France and Ireland in the Public Imagination

by Benjamin Keatinge (Volume editor) Mary Pierse (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection X, 269 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 55


This engaging collection of essays considers the cultural complexities of the Franco-Irish relationship in song and story, image and cuisine, novels, paintings and poetry. It casts a fresh eye on public perceptions of the historic bonds between Ireland and France, revealing a rich variety of contact and influence. Controversy is not shirked, whether on the subject of Irish economic decline or reflecting on prominent, contentious personalities such as Ian Paisley and Michel Houellebecq. Contrasting ideas of the popular and the intellectual emerge in a study of Brendan Kennelly; recent Irish tribunals are analysed in the light of French cultural theory; and familiar renditions of Franco-Irish links are re-evaluated against the evidence of newspaper and journal accounts.
Drawing on the disciplines of history, art, economics and literature, and dipping into the good wines of France and Ireland, the book paints a fascinating picture of the relationship between the two countries over three dramatic centuries.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Seeing France and Ireland
  • The Influence of France on Ireland: Myth or Reality?
  • Seeing France: Varying Irish Perceptions at the Fin de Siècle
  • What they said in the papers
  • Intersecting influences: education, religion and politics
  • France: a Catholic country?
  • Literary influences
  • Notes and sketches
  • Conclusion
  • Attractive Marginality: Irish Painters in Brittany in the 1880s
  • From Barbizon to Le Pouldu
  • Defining an Irish cultural space
  • From exotic regionalism to the familiar Celtic ‘Other’
  • From frozen space to resumed momentum: questioning the limits of form
  • New-found images: the real and the symbolic dimension
  • Part II: Constructing the Images
  • For the People, the Republic and the Nation: Translating Béranger in Nineteenth-Century Ireland
  • Béranger, poet of the people and national lyricist
  • Béranger in nineteenth-century Ireland: translators and themes
  • Béranger in nineteenth-century Ireland: the nation, the republic and the people
  • Béranger, Irish cultural nationalism and translation
  • ‘On the barricades’: John Montague’s Imaginary Representation of May ’68 in The Pear is Ripe
  • Ian Paisley: Generating French Perceptions of an Ulster Loyalist Leader
  • The Enfant Terrible of French Letters: Michel Houellebecq
  • Part III: The Public Spheres: Interventions and Interpretations
  • Towards an Irish Republic: Cultural Critique and an Alternative Paradigm
  • ‘So much depends on a TV appearance’: Popular and Performative Aspects of the Poetry of Brendan Kennelly
  • Introduction
  • Popularity and the poet’s persona
  • The poet as social critic
  • The performative epic
  • Conclusion
  • Chagall, Balthus, Picasso, Lascaux: French Influences on Paul Durcan’s Engagement with the Irish Public Imagination
  • Part IV: Haute Cuisine and High Society: Ça s’arrose!
  • French Boobys and Good English Cooks: The Relationship with French Culinary Influence in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Ireland
  • French cuisine
  • English attitudes
  • The Irish position
  • The picture painted by Maria Edgeworth (1768–1849)
  • Irish recipe manuscripts
  • Dorothea Herbert’s diary
  • Conclusion
  • Ireland in the Georgian Era: Was There Any Kingdom in Europe So Good a Customer at Bordeaux?
  • Irish wine
  • Turning misfortune into fortunes in Bordeaux
  • The Winegeese spread their wings
  • Hospitality in Georgian Ireland
  • Honest claret
  • Bordeaux’s best customer
  • Exporting a ‘Sense of Place’: Establishment of Regional Gastronomic Identity Beyond National Borders
  • Wine as ‘story’
  • Lessons from the New World
  • ‘Cultural ambassadors’ and themed locations
  • Cahors Malbec: out of the vineyard and into the town
  • Muscadet Zenith: out of the vineyard and into the city
  • Inter Rhône: out of the vineyard and into other countries
  • The Beaujolais Nouveau story: out of the vineyard and into the rest of the world
  • Conclusion
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix → Acknowledgements

The editors are deeply indebted to all who have facilitated the publication of France and Ireland in the Public Imagination. The inspiration owes much to Eugene O’Brien and John McDonagh (Mary Immaculate College, Limerick) who organized an Association for Franco-Irish Studies (AFIS) conference on the theme in 2012. The realization depended on the essay writers, on the patience of the publishers, and on the financial generosity of AFIS, to all of whom we are very grateful for their contributions. Particular thanks are due to Eamon Maher, General Editor of the Reimagining Ireland series, and to Christabel Scaife at Peter Lang, for their support. As always, the tolerance of colleagues, friends and family has been essential and is much appreciated.

Cork and Skopje, January 2014← ix | x →



Consideration of France and Ireland ‘in the public imagination’ demands some brief reflection on what might be considered as belonging to ‘the public sphere’, as opposed to a putative ‘private’ or ‘personal’ space. However, both public and personal may be viewed as irrevocably interlinked and that fusion is admirably illustrated by the Francophile Irishman, James Joyce; as has been suggested by Declan Kiberd, Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses can be read as a modern-day, quasi-Biblical guide to the moral and practical problems of life, which might assist in everyday routines of Learning, Thinking, Walking, Praying, Dying, Eating, Drinking, Reading, Wandering, Singing, Birthing, Parenting, Teaching and Loving.1 Clearly, as Joyce’s text richly exemplifies, the public sphere is far more than simply a discursive space for political, religious or cultural ideas and debates; rather, it is an integrated, universal realm in which all daily practices are performed. For example, the acts of eating and drinking are, in every culture, imbued with social customs relating to the nature and manner of consumption; even private prayer may take place in a public space of worship. Reading can have varying contexts, from the solitary reader at home to public performance readings of many kinds. Walking or wandering, especially through urban spaces, can be seen as culturally and socially significant actions in which the individual traverses public space and the public sphere. In sum, it can be said that most activities one could name have a social, not to say public, dimension.

But what then is ‘the public imagination’? And how does it relate to a putative ‘public sphere’? Arguably, ‘the public imagination’ is a wonderfully ← 1 | 2 → diverse and ever-fluctuating phenomenon that, in different spaces and periods, may cohere, mutate or crumble. Its manifestations be felt as epoch-making interventions in history and culture – or, may merely reverberate briefly in provincial disputes and imaginings. One of our contributors, Michel Brunet, offers this definition: ‘By public imagination is meant the popular creative capacity for generating images, symbols and narratives to deal with cultural, social and political realities or personalities; these images and descriptions are those that achieve clear public recognition across space and time, and sometimes lend themselves to myth-making, whether or not they are fully supported by actual facts or deeds.’2 Brunet makes a useful distinction between ‘facts and deeds’ and ‘myth-making’; clearly, any conception of the public imagination must allow for those instances of misinformation, delusion and impulse which characterize many examples of public discourse in which fear, paranoia, enthusiasm or other emotions may mislead public opinion. While we rely on a responsible media to influence and guide popular debate, it is the inevitable countervailing tendency of individual interest, oppositional and diversionary interjections, and the unpredictability of events, which will ensure that the public imagination will forever remain in flux, and will seldom be unanimous. We should then perhaps acknowledge a certain tension between the public sphere – as conceived by Jürgen Habermas as a forum for rational debate – and the public imagination which encompasses both the potential for myth-making and illusion, as well as that of creativity and inventiveness. In the words of one recent theoretician:

The place and status of imagination is shaped by the position and pressure of an array of contrapuntal concepts such as reason, experience, reality, objectivity, morality and materiality; the imagination has conventionally taken up a location somewhere between the domains of the factual and fictional, the subjective and objective, the real and representational.3

← 2 | 3 → So, the public imagination is inevitably the sum of ephemeral and diverse individual and local understandings that are potentially malleable and dirigible, but which inhabit a space between fact and fiction, real and representational. Given the fictional aspects of the public imagination, it is hardly surprising to find that artistic influences become increasingly interesting and important. It is the engagement with these artistic and creative influences on aspects of the public imagination, and on its operation and performance in the public sphere, which intrigue the authors in this book as they engage with the public/private interface and the riches of literary and visual landscapes.

The notions of France and Ireland in image and reality, and as seen from both sides of the Celtic Sea, have offered interesting, sometimes contrasting, depictions over the centuries. Indubitably, the public life of both capitals and countries has been conspicuously connected through the centuries, and the ways in which differing facets of ‘the public sphere’ have played out in Ireland and France, from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, feature strongly in this collection of essays. The Franco-Irish relationships have been evolving ones, dependent on a host of historical changes and developments, as both Pierre Joannon and Mary Pierse demonstrate in the two opening chapters. Some of the contributors to this volume comment on Franco-Irish relations in respect of a more formalized understanding of ‘the public sphere’. For example, Karine Deslandes explores representations of Ian Paisley in the French media during the Northern Troubles while Michel Brunet examines John Montague’s memoir The Pear is Ripe (2008) in which the poet articulates his impressions of May 1968 in Paris. In Deslandes’s essay, the public perception of a public figure (Paisley) in France is considered by careful analysis of media reports; in Brunet’s essay, the private perceptions (of Montague) of public events in France (‘Les événements’ of May 1968) are considered in terms of how these private perceptions may or may not cohere with some of the mainstream narratives to emerge from May ’68. Brunet’s essay is thus pivoted on a key dichotomy running through several of these essays: the interface between public and private perceptions. Brunet very expertly shows Montague’s complex relation to events as an individual Irish outsider in Paris, but also as a Republican (in both Irish and Gallic senses) who naturally sympathizes with the rebel ← 3 | 4 → cause; yet, at the same time, and as the movement loses momentum, he adopts a more conservative attitude, even modulating in the direction of a Wordsworthian disillusionment with revolutionary ideals, or towards the detachment of Montague’s Montparnasse neighbour, Samuel Beckett.

Other essays collected here deal with individual poets from a public/private perspective. Two important Irish poets, whose careers seem to be enacted at the interface of public and private roles, are Brendan Kennelly and Paul Durcan, the subject of essays by Benjamin Keatinge and Conor Farnan, respectively. Well known for their public performances, both these poets present a kind of public persona which impinges upon the public imagination, and which mingles a projected version of their private selves with their exterior, public selves; these parallel identities are often difficult to differentiate. Durcan, as a poet, is a risk-taker who dares to confront his readers with the possibility of the outlandishly impossible. As Farnan intuits, Durcan’s poetry often adopts a surreal mode in the original sense of that term: surrealism as a supplemental reality or sur-reality, not an unreality. Farnan elucidates some of the visual influences on Durcan’s pursuit of the improbable and finds a distinctively Francophone set of influences at work.

In dealing with ‘the public sphere’ and with the issues which preoccupy ‘the public imagination’, this volume bears testimony to the historical and cultural variations and transformations which have moulded French and Irish societies from 1700s to the present. From the country houses of Anglo-Irish gentry, to the salons of nineteenth-century Paris, to the pubs of 1950s Dublin or even the Irish pubs of contemporary France, the locations of culture and cultural discourse have evolved considerably and will continue to change. The section on ‘Haute Cuisine and High Society’ illustrates some of this development from the perspective of the gastronomic and oenological traditions in France and Ireland. While France has always been considered the world’s greatest culinary nation, the impact of French gastronomic and oenological traditions on Irish traditions of hospitality remains a rich seam of information on cross-cultural exchange which, in this volume, is excavated by Dorothy Cashman and Tara McConnell. Their essays, on the impact of French food and wine culture on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Ireland, open a window into actual and fictional representations, and illustrate the reciprocal impact of cultural interchange ← 4 | 5 → between ‘Wild Geese’ and French merchants in Nantes and Bordeaux some three centuries ago. Likewise, and from a contemporary perspective, the marketing of gastronomic and oenological identity is of crucial economic importance for both France and Ireland and Brian Murphy’s essay explores how French food and wine representatives have sought to rebrand the ancient French concept of ‘terroir’ for the modern marketplace. These essays show that commercial considerations often intermingle with the cultural and social traditions which form the basis for Franco-Irish co-operation, both yesterday and today.

If traditions of hospitality and gastronomy evolve through time and are subject to the vagaries of fashion and the marketplace, the same can also be said for the cultural marketplace where poets, writers, thinkers, artists and musicians ply their trade. In his historical and cultural study Children of the Revolution: The French 1799–1914, Robert Gildea reminds us that literary reputations are subject to historical and cultural fashion, as for example in the sobering case of Henri Beyle, better known as Stendhal:

Born in 1783, his career was too closely linked to the Napoleonic era to afford him the right contacts […] when his novel Le Rouge et le noir came out in December 1830 […] it managed only two editions of 750 copies each and was a resounding flop.4

At the other end of the spectrum between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture is Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780–1857), a popular and prolific French poet and songwriter whose songs, according to Gildea ‘were particular favourites’ especially in ‘goguettes or drinking clubs’5 during the Napoleonic era and up to the Bourbon Restoration of 1814. His songs like ‘Le Vieux Drapeau’ helped to inspire the July Revolution of 1830. In fact, the poems and lyrics of Béranger inspired patriotic fervour among his compatriots up to the time of his death in 1857, after which his reputation sharply declined. A ‘Who’s Who’ of post-Revolutionary France might place Stendhal above Béranger ← 5 | 6 → in retrospect, but this was not how contemporaries saw things. An historian of French literature, George Saintsbury, offers the following assessment:

The popularity of Béranger with ordinary readers, both in and out of his own country, has always been immense; but a somewhat singular reluctance to admit his merits has been shown by successive generations of purely literary critics. In France his early contemporaries found fault with him […] for being a mere chansonnier […] The sentimental school of the Restoration thought him vulgar and unromantic. The Romantics proper disdained his pedestrian and conventional style […] The neo-Catholics disliked his Voltairianism. The Royalists and the Republicans detested, and detest equally, though from the most opposite sides, his devotion to the Napoleonic legend. Yet Béranger deserves his popularity, and does not deserve the grudging appreciation of critics […] His versification, careless as it looks, is really studied with a great deal of care and success. As to his matter, only prejudice against his political, religious, and ethical attitude, can obscure the lively wit of his best work […] Béranger indeed was not in the least a literary poet. But there is room in literature for other than merely literary poets, and among these Béranger will always hold a very high place.6

All of this goes to illustrate the multitude of factors (not all of them strictly aesthetic or disinterested) which go into the making of a literary reputation; it also demonstrates the potential disconnect between popular and ‘literary’ reputation. Clearly, Béranger looms large in any examination of the ‘public imagination’ in nineteenth-century France even if he is not studied or taught nowadays as a classic of French literature. For these social and cultural reasons, Michèle Milan’s essay, ‘For the People, the Republic and the Nation: Translating Béranger in Nineteenth-Century Ireland’ is an important contribution to this volume.

The issue of literary reputation is also tackled by Eamon Maher in his essay on the controversial French novelist Michel Houellebecq. Sometimes dismissed as a mere pornographer, Houellebecq’s novels have nonetheless impacted upon the public imagination both at the popular and ‘literary’ or ‘high’ ends of the literary spectrum. There is an under-appreciated Irish ← 6 | 7 → dimension to Houellebecq’s career; not only did the novelist live in Ireland for some years, the plot of his most influential novel Atomised (Les Particules élémentaires, 1998) depends on a cross-cultural comparison between a nominally ‘traditional’ Irish culture and the supposedly libertine culture of contemporary France. Whatever Houellebecq’s long-term merits as a literary novelist, Maher’s essay amply demonstrates how the controversies surrounding his life and work have spilled over into the media and have generated a maelstrom of denunciation and defence, all played out publicly in front of the French and Irish peoples.

With the ‘public imagination’ in mind as the unifying theme of our volume, more than one of our contributors has tackled the issue of public perception and reception of the cultural products of France in Ireland or of Ireland in France. The question of ‘Seeing France and Ireland’, as our first section is titled, is therefore central to this volume. Not only do Irish and French writers and artists influence one another, the culturally-informed publics of both nations carry with them evolving perceptions of the cultural identity of the other country. The first two essays in this volume, by Pierre Joannon and Mary Pierse, amply demonstrate the generic diversity of this cultural exchange. They take a panoramic view, crossing disciplines and periods, to show the continuity and breadth of cultural influences. Other contributors offer case-studies, for example, of media representation (of the Northern Troubles in France, or of the economic and political crisis of 2008–2009 in Ireland) or individual encounters (for example, by John Montague of political events in May 1968, or Houellebecq’s representation of Ireland). Whether the approach is individual or collective, there is always a fluid relationship between representation and reality, between perception and the object of perception, so that our contributors must interrogate not just what is ‘seen’, but how it is seen and interpreted at a given point in time.

The question of ‘seeing’ France or Ireland depends, not only on national, but also regional, identity. Both France and Ireland, as nations, are comprised of strongly-articulated regional identities which are only partially subsumed into a national tradition. In France, an excellent example is the strongly autonomous Breton region, thorn in the side of the Jacobin revolutionaries of the 1790s, and bastion of a more conservative, Catholic and rural identity throughout the nineteenth century. Anne ← 7 | 8 → Goarzin demonstrates in her essay on Irish painters in Brittany in the 1880s that, even if separatist aspirations within Brittany waned after 1870, the region held a growing fascination for artists and tourists on account of its rustic traditionalism, and its easier accessibility from Paris thanks to the developments in railway transport. Goarzin postulates that the Irish fascination with Brittany was based partly on a pan-Celtic connection which fostered the artistic exploitation of ‘anachronistic yet “richer”’ social and anthropological themes such as: ‘rural landscapes, market, domestic or beach scenes as well as pardon (local pilgrimages) scenes and sitters in local costumes’. Citing the example of J.M. Synge in Irish literature as a parallel seeker of rural authenticity, Goarzin argues that these subjects (which were and which remain popular with the public) ‘unambiguously displayed the same defiance to the laws of progress and modernity as in literature’. In other words, as France and Ireland modernized, as happened elsewhere in Europe, both countries experienced a surge in nationalist sentiment which sought to locate an authentic, untainted national identity within rural and pre-modern social and regional locales and traditions. In this respect, the efforts of the Irish Revivalists and some of the actors of French regionalist movements in late nineteenth-century France (such as the Union Régionnaliste Bretonne founded in 1898) shared the same nostalgia and sentimental attachment to a traditional Petite patrie within a fast-changing Grande patrie, with one identified, somewhat naïvely, in terms of the other.

If some writers and artists sought refuge from modernity in harmonious scenes from rural life, a more discordant engagement with modern life emerged in nineteenth-century French poetry, one which might be said to have cross-cultural parallels in Irish experience. The literary trope of the flâneur, first articulated in Charles Baudelaire’s 1857 Les Fleurs du mal, shows the flâneur inhabiting the city, but refusing to be subsumed into it; he is not assimilable into bourgeois codes and conventions. Walter Benjamin argues that he (it is an irredeemably gendered concept) approaches the city as ‘“a landscape made of living people”’ – such as the destitutes, drunks, ← 8 | 9 → rag-and-bone men – whose peregrinations are held up as new models of an alienated, urban, artistic consciousness.7

The relevance of this nineteenth-century concept of the flâneur for the contemporary twenty-first-century city is tested by Benjamin Keatinge in his chapter on poet and academic Brendan Kennelly. In what ways might one of Dublin’s modern denizens be considered a flâneur? Kennelly is often sighted by locals on his long walks around the city and he certainly finds much solace in traversing the cityscapes of Dublin. As Kennelly has remarked:

The walker through Dublin, […] will discover a place of remarkable elegance as well as scenes of sustained ugliness, drabness and dirt. To explore the endless streets of pre-traffic Dublin early on a summer morning is to experience the variety of this city’s character, a character that has survived centuries of misuse and abuse […] It’s easy to see why it was called the second City of Empire: its elegant squares and handsome buildings are a pleasure to the eye. It’s easy, too, to understand why so many Dubliners have such pride in, and affection for their city.8


X, 269
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
song poetry cultural theory history influence
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2014. 269 pp., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Benjamin Keatinge (Volume editor) Mary Pierse (Volume editor)

Benjamin Keatinge teaches English Literature at South East European University, Macedonia, where he is Dean of the Faculty of Languages, Cultures and Communications. His primary research focus is Beckett studies but he has also published on modern Irish poetry, including essays on Richard Murphy, Harry Clifton, Pearse Hutchinson, Thomas MacGreevy and Brian Coffey. Mary Pierse has been a post-doctoral research fellow at University College Cork, Ireland, where she taught in the School of English and on the Women’s Studies MA programme. She has published on Irish feminisms, George Moore, fin-de-siècle literature and Franco-Irish cultural linkages.


Title: France and Ireland in the Public Imagination
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287 pages