Tourism, Landscape, and the Irish Character: British Travel Writers in Pre-Famine Ireland
Picturesque but poor, abject yet sublime in its Gothic melancholy, the Ireland perceived by British visitors during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did not fit their ideas of progress, propriety, and Protestantism. The rituals of Irish Catholicism, the lamentations of funeral wakes, the Irish language they could not comprehend, even the landscapes were all strange to tourists from England, Wales, and Scotland. Overlooking the acute despair in England’s own industrial cities, these travelers opined in their writings that the poverty, bog lands, and ill-thatched houses of rural Ireland indicated moral failures of the Irish character.
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In spite of considerable theorizing by British writers such as Uvedale Price and
Payne Knight , most British travel writers , as Ian Ousby points out , used the
terms “ sublime ” and “ picturesque ” interchangeably . Both words became part of
Otway ' s rhetorical diversion typifies the way travel writers retreated into the
picturesque in the face of overwhelming poverty , thereby maintaining the forward
motion of their narratives . This does not mean that they were necessarily
As Andrew Hadfield and John McVeagh suggest , the twin themes of picturesque
landscape and poverty seem interwoven in the Irish travel accounts , “ as if each
is feeding the other , " a tendency that “ reached a peak in the Famine years .