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Fabulous Ireland- «Ibernia Fabulosa»

Imagining Ireland in Renaissance Italy

Eric Haywood

According to Petrarch, the Father of the Renaissance, Ireland was almost as well known to the Italians as Italy itself. Visiting Ireland from the comfort of their armchairs, his followers thus knew for a fact that the Irish ate their fathers and slept with their mothers, were welcoming and inhospitable, and were the best and the worst of Christians, and that Ireland was home to St Patrick’s Purgatory, where you could visit the otherworld, save your soul and your business, and locate your missing relatives.
This book examines Italian descriptions of Ireland in the context of the Renaissance rediscovery of ancient culture and reinvention of geography and historiography, the fashioning of the self and the other, and travel writing. The author argues that the intellectuals of the time were more interested in ‘truth for’ than in ‘truth about’ and that they imagined Ireland differently in different circumstances, populating it with their own fantasies, so that its otherness would pose no threat to their sense of self.
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Chapter Four


Between WorldsImagining Ireland in the Footsteps of St Patrick

Authors and works discussed in this chapter (in chronological order):

Perhaps Atolfo cared too much about others and not enough about himself to be interested in Ireland. Perhaps he should have been a pilgrim. By definition pilgrims have to be the category of travellers who care most about or for themselves. That is the whole point of going on a pilgrimage: to gain everlasting selfhood. And Ireland offered Christian pilgrims the chance to visit one of the most famous places of pilgrimage in the world, for which Italians in particular showed a certain fascination. However, the fascination could sometimes get out of hand. For some it had more to do with care for themselves precisely – ‘because I’m worth it’, as a famous television ad has it – than with the penitential benefits of pilgrimage. But that too, maybe, was a way of seeking to establish a meaning outside the sacred.

Be that as it may, within a few years of Astolfo turning up his nose at Ireland, Charlemagne had apparently had a change of mind about the place. Instead of giving the Irish away, he was drawing them to his bosom. The Saracens were now closing in on him and he needed all the help he could get. He therefore dispatched his loyal paladin Rinaldo of Montalbano to muster troops ‘from Scotland, and Ireland, and England, and from the islands round about’. The Irish...

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