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Ireland and the Fiction of Improvement$
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Helen O'Connell

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199286461

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199286461.001.0001

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The Silence of Irish

The Silence of Irish

(p.99) 3 The Silence of Irish
Ireland and the Fiction of Improvement

Helen O’connell

Oxford University Press

This chapter shows how the irrationality of Irish is exemplified by its invocation as a metaphor for sentimentality and pathos in ‘Hibernian’ idioms such as ‘asthore’ and ‘machree’. Improvement pamphlets are generally silent on the issue of the Irish language, presumably because the language could not withstand the processes of modernization. The Irish language and modernization are simply thought to be antithetical. In the process, the language is represented as static, indeed paralytic, and thus incapable of linguistic, let alone economic, production. This chapter argues that Irish was conventionally seen in this manner in the early 19th century and questions the historical, not to mention linguistic, basis for a claim that came to be accepted as a ‘truth’ in the travel writing and literature of the period.

Keywords:   Ireland, Irish literature, improvement fiction, Irish language, William Carleton, travel writing, oral culture, English language

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