Now available in paperback, Kevin O’Neill’s highly praised study of rural Ireland in the years leading up to the "Great Hunger" of the 1840s explicates the social, economic, and demographic conditions of the era. He argues that overpopulation and deprivation were inextricably linked to a third variable—the rapid economic development of rural Ireland that was shaped by British interests.
Picturesque but poor, abject yet sublime in its Gothic melancholy, the Ireland perceived by British visitors during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did not fit their ideas of progress, propriety, and Protestantism. The rituals of Irish Catholicism, the lamentations of funeral wakes, the Irish language they could not comprehend, even the landscapes were all strange to tourists from England, Wales, and Scotland. Overlooking the acute despair in England’s own industrial cities, these travelers opined in their writings that the poverty, bog lands, and ill-thatched houses of rural Ireland indicated moral failures of the Irish character.