Joep Th. Leerssen, Remembrance and Imagination (Cork UP 1996)

Source: Diarmuid Ó Giolláin, Locating Irish Folklore: Tradition, Modernity, Identity, (Cork UP 2000).

Ó Giolláin summarise Leerssen’s thesis to the effect that the Anglo-Irish Romantics portrayed their Irish characters as living ‘in remote glens, on islands in lakes, on the shore or even off-shore, in crumbling ruins that are leftovers from the past, almost as if they do not really belong to the same time-scale as the other characters’ - calling this a procedure auto-exoticism, while adding that it established the subsequent convention which represents Ireland ‘primarily in terms of an anomaly, a riddle, a question, a mystery’. [Quotes further:]

To put it crudely: Ireland, if it cannot be a nation in its own right is reduced to a province, is increasingly described in the discourse of marginality and in terms of its being different or picturesque. The implied audience for Irish literature is English rather than Irish, and the choice of an Irish setting shifts increasingly to the wilder, more peripheral and distant parts of the country. Paradoxically, the most peripheral areas of Ireland are canonized as the most representative and characteristic ones. (Leerssen, Remembrance and Imagination, pp.37-38.)

There was a temporal as much as a spatial distancing in the representation of Gaelic Ireland. Antiquarians had characterized Gaelic culture by its pastness since ‘the most genuine and least adulturated form of Gaelic culture was that of the past, before the contamination of the English presence in Ireland’. So it was understood as ‘a survival of bygone ages, a living fossil of older times, existing only in those places where it had not yet been adulturated by the influence of contemporary European civilization ...’ (Ibid., 49; Ó Giolláin, p.29.)


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