May 7, 2004


Seminar: Irish Studies, 535


Meeting Date: May 7, 2004


Chair: Mary McGlynn


Speaker: Prof. Clare Carroll

Chair of Comparative Literature and Director of Irish Studies, Queens College, CUNY.


Title of Talk: "Irish 'Others' as Brothers and Mothers in the Age of Elizabeth."


Rapporteur: Cóilín Parsons


Attendees: Ann M. McNulty (Fordham University); Patrick McNierney (Columbia University); Abby Bender (Princeton University); Brian Leahy Doyle (Lehman College, CUNY); Joseph Lennon (Manhattan College); Maria McGarrity (Long Island University); Gertrude Hamilton (Marymount College of Fordham University); Kathleen Connell (Marymount College of Fordham University); Rita Loughlin (American Irish Teachers Association); Peter M. Leahy (CUNY Graduate Center); SŽamus Blake (WFUV, Fordham University); Susanne Forman (Pearson Publishing); Thomas Ihde (Lehman College, CUNY); Diane Menagh (Fairfield University); Martin J. Burke (Lehman College & CUNY Graduate Center); Robert St-Cyr.


"Irish 'Others' as Brothers and Mothers in the Age of Elizabeth"

A copy of the paper that Prof. Carroll gave has been deposited with University Seminars.  The following is a synopsis.  Prof. Carroll also showed slides.


Prof. Carroll devised her title to emphasise how close the Irish were to the Elizabethan English, and also how troubling that closeness could be.  There were at least five reasons why the English portrayed their Irish mothers and brothers as others: first, they were rebellious; second, they remained Catholic; third, they had a separate language, and distinct legal, poetic, and political customs; fourth, the English feared the Irish, especially Irish women, as seductive and corrupting; fifth, the Irish were European and could form alliances with other Europeans, so they had to be portrayed as neither European nor modern.

            The Elizabethan conquest of Ireland was pursued by means of the policy of surrender and regrant, as well as by cultural Anglicisation and outright military conquest.  The story of how Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney routed the persistent rebel Rory Og O'More of the midlands is recounted in John DerrickeÕs The Image of Ireland.  Prof. Carroll displayed a number of slides of woodcuts from DerrickeÕs text, and argued that they make military resistance, Catholicism, and evil synonymous with each other.  They also draw a contradictory connection between English civility and state-sanctioned violence.  The Irish are constantly depicted as "the enemie," and only once in the text is there an indication that there were some Irish fighting in and working for SidneyÕs army, despite the fact that there would have been many.  This depiction of the Irish as primitive and outside civility stretches back to the twelfth-century Topographia Hiberniae of Gerald of Wales, but in DerrickeÕs text the barbarism is no longer just primitive, but also evil.

            This same judgment of the Irish dominates Edmund Spenser's A View of the Present State of Ireland, written in the midst of Hugh OÕNeillÕs rebellion against English rule.  SpenserÕs plan for the reformation of Ireland places military conquest as the first order of the day.  This is justified in the first section of A View, in which Irish customs are depicted as wild, licentious, pagan, feminised, and non-European.  Irish vices are in direct opposition to the array of virtues embodied in the hero knights and titles of each of the books of The Faerie Queene.  Spenser takes Gerald of WalesÕ descriptions of the Irish and allies them with the emerging discourse of race, depicting the Old English and the Gaelic Irish as a unified racial other.

            Prof. Carroll ended her talk with two stories that complicate somewhat the notion of the Irish as EnglandÕs Others.  When the QueenÕs godson, Sir John Harington, was on campaign with Essex in 1599, he wrote a letter that recounts a tale about Rory Og OÕMoreÕs magical escape.  This story is exactly identical to an anecdote he tells in the commentary to his translation of the Italian romance epic Orlando Furioso.  Harington wrote the letter after the English forces had been defeated against all oddsÑhe uses the trope of the Irish being magically possessed to explain an inexplicable defeat.  For Harington the ideological and the fictional, the legendary and the historical are all translatable in terms of each other.

            Just two months later, Harington paid a visit to the rebel Hugh OÕNeill during a brief cease-fire period.  OÕNeill greeted him warmly, and asked after his cousin, Sir Henry Harington, who had been defeated at Arklow by OÕNeill earlier in the year.  Harington writes of OÕNeill in elegiac terms, and gives his sons gifts of his ÒAriosto.Ó  HaringtonÕs Orlando Furioso had very real influence in the Irish translation of continental culture, and even on the study of Irish by English speakers.  An anonymous late seventeenth-century, Irish-language prose romance, Orlando agus Melora shows this influenceÑthe 1696 manuscript includes pen and ink drawings that closely imitate the engravings to the 1591 edition of HaringtonÕs translation.  In the 1696 manuscript, the text is followed by a Latin-Irish glossary, guide to the pronunciation of Irish, and a grammar, all suggesting that it was produced for English-speaking students of the Irish language.

            These final two stories indicate that the English could encounter the Irish as civil, and that the Irish could encounter the English as a source of inspiration for their own cultural survival.




Q. Was Gerald of Wales of Welsh blood?  Did he speak Welsh?  Did he identify with Wales or was he self-hating?

A. He was from Wales, just as most of those in the initial waves of settlement, the Cambro-Normans.  He didnÕt identify with Welsh culture, and he wrote in Latin, but he did write an ecclesiastical history of Wales.  Spenser took the notion of the barbarity of the Irish from Gerald, but he added the idea that the Irish were non-European.  Gerald believed that the Irish could be improved, but Spenser and Derricke thought that they were ineducable, that they were barbaric not by custom, but by nature.  Willy Maley has written that the Irish were seen as a mixture of many different races, and indeed there are elements of the Lebor Gab‡laÑone of the many Irish texts that speak of the Irish as Scythians, etc.Ñin Spenser.  For Spenser, however, the Irish are African not because they are ancient, but because they are barbaric.

Q. It is interesting that at this time African does not seem to mean black.

A. No, it doesnÕt.  Coleridge, writing long after slavery had been begun, says he could not imagine that Othello could have been black, but this was not a problem for ShakespeareÑhis was quite a different time.  Race at this time is not considered in terms of skin colour, but in terms of lineage.

Q. You have spoken of the mantle being a traditional Irish coat.  DoesnÕt Caliban wear a mantle?

A. I donÕt think so.  I am not sure.  It would be a very interesting staging.

Q. In reports of the 1648-1651 rebellion in Munster there was talk of profit and loss of profit.  Is this a new concern at that time?

A. Yes.  William Petty travels around the country calculating how much land is worth, and the value of peasantsÕ labour.  His interests are very much scientific and economic.  He believes that, if only the Irish could be modernised they would produce profit.  This was more of a concern in the seventeenth centuryÑthe Elizabethan conquest had been a huge financial sinkhole.

Q. Before the New English arrived was there a sense of there having been a hybrid culture?  In Spenser is there a sense that the Irish will absorb, culturally, any new settlers?

A. Ken Nicholls has written brilliantly about the process of hibernicisation, or gaelicisation.  New English settlers were jockeying for power and position in Ireland, and someone like an Ormond or a Desmond would have been a huge threat to them, so part of the animosity against the ÒdegenerateÓ Old English was a result of this.  The Old English were very Catholic and very hibernicised, yet into the seventeenth century many of them still insisted that they were English.

Q. This claim to be English and not Irish was seen in the seminaries on the continent also.

A. Yes, there are very interesting stories of the fights between Gaelic and Old English carrying over to the colleges in the continent.

Q. Your talk brings to mind Marianne MooreÕs brilliant poem, ÒSpenserÕs Ireland.Ó

A. Andrew HadfieldÕs work on Spenser insists that he can be seen as an Irish writer.  His landscapes in The Faerie Queene are Irish.  He lived in Ireland for a very long time, and as a result he is in an in-between position, a peculiar position.

Q. I am interested in your comment on Irish wailing.  When I heard keening it was nothing like what is being described.

A. Of course this description is based on stereotyping; there is a proliferation of types that have little or nothing to do with empirical observation.  It is interesting to see writers very occasionally breaking through that to a real encounter.

Q. I know that to compare manuscript and print traditions is not fair, but are there similar changes in the Irish-language offerings at this time?

Q. There are poets who are bilingual, who have a foot in both traditions.  Indeed, by the late seventeenth century many are looking to the return of the Stuarts as the proper rulers.  By that time Irish writers are more closely embedded in the English-speaking world.

A. There is also macaronic poetry in the English language, and many Irish poets describe the changing landscape and English military set-up, but it is not quite the same type of shift.

Q. Roderick OÕ FlahertyÕs poetry is an interesting case of engagement with the issues of Anglicisation.

A. Yes, his Ogygia uses the word ÒBritishÓ to include the Irish.  Of course, this was because James II was about to ascend the throne, and OÕFlaherty was looking for favours, including the regrant of land that had been lost.