I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized A Penny for their Thoughts

A Penny for their Thoughts

Maurice Earls
Literacy, Language and Reading in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, eds Rebecca Anne Barr, Sarah-Anne Buckley and Muireann O’Cinneide, Liverpool University Press, 213 pp, £80, ISBN 978-1786942081 The following essay is not offered as a review but as a commentary on and around one of the journals mentioned in Literacy, Language and Reading in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, in particular the journal discussed in Elizabeth Tilley’s essay “The Dublin Penny Journal and Alternative Histories”. The author hopes to return to both the book itself and its fascinating subject matter at a future date. The voluminous world of print in pre-Famine Ireland offers a major, if underutilised, historical source. Books, pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals offer a means of uncovering in detail the political and intellectual milieu of the various contending groupings which struggled to win influence in the period, particularly influence with the strategically crucial peasant mass, which, for the most part, lived in a predominantly oral culture, only slightly and peripherally connected with the world of print. Engagement with print sources from this time reveals the various strands of thinking which developed among the political and cultural intelligentsia in one of the most interesting periods in modern Irish history. The decades before the Famine were a period of heightened cultural exploration and development, ultimately driven by a growing sense that the country had arrived at a point which was unsustainable, politically, culturally and economically, and was facing potential catastrophe on several fronts. Arguably, the period from 1815 to 1850 involved a literary and political exuberance comparable to the celebrated literary revival era of the early twentieth century. The printed material of the time contains a record of the sometimes complex intellectual struggles and journeys of numerous well-known figures such as Samuel Ferguson, William Carleton, Thomas Davis, James Clarence Mangan, Isaac Butt and George Petrie, along with those of a large number of other significant but often forgotten individuals. This intellectual record prefigures and illuminates many of the themes and debates which were to figure in Irish history over the following century and a half. The Dublin Penny Journal is one important print source from this period. The DPJ was first issued in June 1832 under the editorship of Caesar Otway and George Petrie. The conductors’ aim, as they later explained, was to publish a magazine which was “national and useful”. In the first number the editors stated: “It is an Irish undertaking altogether … The expense of producing such a…

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