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Fictions of the Irish Land War


Heidi Hansson and James H. Murphy

The eruption of rural distress in Ireland and the foundation of the Land League in 1879 sparked a number of novels, stories and plays forming an immediate response to what became known as the Irish Land war. These works form a literary genre of their own and illuminate both the historical events themselves and the material conditions of reading and writing in late nineteenth-century Ireland. Divisions into ‘us’ and ‘them’ were convenient for political reasons, but the fiction of the period frequently modifies this alignment and draws attention to the complexity of the land problem.
This collection includes studies of canonical land war novels, publication channels, collaborations between artists and authors, literary conventions and the interplay between personal experience and literary output. It also includes unique resources such as a reprinted letter by the author Mary Anne Sadlier and a reproduction of Rosa Mulholland’s little-known play Our Boycotting. The book concludes with a detailed bibliography of land war fiction between 1879 and 1916, which should inspire further reading and research into the genre.
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WHITNEY STANDLEE, The ‘Personal Element’ and Emily Lawless’s Hurrish (1886)



A report in the Freeman’s Journal in January of 1881 on the ongoing state trials of the Land League’s leaders contains an account of an address made by Dr. P. L. O’Neill at Athboy, County Meath in the autumn of 1880. Punctuated with parenthetical references to the responses of the 5,000-strong crowd, the article suggests that O’Neill’s was among the most rousing and popular speeches of the day. The Freeman’s Journal report also reveals that, in using his speech as a vehicle to defend the rights and reputations of Irish tenants, O’Neill drew conspicuous attention to opinions which had recently been expressed by a prominent landowner, Valentine Frederick Lawless, the fourth Lord Cloncurry:

And who is he, may I ask you, who the other day traduced in an English newspaper the character of his countrymen when he stated they were satisfied to live on potatoes, poteen, and idleness? (A Voice – ‘Down with Lord Cloncurry’). Is it not the friend of the shipbuilder of the Clyde, the lover of the British artisan, the caterer of British larders, the bucolic Cloncurry (groans), whose real name is Lawless, a most significant and for him an appropriate one.1

As O’Neill’s speech indicates, Cloncurry had, two weeks earlier, written a letter to The Times (London). Highlighting the plight of ‘hard-working’ English dock and mill hands, he had compared English labourers favourably to the ‘hopeless paupers’ of Mayo and Donegal, some of whom, he suggested,...

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