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 That Kind of Beauty

That Kind of Beauty

Niamh Nic Ghabhann
Ireland and the Picturesque: Design, Landscape Painting, and Tourism, 1700–1840, by Finola O’Kane, Yale University Press, 240 pp, £45.00, ISBN: 978-0300185386 Being a non-driver, I see a lot of the Irish countryside. This isn’t as oxymoronic as it might seem. The vagaries and detours of public transport in this country have meant that I’ve often seen more than originally intended. Some of it is incredibly beautiful. Sometimes beauty breaks through in strange ways – the great ball of the sun in a flaming sky sinking into the M7 as I watch, back to the road, flying in reverse. Or the darkening colours at dusk from the train between Templemore and Limerick Junction, the brown ditches marking out the fields, and the green fading to black under an indigo sky. One passes castles, mottes, town walls, ruined abbeys and squat tower houses along the way, curiosities now. They are sometimes surrounded by neat houses with driveways and trampolines, while the ruins stand awkwardly among them, like somebody crying at a party or a spread-eagled giant, in everybody’s way. Somewhere along these journeys, criss-crossing from place to place, all commuters come to understand how the experience of the same landscape can change – how tightly bound what we see out of the train or bus window is to what we feel within. Finola O’Kane’s authoritative study of the picturesque in Ireland excavates layers of looking at and seeing beauty in the Irish landscape. Ireland and the Picturesque is grounded in O’Kane’s extensive knowledge of the landscapes she writes about, as well as the theories, fashions and preoccupations of elite society in eighteenth century Ireland. Taking what might be considered self-evident – the beauty and popularity of certain parts of the countryside such as the Lakes of Killarney or Glendalough –she reveals the complex fabric of meaning which was woven around these locations, giving them the status of “beauty spots” and tourist attractions. This richly illustrated investigation into an ideal of beauty and aesthetic pleasure is inlaid within a nuanced understanding of the political, religious and social realities of the period. The book provides a detailed outline of the remarkably slippery theory of the picturesque itself – defined by theorist William Gilpin (1724-1804) as “that kind of beauty which will look well in a picture”. This deceptively simple maxim, however, led to convoluted debates on the desired “roughness” of the landscape to be depicted, and…

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