Society and Manners in Early Nineteenth-Century Irelandby JOHN GAMBLE; Breandán Mac Suibhne

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  • Canadian Journal of Irish StudiesCanadian Association of Irish Studies

    Society and Manners in Early Nineteenth-Century Ireland by JOHN GAMBLE; Breandn MacSuibhneReview by: Cormac GrdaThe Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, Vol. 36, No. 2 (FALL/AUTOMNE 2010), pp. 239-240Published by: Canadian Journal of Irish StudiesStable URL: .Accessed: 18/06/2014 08:55

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    Society and Manners in

    Early Nineteenth-Century Ireland

    Edited with an introduction by Breandn Mac Suibhne.

    Dublin: Field Day, 2011. 798 pages. ISBN: 9780946755431 (cloth) 45.00

    Reviewed by Cormac Grda

    Society and Manners is three books in one and an introduction. The three books describe trips from London to Ulster in 1810, 1812, and 1818 by Strabane-born John Gamble (1770-1831). On all three occasions Gamble's destination- albeit by different routes- was his hometown of Strabane; on the last trip he returned there for good. Gamble, a retired army doctor, is a sympathetic and shrewd- but unusual- observer of conditions in 'middle Ulster* in the aftermath of the uprising of 1798. His accounts are mostly of impressions gained and conversations shared with people he met as he made his way unhurriedly by foot and by coach. They are peppered with humour and lit- erary allusions; a sociable man who liked his drink, Gamble has something inter- esting to say about everybody he met. His aim is to make the Irish people better known to the English reader (200, 317), so he has little time for architecture or scen- ery or agricultural techniques. Humans are more important than "pillars or col- umns" (231), he explains.

    The 1810 tour was Gambles first visit home since 1798. He had been in Dublin

    during the "unfortunate" United Irish ris- ing and although he deplored the carnage on both sides, he was clearly sympathetic to the idealism, if not all the aspirations, of those who took up arms. Heavily im- plicated in the rising, Presbyterian Ulster had sought to bury its memory in silence and emigration, but for Gamble its ghosts were still present.

    A liberal Presbyterian with humanist leanings and a strong opponent of Or- angeism, Gamble was a supporter of full civil rights for Catholics. He was extraordinarily sympathetic towards them and their religion, likening Irish priests to "moss-grown column [s] of a fallen edifice" (245-50). He had often at- tended mass and enjoyed the "beauty" of Catholic worship ("solemn in music, fragrant in incense, splendid in decora- tion, graceful in ornament"). But few of his co-religionists seemed to share his sympathies; sectarian feelings were high, and "Protestants seem [ed] to view the Papists ... with the same eye that some chaste dames do ladies of a differ- ent description" (182).

    And yet, although no bigot, he regretted that Ireland was becoming more Catho- lic, not only because Catholics were less likely to emigrate, but because they mar- ried younger. The "more thoughtless, more improvident" Catholics married young and it was "not unusual thing" for a woman to bear "ten or twelve chil- dren" on the principle of "heaven sends meat, where it sends mouths." A Protes- tant man, on the other hand, was "often thirty" before he married, by which time "the passions" had cooled, so family size was smaller (199). Gamble deemed the emigration of Presbyterians a costly brain drain; those who left were "active and

    Book Reviews | 239

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  • enterprising, sober and reflecting, reading and reasoning- estimable even in their prejudices, for they are all on the side of morality and religion- they are the best friends of a good government, as they are the bitterest enemies of a bad one" (198).

    Though the "North" he had known had deteriorated in economic and political terms since he left it, Gamble still asso- ciated it with "whiskey and sweet milk, oaten cake, and fresh butter in abun- dance" (164). And he believed that grant- ed emancipation, Ulster Catholics would accept the Union and forgive and forget that "the new comers took possession only of the valleys and fertile spots, and kindly left the native the bogs and moun- tains" (128) and that "the descendants of the ancient inhabitants are now only the dregs of the people" (178).

    Although there is no mention of cotton or linen, Society and Manners is rich in mate- rial for the social and economic historian too. For example, Gambles remarks on the extent of begging are commonplace, but the inference that "the huge numbers of beggars as evidence of Irish charity as much as of poverty" is pure John Gamble (77-8). Ireland, he found, was the best country to be generous in because the do- nor got full value for his money in praises, not to mention the prayers for his salvation (125). By 1818, however, he found that beg- gars were less numerous and less clamor- ous than formerly (476). Gambles defense of the English poor law in 1818 has a mod- ern ring to it; he insists an Irish poor law would have prevented the famine-induced migrations he witnessed on his final tour, and thereby reduced the spread of infec- tious disease (609). Interesting too is his take on senile dementia, which he believed was more common in rural than in urban

    240 I CJIS Vol. 36, No. 2

    areas because "bad as society [in cities] of- ten is, the agitation of it seems necessary to keep the mind from stagnation" (289). Also notable is a passing remark about English and French cuisine. The English gentry (and the Irish, for that matter) liked big joints of meat that "instantly reminded us of the animal to which they belonged," which must be "ever painful in proportion as men cease to be savages." The English, moreover, liked their meat rare, a further reminder of "what a carnivorous animal man is." The French, by contrast, ate their meat in a form that concealed the nature of the food and weakened as much as pos- sible "the idea of a living animal" (298). These are just a few examples of the in- sightful and wise musings that readers of Society and Manners will find.

    The introduction by Breandn Mac Suibhne, combined with the extensive and very informative annotations that grace the text and a sixty-six-page in- dex, is a brilliant tour deforce. It rescues Gamble from some of his previous inter- preters, and elaborates on and contextu- alizes myriad passages in the three books. In this sense, Society and Manners recalls Mac Suibhnes marvelous edition (with David Dickson) of an errant and opin- ionated schoolteachers memoir of life in nineteenth-century Donegal, The Outer Edge of Ulster: A Memoir of Social Life in Nineteenth-Century Donegal (Lilliput Press, 2000). Those familiar with The Outer Edge will have a good sense of what to expect from Society and Manners. It is certainly one of the most important works on nineteenth-century Ireland to appear for many years.

    - University College Dublin

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    Article Contentsp. 239p. 240

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, Vol. 36, No. 2 (FALL/AUTOMNE 2010), pp. 1-240Front MatterCONTRIBUTORS [pp. 15-17]A Treasury of ResourcesEditor's Note / Mot de la directrice [pp. 20-20]Oscar Wilde's Notebook on Philosophy [pp. 21-31]

    "A Delightful Change of Fashion": Fair Trade, Cottage Craft, and Tweed in Late Nineteenth-Century Ireland [pp. 34-55]"A true Irishman will always know what a dancer is saying": Dance as Expression in Irish-Canadian Fiction [pp. 56-75]"False, fleeting, perjured Clarence": Pseudonymity and Criminality in the Writings of James Clarence Mangan [pp. 76-99]Providence, Progress and Silence: Writing the Irish Famine in Mid-Victorian Belfast [pp. 100-113]The Curious Case of Constable Krumm [pp. 114-137]La traduction comme rcriture dans l'uvre de Tom Paulin [pp. 138-159]A "Fragile Interdependence": John McGahern's "That They May Face the Rising Sun" [pp. 160-175]Official Visits: President Cosgrave Comes to Ottawa [pp. 176-190]"What My Own Wee Divil Bids Me": An Interview with Damian Gorman [pp. 193-207]Book ReviewsReview: untitled [pp. 210-212]Review: untitled [pp. 212-215]Review: untitled [pp. 215-219]Review: untitled [pp. 219-222]Review: untitled [pp. 223-224]Review: untitled [pp. 225-232]Review: untitled [pp. 233-234]Review: untitled [pp. 235-238]Review: untitled [pp. 239-240]

    Back Matter


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