Images of Spain in Irish Literature, 1922–1975

by Ute Anna Mittermaier (Author)
Monographs XIV, 372 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 82


This new study investigates how Spain was represented in Irish fiction, plays, poems, and travelogues written in a period covering the first five decades of Irish independence, as well as the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) and the Franco dictatorship (1939–1975). These two countries situated at Europe’s western periphery followed a similar socio-political trajectory in the twentieth century, despite the crucial difference that democracy survived the civil war in Ireland, but not in Spain. Both De Valera’s Ireland and Franco’s Spain were marked by a Catholic conservative-nationalist state ideology and by economic, political, and cultural isolation throughout the 1940s and 1950s, but underwent a rapid process of modernization from the 1960s onwards. Against this historical background, and drawing on the useful theoretical concepts of imagology, the author analyses a variety of literary depictions of life in Spain and explores what the writers’ «hetero-images» of Spain reveal about their «auto-images» of Ireland. The book demonstrates how Irish writers used Spain and its troubles as a foil for Ireland, in order to comment obliquely on socio-political developments in their own country since the achievement of independence.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Images of Spain in Irish Literature, 1922–1936
  • Chapter 3: Images of the Spanish Civil War in Irish Literature, 1936–1939
  • Chapter 4: Images of Franco’s Spain in Irish Literature, 1939–1975
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix →


I wish to express my gratitude to the many people who have contributed to making the composition of this book, which is based on a doctoral dissertation completed at the University of Dublin, a rewarding experience. My greatest academic debt is to my supervisor Eve Patten, who always read drafts of individual chapters promptly and carefully, gave invaluable advice and encouragement, and displayed a great deal of patience, especially in the finishing stages. I also want to thank the members of the transfer committee, Stephen Matterson, Gerald Dawe, and Paul Delaney, for expressing their belief in the viability of my project and providing many helpful suggestions in their reports. In addition, Terence Brown and Joep Leerssen, the internal and external examiners of my PhD thesis, deserve my gratitude for their positive feedback, which motivated me to develop my dissertation into a book. In my search for a suitable and interested publisher, I was given highly useful advice by Carol Taaffe, Edwina Keown, Mark O’Connell, Michael Williams, Aintzane Legarreta Mentxaka, and Eve Patten, for which I am very grateful.

I am moreover much indebted to the following scholars for various reasons: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Philip Coleman took the time to talk to me about Pearse Hutchinson and other Irish poets of the 1960s. Alberto Lázaro Lafuente and Marisol Morales Ladrón from the University of Alcalá de Henares, Spain, offered much appreciated practical advice on how to access censorship files at the Archivo General de la Administración de Alcalá de Henares. Eibhear Walshe informed me about the accessibility of the Kate O’Brien papers held at the Northwestern University in Chicago. My special thanks are also due to Jacqueline Anne Hurtley, Lois More Overbeck, Kate McBride, and Hugh Campbell, who were very generous with their time in helping me track down the copyright owners of unpublished material. I also wish to express my gratitude to Otto Rauchbauer from the University of Vienna, who played a major role in raising my interest in Irish literature and, after supervising my MA thesis, encouraged me to apply for ← ix | x → admission to the doctoral degree programme at the School of English at Trinity College, Dublin. Likewise, his colleagues Franz-Karl Wöhrer and Waldemar Zacharasiewicz merit acknowledgement for writing reference letters and introducing me to the theory of imagology respectively.

I would like to thank numerous anonymous librarians and archivists at Trinity College, Dublin, the National Library of Ireland, University College, Dublin, the Dublin City Library, the University of Limerick, the University of Vienna, the Northwestern University of Illinois, and the Archivo General de la Administración de Alcalá de Henares for granting me access to their resources as well as practical assistance over the years. I am particularly grateful to Ciara Joyce from the Special Collections and Archives department at Maynooth University for allowing me to consult the yet uncatalogued papers of Pearse Hutchinson and providing me with the complete transcript of Hutchinson’s tape-recorded diary. Similarly, I am much obliged to Aisling Lockhart from the Manuscripts department at Trinity College, Dublin for sending me transcripts of various letters from the Arland Ussher papers. Furthermore, I thankfully acknowledge the receipt of a One-Year Postgraduate Award from Trinity College, Dublin and three travel awards from the Trinity Trust, administered by the Graduate Studies committee.

Many friends and colleagues are due my gratitude for providing support, welcome distraction, and practical help with house moves and on other occasions. Carol Taaffe, Katarina Domijan, Francois Pitie, and Peter Hannon merit special mention for their great hospitality during recent research trips to Dublin as well as for technical assistance with computer problems. I also thank Dorothea Depner, Lisa Coen, Mark O’Connell, and Simon Workman for always giving me a warm welcome on Dublin visits, listening to me and providing encouragement and advice. Without the genuine interest in my research shown by members of AEDEI (Spanish Association of Irish Studies) and friends like Luz Mar González Arias, José Francisco Fernández Sánchez, Marisol Morales Ladrón, and Juan Francisco Elices Agudo this book would not have been realized.

My greatest debts are to my parents, Ingrid and Josef Mittermaier, my grandmother Rosina Feichtinger, my sisters Verena and Martina, my nephew Lennard, and my niece Lilia. I could not have seen this sometimes ← x | xi → endless-seeming project through without their generous support, interest, and understanding. My grandmother in particular always listened keenly to reports of progress on my book and I deeply regret that she did not live to see the finished product.

Finally, I thank Eamon Maher, editor of the ‘Reimagining Ireland’ series, as well as the readers and all other staff at Peter Lang who have helped to put this book together, for their quick and helpful answers to my queries, their useful suggestions, and above all, their patience.

Correspondence and other unpublished material cited in this book appears courtesy of the following individuals and institutions, to whom I am very much indebted:

Alannah Higgins (Aidan Higgins’s correspondence with Arland Ussher)
Alma Starkie (Walter Starkie’s papers)
Archivo General de la Administración de Alcalá de Henares (Spanish censorship files)
British Council (Walter Starkie’s telegram to Lord Lloyd of 10 Dec. 1940)
Board of the National Library of Ireland
Board of Trinity College Dublin
Hetty Staples and Joseph M. Keith (Arland Ussher’s papers)
Joyce Cooper (George Campbell’s letter to Arland Ussher, undated, c. Jan. 1955)
Special Collections & Archives, Maynooth University
Special Collections & Archives, University of Limerick

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following published sources:

Extracts from Pearse Hutchinson’s Collected Poems (2007) are reproduced with the kind permission of the Estate Pearse Hutchinson and The Gallery Press, Loughcrew, Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland.

Quotations from Maura Laverty’s novel No More Than Human (Virago Press, 1984) and from Kate O’Brien’s Mary Lavelle (Virago Press, 1986) are included courtesy of David Higham Associates, London. ← xi | xii →

Lines from the poem “It is nine of the night …” from Michael Hartnett’s Collected Poems (2001) are reprinted by kind permission of the Estate of Michael Hartnett and The Gallery Press, Loughcrew, Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland.

Extracts from Thomas O’Brien’s poems in H. G. Klaus (ed.), Strong Words, Brave Deeds: The Poetry, Life and Times of Thomas O’Brien: Volunteer in the Spanish Civil War (1994) appear courtesy of The O’Brien Press, Dublin.

For permission to include quotations from James Liddy’s writings, I am obliged to the Estate of James Liddy (James Chapson).

Various sections of this book were first published in an earlier form in the following publications and are reproduced with the kind permission of the respective publishers:

Mittermaier, Ute Anna. “Kate O’Brien’s Subtle Critique of Franco’s Spain and DeValera’s Ireland”. Irish Culture and Wartime Europe, 1938–1948. Ed. Dorothea Depner and Guy Woodward. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2015, 113–29.

____ “‘Catholic Ireland and Catholic Spain. One Cut Off from Europe by the Pyrenees, the Other by the Irish Sea’: Aidan Higgins’s Discovery of 1960s Spain as ‘AnOther Ireland’ in Balcony of Europe”. Revista canaria de estudios ingleses 68 (2014): 43–54.

____ “Farewell Spain: Kate O’Brien’s Elegy to Wartorn Spain”. Etudes Irlandaises (2013/1): 155–73.

____ “Franco’s Spain: A Dubious Refuge for the Poets of the ‘Irish Beat Generation’ in the 1960s”. Ireland in/and Europe: Cross-Currents and Exchanges. Ed. Werner Huber et al. WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2012, 79–92.

____ “Irish Literary Responses to the Spanish Civil War – With Particular Reference to Peadar O’Donnell’s Salud! An Irishman in Spain (1937)”. Bulletin of Spanish Studies 89.7–8 (2012): 123–39. Print. ← xii | xiii →

____ “Charles Donnelly, ‘Dark Star’ of Irish Poetry and Reluctant Hero of the Irish Left”. To Banish Ghost and Goblin: New Essays on Irish Culture. Ed. David Clark & Rubén Jarazo. Florida: Netbiblo, 2010, 191–204.

____ “No More Than Human by Maura Laverty: Impressions of a Reluctant Governess in Spain”. Estudios Irlandeses (2007/2): 135–50. Electronic journal.

The images on the book cover are reproduced from the following sources:

Torre de Hercules, La Coruña, España
Copyright license: CC BY-SA 4.0, see: <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode>
Author: Diego Delso

Basilica of Valle de los Caídos
Copyright license: CC BY-SA 3.0, see: <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en>
Author: FC Georgio

Arab decorative detail at the Alhambra, Granada
Copyright license: CC0 Public Domain

1969 beach scene at Son Moll, Cala Ratjada, Mallorca
Copyright license: CC BY 3.0, see: <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en>
Author: G. Friedrich ← xiii | xiv →

Flamenco dancer ‘La Singla’:
Copyright license: CC BY-SA 3.0, see: <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en>
Author: Hans Bernhard

Every effort has been made to obtain permission to quote from published and unpublished materials. The author will be pleased to rectify any errors or omissions at the earliest opportunity if further information on the copyright holder is received.

← xiv | 1 →



I fell in love with Spain. […] Spain had conditioned me deeply; irrationally but in bare truth she held my heart.


I had fallen in love with the idea of Spain. I’d been on holiday there for three weeks with a friend in 1950 and I discovered that I wanted to live there, and I’d already fallen in love with the language. I wanted to get away from the Irish climate, […] and I wanted to live in a sunny country, a warm country, and I also wanted to get escape from my mother’s influence which severely restricted my freedom, and from the society which was still – John Jordan had a great phrase for it afterwards – it was the “dark circumscribed fifties” […].


We are well pleased with it here. You should live in Spain. We have this big house in Calle Italia with a big garden full of morning glory and fig trees overlooking a beach, the oldest road in Nerja, […], moving into winter quarters […] on the 7th, into a nice green apartment with hot water and warmth and a balcony, all very snug, for 150 pts. a month. We hope to be able to break even for the first time since God knows when. Couldn’t live on Calder’s allowance in Dublin […].


For various reasons, including scholarly interest in cultural attractions, economic necessity, political commitment, as well as the prospect of sun, ← 1 | 2 → fiesta, and sexual liberation, Spain exerted a great pull on Irish writers over the course of the twentieth century and inspired a considerable body of literary texts with Spanish settings. The present book sheds light on this fascinating corpus of both popular and obscure Irish novels, short stories, plays, poems, travelogues, and other non-fictional texts written between the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 and the end of the Franco-dictatorship in 1975. Working with a broad concept of the literary image of a foreign country as a conglomeration of individual statements about that country’s landscapes, cities, traditions, people, and socio-political conditions, I will examine Irish writings with Spanish settings with regard to what they reveal not only about the authors’ ‘hetero-images’ of Spain, that is to say, their attitudes to Spanish society and politics, but also about their ‘auto-images’ of Ireland. It will be demonstrated that throughout the period under discussion Irish writers repeatedly used Spain as a foil for Ireland in order to obliquely express their views of the socio-political developments in their country since the achievement of independence and, in particular, their approval or criticism of the isolationist, conservative-nationalist ideology propagated by the Irish government up to the late 1950s.

This monograph, therefore, is intended as a contribution to filling the extant gaps in research concerning the dynamics between Irish writers’ hetero-images of foreign spaces in general, and of Spain in particular, on the one hand, and their auto-images – their perceptions of their own nation – on the other. Spain has been a popular travel destination for writers from all over the world and has provided the subject of and setting for countless novels, plays, and travel books of varying interest and quality over the centuries.4 While imagologists and researchers within related ← 2 | 3 → fields including cultural studies have explored representations of Spain in the literature of other countries, particularly Britain, France, Germany, and the United States,5 the presence of Spain in Irish literature has only been studied in isolation in individual articles or unpublished theses.6 Although the existence of several Spanish associations for Irish Studies such as AEDEI, the “Spanish Association for Irish Studies”, with its affiliated online journal Estudios Irlandeses, the “Spanish James Joyce Association”, and the “Instituto Amergin de Estudios Irlandeses” in La Coruña attests to a very active interest in Irish culture and literature in Spain, Spanish researchers have mainly focused their investigations on the reception of ← 3 | 4 → Irish writers in Spain and Spanish images of Ireland rather than on Irish images of Spain.7 Historians exploring Hiberno-Iberian relations since the early modern period have been highly prolific in recent years, but scholarly interest has largely centred on the presence of Irish exiles in Spain and her overseas territories prior to the twentieth century.8 Whereas comparative literary or cinematic studies by Irish and Spanish scholars have identified mutual Spanish-Irish artistic influences and drawn interesting thematic analogies in Spanish (especially Galician) and Irish writings or films,9 ← 4 | 5 → representations of Spain in twentieth-century Irish literature have not formed the subject of a comprehensive analysis. The only full-length discussion of Irish literary and non-fictional texts with Spanish settings I have been able to trace is the doctoral thesis of the Basque researcher Asier Altuna García de Salazar, which covers the period between 1789 and 1850.10

A detailed diachronic analysis of Irish literary images of Spain covering a longer period going back to the plantation of Ireland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would certainly be worth striving for and should be envisaged for future projects to illuminate the differences as well as the similarities between the hetero-images of Spain held by Irish Catholic nationalists and Anglo-Irish Protestant unionists. For the purpose of the present study, however, I restrict the scope of my close analysis to a manageable time-span of five decades spanning the period between the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 and the end of the Franco-dictatorship in 1975, two incisive events in the histories of Ireland and Spain respectively, whose far-reaching consequences for Irish and Spanish politics and society also had repercussions for Irish perceptions of Spain. However, this introduction provides a brief overview of the presence of Spain in Irish literature written prior to the period under study in order to throw the exceptionality of the consistently positive nature of images of Spain conveyed by Catholic Irish writers into relief.

Studies of representations of Spain in European and American literature from the seventeenth century to the present have shown that Spain’s image abroad changed in tandem with the vicissitudes in the country’s position of power within Europe and the rest of the world. Thus, it has been demonstrated that from the sixteenth to the second half of the eighteenth century French and English images of Spain were dominated by what the Spanish scholar Julián Juderías termed the leyenda negra (Black Legend) in his 1914 book La leyenda negra y la verdad histórica (The Black Legend ← 5 | 6 → and Historical Truth),11 in other words, the notion of the Spanish as an excessively proud, vengeful, cruel, fanatically Catholic and intolerant people ruthlessly exploiting their colonies and persecuting the adherents of other religions in the Inquisition. During the period of Enlightenment, Spain was further denounced by influential French intellectuals such as Voltaire and Montaigne as anti-European, backward, despotic, and priest-ridden, and the Spanish people were reproached for their passivity and idleness causing the country’s political, economic, and cultural decline.12 Only towards the end of the eighteenth century, when Spain had lost much of its previous political and economic power and no longer posed a real threat to the dominant European powers England and France, did the negative image of Spain change into a largely positive one in the writings of romanticists. Interestingly, the idealized romantic image of Spain continued to rely on essentially the same old stereotypical ideas of the Spanish as ‘proud’, ‘cruel’, ‘idle’, ‘backward’, and ‘bigoted’; the significant difference, however, was that these qualities were now positively evaluated as constituting the unique Spanish character and the Spaniards’ strong innate individualism, sense of honour, courage, stamina, and healthy patriotism. In this process of re-evaluation even Cervantes’s Don Quixote was turned from the icon of Spanish aloofness and irrationality into an admired “existential exemplar of the clash between imagination and reality” (López, “Spaniards”, ← 6 | 7 → 246). Bestsellers like Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra (1832) and Prosper Mérimée’s Carmen (1845) played a seminal role in spreading this new leyenda amarilla (Yellow Legend) (García Cárcel, Leyenda, 163) with its emphasis on Spain’s Moorish heritage, fiery gypsy dancers, picaresque Don Juans, fiercely individualist peasants, and freedom-loving banditti. At the same time, however, the leyenda negra was kept alive in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the popular genre of the Gothic novel13 and again revived during the Franco-dictatorship.14

Studies on travel literature about Spain from different countries have demonstrated the wide, cross-national currency and remarkable longevity of stereotypes about the Spanish people. López de Abiada lists the following adjectives as the ones most frequently used in descriptions of the ‘Spanish character’ in European literature over the last five hundred years: ‘belligerent’, ‘quarrelsome’, ‘violent’, ‘brave’, ‘grave’, ‘proud’, ‘presumptuous’, ‘arrogant’, ‘haughty’, ‘fanatical’, ‘noble’, ‘decadent’, ‘uneducated’, ‘boastful’, ‘generous’, ‘idle’, ‘passionate’, and ‘jealous’. Some of these qualities were already attributed to the Spaniards by Ancient Greek and Roman writers like Strabo, Livy, and Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus.15 Even though some of these largely negative qualities could be positively revalorized in the Romantic period and again after Spain’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s, the overall impression, or image, their constant use helped to create was that Spain was ‘very different’ from the rest of Europe. Thus, Tom Burns has noted that ← 7 | 8 →


XIV, 372
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (October)
Spain and the Spanish Civil War representation Irish literature
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. XIV, 372 pp.

Biographical notes

Ute Anna Mittermaier (Author)

Ute Anna Mittermaier holds a PhD in English from Trinity College Dublin. She has published essays on the representation of Spain and the Spanish Civil War in the works of Irish writers, including Kate O’Brien, Peadar O’Donnell, Charles Donnelly, Maura Laverty, and Aidan Higgins. She currently works as an English teacher and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien.


Title: Images of Spain in Irish Literature, 1922–1975