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Nature and the Environment in Nineteenth-Century Ireland$
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Matthew Kelly

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781789620320

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789620320.001.0001

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The Nature of Improvement in Ireland

The Nature of Improvement in Ireland

(p.16) 1 The Nature of Improvement in Ireland
Nature and the Environment in Nineteenth-Century Ireland

Helen O’Connell

Liverpool University Press

Like its English and Scottish equivalents, improvement in nineteenth-century Ireland depicts itself as a civilising force, cultivating nature by means of a range of progressive methods. However, at this point, Irish improvement was shaped by particular events, such as the 1798 Rebellion and the Act of Union. In the writings of Mary Leadbeater, Martin Doyle, and William Blacker, for example, nature is implicitly equated with history, violence, and Catholicism. I argue here that a range of improvement projects – from the dissemination of didactic fictions to the activities of agricultural societies – are directed at the socialising or conventionalising of Irish ‘nature’. Indeed, Ireland is characterised as excessively natural and in need of the middling domestication provided by modern agricultural techniques and tidy cottages. In conveying information and practical advice on soil, pigs, and seeds, improvement sought to be a progressive force, one capable of shifting public debate beyond persistent historical antagonisms towards a supposedly neutral realm of practical inquiry and activity. To that end, improvement found itself relying far more on the participation of women, labourers, and the very small farmers of the countryside than on the relatively few large landowners in residence on their estates

Keywords:   nature, improvement, society, agriculture, reform, Catholicism, Catholic Emancipation, Union, nationalism, feminism

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