Utopianism in Eighteenth-Century Ireland


Deirdre Ni Chuanachain

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2014, Cork University Press,                                                                                               272 pages, Hardback

The utopian propensity, the impulse to a better world, is found throughout human culture. However, its expression is necessarily historically and culturally variable. Utopianism in Ireland has an extensive and varied pre-history to be found in travellers’ tales, the oral tradition of the Celtic Otherworld and in the early vision poems which reached apotheosis in the political aisling of the eighteenth century. Moreover, in the political realm, the vision of a nation, lost or not yet won, resonates in speeches, songs, manifestos. The emergent utopianism of the eighteenth century is predicated on both memory and reflections of the past as well as on visions for the future. These memories and reflections have been imagined and re-imagined in many different cultural forms, both in texts and in social practice. They move from dialogue to satire, from aisling to polemic, from visions of a golden age, to an imagined Eden far away to realistic discourses of improvement, self-reliance and patriotism.

This book explores the varieties of utopianism in eighteenth-century Ireland. Based on what is recoverable and what has been recovered to date it reveals that a distinct utopianism emerged in the early decades of the eighteenth century based on the improving visions of the Dublin Society, the imperative to improve, the interface between the languages, Irish and English, between the cultures of the Catholic and Protestant communities, and between colonial and anti-colonial writings. Utopianism, beyond all the definitional difficulties, is basically a process, one that is continually being reworked. The philosophy of Irish utopianism of the eighteenth century grew steadily during the subsequent centuries and contributed to the formation of an identifiably modern society in Ireland. This book is the first full-length study of utopianism in eighteenth-century Ireland. It makes an original contribution in identifying a clear utopian propensity in eighteenth-century Ireland in the discourses of improvement and in the textual studies of lunar voyage narratives and an extensive analysis of Samuel Madden’s Memoirs of the Twenty-Century. It is a topical read in the area of Historical, Irish, Political, Utopian and Cultural Studies. It is a timely contribution to the growing area of utopian studies.