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Reimagining Irish Studies for the Twenty-First Century


Edited By Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

This landmark collection marks the publication of the 100th book in the Reimagining Ireland series. It attempts to provide a «forward look» (as opposed to what Frank O’Connor once referred to as the « backward look») at what Irish Studies might look like in the third millennium. With a Foreword by Declan Kiberd, it also contains essays by several other leading Irish Studies experts on (among other areas) literature and critical theory, sport, the Irish language, food and beverage studies, cinema, women’s writing, Brexit, religion, Northern Ireland, the legacy of the Great Famine, Ireland in the French imagination, archival research, musicology, and Irish Studies in North America. The book is a tribute to Irish Studies’ foundational commitment to revealing and renewing Irishness within and beyond the national space.

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7 Poverty-Trapped: French Traveller Accounts of Poverty in Ireland over the Centuries



‘O Wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!’ wrote Scottish poet, Robert Burns (1759–1796) in 1786.1 These lines have rippled far and wide, and are even reprised in Ulysses when Stephen sees himself in a mirror held up by Buck Mulligan.2 For centuries, French traveller accounts of their visits to Ireland have allowed us to see ourselves as other see us, to perceive what may otherwise have escaped us as we lack the critical distance enjoyed by French onlookers. Organisations like the SOFEIR (Société Française d’Etudes Irlandaises), Irish Studies centres in French universities and French academics themselves have long played a pioneering role here. In this context, the Reimagining Ireland series, now publishing its 100th book since its inception barely a decade ago in 2009, has become a major international vehicle and impetus for much of this research. This chapter aims to add to this ongoing work by analysing one theme threaded through centuries of French writings on Ireland: the theme of poverty.

Spectacular scenery, spectacular hospitality, spectacular poverty: this could summarise five centuries of French travellers’ representations of Ireland. Here, the intense poverty they witness seems to shock them most: there is poverty … and then there is Irish poverty. Or, to quote ←125 | 126→combative ecclesiastical preacher and author of anti-Catholic tracts, Napoléon Roussel (1808–1878), who spent three months in Ireland in 1853 hoping to convert the French attending the Great...

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