2002

byEdward G. Lengel

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The mainstream British attitude toward the Irish in the first half of the 1840s was based upon the belief in Irish improvability. Most educated British rejected any notion of Irish racial inferiority and insisted that under middle-class British tutelage the Irish would in time reach a standard of civilization approaching that of Britain. However, the potato famine of 1846-1852, which coincided with a number of external and domestic crises that appeared to threaten the stability of Great Britain, led a large portion of the British public to question the optimistic liberal attitude toward the Irish. Rhetoric concerning the relationship between the two peoples would change dramatically as a result. Prior to the famine, the perceived need to maintain the Anglo-Irish union, and the subservience of the Irish, was resolved by resort to a gendered rhetoric of marriage. Many British writers accordingly portrayed the union as a natural, necessary and complementary bond between male and female, maintaining the appearance if not the substance of a partnership of equals. With the coming of the famine, the unwillingness of the British government and public to make the sacrifices necessary, not only to feed the Irish but to regenerate their island, was justified by assertions of Irish irredeemability and racial inferiority. By the 1850s, Ireland increasingly appeared not as a member of the British family of nations in need of uplifting, but as a colony whose people were incompatible with the British and needed to be kept in place by force of arms.

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The mainstream British attitude toward the Irish in the first half of the 1840s was based upon the belief in Irish improvability. Most educated British rejected any notion of Irish racial inferiority and insisted that under middle-class British tutelage the Irish would in time reach a standard of civilization approaching that of Britai...

Format:HardcoverDimensions:200 pages, 9.48 × 6.06 × 0.78 inPublished:May 1, 2002Publisher:Praeger PublishersLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0275976343

ISBN - 13:9780275976347

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?Lengel has written a thoughtful account of the paradigm shift in educated British opinion about Ireland during the famine era (1845-52). Studying pamphlets, newspapers, and periodicals published in the 1840s and 1850s, along with unpublished manuscript sources, he demonstrates the swing during the famine years from sympathetic, gently condescending attitudes toward the Irish to derisive hostility. A racist paradigm--frequently comparing the Irish to Africans--held by a small minority in 1845 metamorphosed in less than a decade into a majority position. Lengel attributes this 180-degree swing partly to defensiveness over British famine policy's vacillations and failures, but more to fear of the "moral contamination" of mass Irish Catholic migration to Britain or of losing control over "John Bull's other island" to Irish republicans or foreign powers. Alluded to by Christine Kinealy, Richard Ned Lebow, Cormac O'Grada, and other recent historians, these themes are clearly spelled out in a work mercifully free of poststructuralist jargon. Recommended for all Irish history collections, upper-division undergraduates and above.??Choice