Joseph Cooper Walker (1761-1810)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
[J. C. Walker; var. 1762;] prob. b. Dublin; ed. school of Thomas Ball, Dublin, and TCD; returning to Ireland from Italian travels made in search of health occasioned by asthma; collected art and manuscripts at his home, St. Valerie, Bray, Co. Wicklow; Dublin treasury official; fnd. mbr. RIA; collaborated with Vallancey on Collectanea de rebus Hibernicis (1770-1804);
 
contributed to RIA Transactions and issued Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards (1786), incorporating appendices of letters from other scholars to him and the earliest biography of Carolan, excepting only Goldsmith’s comments; also translations by Charlotte Brooke and an account of trumpets found in a bog near Cork;
 
issued and Historical Essay on the Dress of the Ancient and Modern Irish, to which is Subjoined a Memoir of the Armour and Weapons of the Irish (1788); d. St. Valerie, 12 April. RR CAB ODNB JMC RAF FDA OCIL

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Works
  • Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards, Interspersed with Anecdotes of, and Occasional Observations on the Music of Ireland; also, an Historical and Descriptive Account of the Musical Instruments of the Ancient Irish, and an appendix containing several biographical and other papers with select Irish melodies (Dublin: Luke White; 1786; London 1786; J. Christie 1818) [ded. to Henry Theophilus Clements, Dep. Vice-treasurer of Ireland], and Do. [facs. rep.] (NY: Garland Publ. Inc. 1971) [see details];
  • Historical Essay on the Dress of the Ancient and Modern Irish, to which is Subjoined a Memoir of the Armour and Weapons of the Irish (Dublin: George Grierson 1788; new edn. London 1818);
  • Historical Memoir on Italian Tragedy (London 1799);
  • Historical and Critical Essay on the Revival of the Drama in Italy (Edinburgh 1805);
  • An Essay on the Origin of Romantic Fabling in Ireland, in Trans. of the Royal Irish Academy [RIA], X, (1806);
  • ‘Anecdotes on Chess in Ireland’, in Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis, ed. Charles Vallancey m Vol. 5 (MDCCXC [1790]), pp.365-68 [note: Collectanea, 1770-84];
  • Memoirs of Alessandro Tassoni, with a memoir of J. C. Walker by his brother, S. Walker (London 1815);
  • ‘An Historical Essay on the Irish Stage’, The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. II (1788) [var. 1787], p.5f. [cited in W. S. Clark, The Early Irish Stage, Clarendon Press 1955, p.217].

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Bibliographical details
Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards: interspersed with anecdotes of, and occasional observations on, the music of Ireland : also, an historical and descriptive account of the musical instruments of the ancient Irish : and an appendix, containing several biographical and other papers, with select Irish melodies / by Joseph C. Walker (Dublin: printed for the author, by Luke White, No. 86, Dame-Street, 1786), xii, 166, 124, [2]pp., ill, [6pp. of pls. (1 folded)]. CONTENTS: Appendices as follow: I. Inquiries concerning the ancient Irish harp, by Edward Ledwich; II: A letter to Joseph C. Walker ... on the style of the ancient Irish music, from Edward Ledwich. III: An essay on the poetical accents of the Irish, by William Beauford. IV: Dissertazione del Signor Canonico Orazio Maccari di Cortona sopra un' antica statuetta di marmo, rappresentante un suonator di cornamusa. V: Memoirs of Cormac Common. V: . The life of Turlough O'Carolan. VII: An account of three brass trumpets found near Cork. VIII: An essay on the construction and capability of the Irish harp, in its pristine state, by William Beauford. IX: Select Irish melodies.

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Criticism
  • Charles Burney, ‘Review of Walker’s Irish Bards’, in Monthly Review, 77 (December 1787) [cited in Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism, London: Pluto Press 1998, Bibliog.];
  • R. A. Breathnach, ‘Two Eighteenth-century Irish Scholars: Joseph Cooper Walker and Charlotte Brooke’, in Studia Hibernica 5 (1965), pp.88-97;
  • Ann de Valera, ‘Antiquarian and Hist. Investigations in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century’ (MA thesis, NUI 1978).
 
See also Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica, Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, pp.620, and account in Seamus Deane, A Short History of Irish Literature (London: Hutchinson 1980), p.63.

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Commentary
Russell K. Alspach, Irish Poetry from the English Invasion to 1798 (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania UP [1943] 1959), contains a short discussion and some scattered remarks, incl. the qotation: ‘I trust I am offering to my countrymen an acceptable present: the gift has novelty, at least, to recommend it. Though Ireland has been long famed for its poetry and music, these subjects have never yet been treated of historically ... Having taken up my subject at an early period, I was necessitated to explore the dark regions of antiquity. Here a few rays of light darted to me, which only served to make the darkness visible.’ (Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards, 1786, preface, p.v-vi; Alspach, p.109.) Alspach also cites an account in Walker of Queen Elizabeth’s amorous visits to O’Rourke while he was retained in London - shown to be spurious in view of the real record of events. (pp.77-78.)

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R. E. Ward & C. Ward, eds., Letters of Charles O’Conor of Belanagare (Cath. Univ. of America Press 1988), letters to Walker commence with a note of thanks for the receipt of Archdall’s proposal for Irish Monasticon (22 Dec. 1784; p.451), and numerous fulsomely diplomatic letters on matters antiquarian; note that O’Conor offers criticism of his reliance on an ‘anonymous correspondent’ in the life of Carolan, the correspondent being O’Conor’s apothecary, a younger man writing from hearsay; adds thanks for use of quote from Johnson letter to self (14 June 1786; p.469); editors note that Vallancey overlooked the numerous cautions in Burke’s letter to him, and read it as unqualified enthusiasm, distributing it to Charles O’Conor and other friends; ref., Holden Furber, ed. of Letters [Vol. 5]; Letters, p.481, n.1).

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Terence Brown, Northern Voices, Poets from Ulster (Dublin: G&M 1975), who claims that he was a clergyman protégé of Thomas Percy, Bishop of Dromore, and himself the patron of Romny Robinson, and William Cunningham, a weaver’s boy (d. aetat. 23), both prodigy poets. (pp.14-15.)

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Robert Welch, A History of Verse Translation from the Irish 1789-1897 (Gerrards Cross 1988), Chap. 3, ‘Walker and Brooke’, [pp.28-43]. Historical Memoirs (1786), appendix contains personal letters from Charles O’Conor, Vallancey, and Sylvester O’Halloran [28]; historical accounts based on Keating, O’Flaherty, and MacCurtin, as well as James Ware, and Fernando Warner; assistance of Theophilus O’Flanagan on his Irish (‘very confined’); mixed attitude to Macpherson [29]; widely based learning drawing together cullings from Celtic studies, Irish British and Welsh, but also European languages and the classics, focusing on a new synthesis between the two traditions in Ireland (e.g., compares filidh and scalds) [30]. [See also under Charlotte Brooke, supra.]

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Joseph Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael (Amsterdam 1986): ‘J. C. Walker, Historical memoirs of the Irish Bards stands next to Ledwich’s own Antiquities of Ireland as the work that was to remain most influential into the following century. [...] it evinces an overriding interest in the social realities of Gaelic antiquity. A broad spectrum of native sources, not only secondary (Keating, MacCurtin, O’Flaherty, Toland, O’Conor) but primary (from Fearflatha Ó Gním to Carolan). [Quotes:] “Can that nation be deemed barbarous, in which learning shared the honours next to royalty? Warlike as the Irish were in those days, even arms were less respected among them than letters. Read this, ye polished nations of the earth, and blush!”’ (Vol 1, p.8-9). Further quotes: ‘It was hinted to me by a friend, who perused my manuscript, that I dwell with too much energy on the oppressions of the English; treading, sometimes with a heavy step, on ashes not yet cold. But, however thankful for the hint, I cannot subscribe to his opinion. I have only related unexaggerated historic truths.’ (Vol 2, p.3; Leerssen, p.424.) [Cont.]

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Joseph Leerssen (Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael, 1986) - cont.: ‘J. C. Walker attributed the melancholy nature of Irish music to the historical and political woes of the poets, who were therefore seen as being uniformly stirred by patriotic feeling, “thus we see that music maintained its ground in this country even after the invasion of the English. But its style suffered a change, for the sprightly Phrygian, ‘to which’, says Gelden, ‘the Irish were wholly inclined’, gave way to the grave Doric, or soft Lydian measure. Such was the nice sensibility of the Bards, such was their tender affection for their country, that the subjection to which the Kingdom was reduced, affected them with the heaviest sadness. Sinking beneath the weight of sympathetic sorrow, they became prey to melancholy. Hence the plaintiveness of their music.’ (Vol., 1, p.181; Leerssen, p.433.) [Cont.]

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Joseph Leerssen (Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael, 1986) - cont.: ‘In contrast - or unfortunate extenuation - of this pathetic view of the sources of sentiment, J. C. Walker also elaborates a national trait which he must surely have adopted from the stage-Irishman of the London theatre, “[ ...] But perhaps the melancholic spirit which breathes through the poetry and music of the Irish, may be attributed to another cause; a cause which operated anterior and subsequent to, the invasion of the English. We mean the remarkable susceptibility of the Irish to the passion of love.”’ (Vol. 1, 185). Leerssen comments, ‘All this starry-eyed fascination with Ireland’s Gaelic roots was rudely interrupted in the year 1798 when the amorous Irish rose in open revolt.’ [434] Quotes Walker, assessing the impact of the Rebellion on antiquarianism: “Vallancey must, as you suppose, be hurt at the conduct of those whose champion he has been. However, he has this consolation, the rebellion began amongst, and was for a considerable time confined to, the descendants of the English and other nations that settled in the counties of Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford. I do not believe it would be possible to find one hundred or even fifty people in those three countries who understand or speak the Irish language. Latterly, indeed, the Milesians have rallied round the standard of the Rebellion.’ (Walker to Pinkerton, in Pinkerton, Literary Correspondence, 1830, Vol. 2 37.) [435] J. C. Walker’s Historical memoirs reprinted in 1804.

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Gerry Smyth, ‘Amateurs and Textperts, Studying Irish Traditional Music’, in Irish Studies Review (Autumn 1995), pp.2-10, quotes: ‘Can that nation be deemed barbarous, in which learning shared the honours next to royalty? Warlike as the Irish were in those days, even arms were less respected among them than letters. Read this, ye polished nations of the earth, and blush!’ (Historical Memoirs, p.8-9.) ‘This attention to the cultivation of the musical art, evinces a refinement of manners, and of soul amongst the Irish, that foreign writers, and even those of a sister country, are unwilling to allow them. (ibid., 85-86.) ‘Though the English, during the middle ages kept the natives in a state of absolute anarchy, refused them the privileges of subjects, and only left them the lands they could not subdue, yet did our music and poetry still flourish. So deeply rooted in the minds of the Irish was the passion for those arts that even the iron hand of tyranny could not eradicate it.’ (ibid., 147). See also comments and quotations in Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature (London: Pluto Press 1998, pp.62-64: ‘With Irish BardsWalker was intervening in a [Celticist] discourse which in the 1780s was nearing saturation point.’ (p.61.)

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Gerry Smyth (‘Amateurs and Textperts, Studying Irish Traditional Music’, 1995) - cont.: ‘Walker’s fate is that of the typical Anglo-Irish settler, inhabiting a contradictory discursive site that is ineluctably Irish while simulataneously greater and lesser than than designation.’ (p.62); ‘Walker announces his superiority over Gaelic Ireland … through the employment of the metropolitan “plain” style …’; ‘the style of this pasage … enables the author to assume a dominant position with regard to his material, an authority which resonates in contemporary political discourse.’ (p.63); ‘One obvious blinspot is the author’s insinuation of Anglo-Ireland into an impossible role in pre-Invasion Irish history. More generally, there is a discrepancy betwween the authoritative tone of the test and a lack of reliable primary sources.’ (idem); […//]; ‘The main problem was that antiquarianism was still in its infancy in the eighteenth century and its research techniques were not yet equal to the primary sources of Irish history. Until they became so, thanks to the work of nineteenth-century scholars, antiquarianism would remain the province of speculative amateurs like Walker himself.’ (p.64.)

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Quotations
Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards (1786): ‘I must confess that Dress, in the general acceptance of the word, is a subject of little importance; but the national Dress of our ancestors receives a little consequence from the circumstances of its having been so often the pobejct of parliamentary consideration. Indeed the history of the Dress of any nation does, in some degre, involve that of the maters of its inhabitants: it is amirror in which we discern the progress of society; at one time we may see her falling into the depths of barbarism, and again emerging into the light of civilisation. When we behold the Irish wrapped in skins, or concealing a naked form under a coarse woollen mantle, we naturally conclude that we are looking at a race of barbarians; but when we see the same people, in other periods, clad in silk, fringed with gold or silver lace, and their persons glittering with elegant or costly ornaments, we cannot deny them the respect which is due to a wealthy and a civilised, if not a polished people.’ (Irish Bards, p.80; quoted in Pauline Holland, UUC Doc. Diss., 2004.)

T. C. Croker, Historical Songs of Ireland (1841) incls. reference to Walker in his notes on “King James’s Welcome to Ireland”: ‘James II landed at Kinsale on Tuesday, 12th March, 1688-9, where he was received by the Earl of Clancarty, and where, “for the want of bells,” we are told, “the king was welcomed with the shouts and acclamations of the people, bonfires, &c.” Mr. Walker states that a national dance, called the Rinka fada, which he has minutely described in the Memoirs of the Irish Bards, was danced on this occasion before James, the figure and execution of which delighted him exceedingly.”’ (Croker, op. cit., p.23.)

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Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards (1786): ‘I trust I am offering to my Countrymen an acceptable present: the gift has novelty, at least, to recommend it. Though Ireland has long been famed [20] for its Poetry and Music, these subjects have never yet been treated of historically. I do not pretend to have done completely, what has lain so long undone: no doubt many sources of information still remain unopened and many documents unconsulted. However, I have marked out a path which may facilitate the pursuit of those who shall hereafter follow me.’ ( p.v); quoted in Andrew Carpenter, ‘Changing Views of Irish Musical and Literary Culture in Eighteenth-centry Anglo-Irish Literature’, in Irish Literature and Culture, ed. Michael Kenneally, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1992, pp.20-21; note erroneous ftn. ref. to Vallancey’s Grammar of Iberno-Celtic or Irish Language, 1773.)

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Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards (1986; 1818 [Edn]): ‘It was hinted to me by a friend, who perused my manuscript, that I dwell with too much energy on the oppressions of the English; treading, sometimes, with a heavy step, on ashes not yet cold. But however thankful for the hint, I cannot subscribe to his opinion. I have only related unexaggerated historic truths. This was my duty, and from this duty no mortal frown can make me swerve [...]. But the wrongs of the English only live now in the page of history. Mingling their blood with ours, that brave people have conciliated our affections. We have taken them to our arms, and stifled the remembrance of their oppressions in a warm embrace.’ (p.34; cited in Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature, Pluto Press 1998, pp.62); Also, ‘Though Cucullin flourished about two hundred years before the reign of Cormac, Mr. Macpherson has made hlm contemporary wlth m, whom he calls Fingal [...]. Mr. Macpherson always changes ALMHAIN into ALBAIN, that is Scotland: for M and B are commutable in the Gaelic or Iberno-Celtic language, a circumstance of which he takes advantage.’ (Ibid., p.514; Smythe, p.63.)

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Historical Essay on the Dress of the Ancient and Modern Irish (1788) - Preface [opening]: ‘He who undertakes to elucidate the Antiquities of Ireland no loger engages in an ungrateful task. The spirit of literary enquiry is gone abroad in this kingdom.’ (Quoted in Celtica, 1967; a catalogue of Celtic works in National Library of Scotland.)

Lady Morgan
In The Wild Irish Girl, Sydney Owenson [later Lady Morgan] counts Walker among her frequently quoted footnote sources for customs and dress of the western Irish—as for instance, in this instance:
 
‘[...] I observed that round the heads of the elderly dames were folded several wreaths of white or coloured linen* [...]’

*“The women’s ancient head-dress so perfectly resembles that of the Egyptian Isis, that it cannot be doubted but that the modes of Egypt were preserved among the Irish.” – Walker on the Ancient Irish Dress, page 62.

 ‘The Author’s father, who lived in the early part of his life in a remote skirt of the Province of Connaught, remembers to have seen the heads of the female peasantry encircled with folds of linen in form of a turban.’]
 
The Wild Irish Girl (1806), Letter IV; see digital copy in RICORSO Library, ‘Irish Classics’, infra.

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Historical Essay on the Dress of the Ancient and Modern Irish (1788): ‘Amongst the ornaments which formerly adorned the fair daughters of this isle, the bodkin is peculiarly deserving our notice. Whence the Irish derived this implement, I might conjecture, but cannot determine. Although I have pursued it with an eager inquiry, I have not been able to trace it beyond the foundation of the celebrated palace of Eamania. The design of this palace (according to our old chroniclers) was sketched on a bed of sand by the Empress Macha with her bodkin. If this tradition be founded in reality, bodkins must have been worn by the Irish ladies several centuries before the Christian era. But I should be contented to give them a less remote, provided I could assign them a more certain antiquity. If the word aiccde in the Brehon laws will admit of being translated a bodkin, we may infer their use in Ireland about the commencement of the Christian era: for in a code of sumptuary laws of the second century we find frequent mention of the aiccde. But I am rather inclined to consider the aiccde as a kind of broach from the circumstance of its marking the rank of the wearer by its value, as was formerly the case amongst the Highlanders, whose frequent intercourse with the Irish occasioned a striking familiarity in the customs and manners of both people. [...]’ (Extract given in Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature, 1904, Vol IX, p.3496f; see full text in RICORSO Library, Authors / Various Writers, via index, or direct; also available at Library Ireland [online]; and see George Farquhar, in Notes, infra.)

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Letter to Sydney Owenson [later Lady Morgan - then writing The Wild Irish Girl]: ‘You are now in a part of the island where many of the Finian tales are familiarly known. You will, of course, collect some of them, and, perhaps, interweave them with the work on which you are at present employed. If you could obtain faithful descriptions of some of the scenes of those tales, you would heighten the interest of your romance by occasionally introducing them. On the summit of Slieve Guillen, lies the scene of The Chase, which has been so admirably translated by Miss Brooke. As it does not appear from your letter, that you are acquainted with her Reliques, permit me to recommend that inestimable work to your particular attention. [...] With the plan of your work I am unacquainted. Perhaps you have taken for a model, the prose romance of the Irish, which was, I believe, generally interspersed with the poetical pieces (see Percy's Reliques for an account of the History of the Civil Wars of Granada) or, to refer to a modern production, The Mysteries of Udolpho. / The language of simple narration, where the passions are unconcerned, should be easy, elegant, and familiar. Such, I am sure, madam, is the language you will employ. And I am equally certain, that in the impassioned parts of your work, you will employ the words that burn, or melt, as the occasion may require. (Lady Morgan's Memoirs: Autobiography, Diaries and Correspondence, ed. W. Hepworth Dixon, London 1862, Vol. 1, p.262; quoted in Patrick Sheeran, “The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty: A Study in Romantic Realism”, Ph.D., UCG 1972, p.175-76.)

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References
Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Catholic Univ. of America 1904), biog.: b. St Valerie, nr. Bray; appt. to place in Treasury; travelled in Europe for health; RIA, 1787; Sec. of Committee for Antiquities, a little later; Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards (1786); Historical Essays on Dress of the ancient and Modern Irish, incl. Memoir on the Armour and Weapons of the Irish (1788); Historical Memoir of Italian Tragedy ...[ &c.], by a Member of the Arcadian Academy at Rome (London 1799), rep. as An Historical and Critical Essay on the Revival of the Drama in Italy (Edin. 1805); d. St. Valerie, 12 Apr. 1810; Memoirs of Alessandro Tassoni, ed. by his brother Samuel Walker (1815). The extract from Historical Dress concerns the bodkin, ‘bodkins must have been worn by Irish ladies several centuries before the Christian Era; also on the aiccde cited in Brehon Laws, which he translates as ‘broach’, making connections back and forth between Pope’s Ariel (‘wedged whole ages in a bodkin’s eye’) and memories of a Mary Morgan, a Mrs Power,. ‘the Queen of Credan’ [Waterford]. He quotes Farquhar in an unnamed play, ‘Our ignorant nation imagine a full wig as infallible a token of wit as the laurel’; also The Spectator, in an equally English context; also Swift, describing the dress of Goody Baucis. ‘I have been informed that some Irish ladies of this reign [Anne] affected the dress in which the unfortunate Queen of Scots is usually depicted, so that we may presume the ruff now occasionally rose about the neck of our lovely country-women.’; ‘... from the accession of George I to the present day fashion has been such a varying goddess in this country, that neither history, tradition, nor painting has been able to preserve all her mimic forms ...’.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, 3 vols. (Derry: Field Day Publications 1991), Vols. 1, selects the ‘Life of Turlough O’Carolan’ (1786), being an appendix to Walker’s Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards [FDA1, 976-77]; also his ‘Historical Essay on the Irish Stage’ (1788), which appeared in Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy [FDA1, 977-79],]. Note that the account of the ‘Druith Righeadh, or Royal Mimics or Comedians’ at Tara, referred to in this essay [given in FDA1 977-79], has its source in Vallancey’s [Col. de. Re. Hib., vol. iii, p.531.] Remarks at 962 & 980; BIOG, 1008.

Belfast Central Library holds Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards (2nd ed. 1818). Ulster University (Morris Collection) holds An Historical Essay on the Dress of the Ancient and Modern Irish, to which is subjoined a memoir on the armour and weapons of the Irish (C. Grierson 1788) 180p.; Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards (1786, 1818).

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Notes
George Farquhar: In Historical Essays on the Dress of the Ancient and Modern Irish’, Joseph Cooper Walker quotes Farquhar’s Love and a Bottle (1698): ‘Our ignorant nation (says Farquhar, in a comedy written in this reign [i.e, that of William & Anne]), our ignorant nation imagine a full wig as infallible a token of wit as the laurel’. / The head-dress which, The Spectator says, “made the women of such enormous stature, that we appeared as grasshoppers before them” now prevailed here. This information I owe to the inquisitiveness of Lucinda, in the comedy I have just quoted. / Lucinda: “tell us some news of your country; I have head the strangest stories, that the people wear horns and hoofs.” Roebuck: ‘Yes, faith, a great many wear horns; but we have that, among other laudable fashions, from London; I think it came over with your mode of wearing high top-knots; for ever since the men and wives bear their heads exalted alike. They were both fashions that took wonderfully.” He proceeds to quote Swift [‘Instead of hume-spun coifs were seen / Good pinners edged with colberteen [... &c.]’ (Extract given in Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature, 1904, p. Vol IX, p.3496; see also under Farquhar, q.v., supra.)

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C. G. Duggan (Stage Irishman) notes: J. C. Walker in his Dress of the Irish, printed in Dublin in 1788, has taken pains to find contemporary descriptions. [The same that wrote on the Irish stage.] (p.167).

Charles O’Conor’s unpublished [and uncompleted] ‘History of Ireland’ contains comments on Walker (see also under O’Conor, supra.)

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Liffey stream: Walter Harris’s description of the high-water marks of the of the Liffey - viz., ‘An arm of the Liffe[y] came through to Crampton Court ... so that this ancient rath - the predecessor of Dublin castle - was peninsulated, and formed a slough about 800 feet on each side’ - is quoted in Walker, History of the Irish Bards [n.p.], and also in in Anthologica Hibernica.(See George A Little, Dublin Before the Vikings, 1957 p.84.)

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