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A Nation of Politicians

Gender, Patriotism, and Political Culture in Late Eighteenth-Century Ireland

Padhraig Higgins

Publication Year: 2010

Between the years 1778 and 1784, groups that had previously been excluded from the Irish political sphere—women, Catholics, lower-class Protestants, farmers, shopkeepers, and other members of the laboring and agrarian classes—began to imagine themselves as civil subjects with a stake in matters of the state. This politicization of non-elites was largely driven by the Volunteers, a local militia force that emerged in Ireland as British troops were called away to the American War of Independence. With remarkable speed, the Volunteers challenged central features of British imperial rule over Ireland and helped citizens express a new Irish national identity.
    In A Nation of Politicians, Padhraig Higgins argues that the development of Volunteer-initiated activities—associating, petitioning, subscribing, shopping, and attending celebrations—expanded the scope of political participation. Using a wide range of literary, archival, and visual sources, Higgins examines how ubiquitous forms of communication—sermons, songs and ballads, handbills, toasts, graffiti, theater, rumors, and gossip—encouraged ordinary Irish citizens to engage in the politics of a more inclusive society and consider the broader questions of civil liberties and the British Empire. A Nation of Politicians presents a fascinating tale of the beginnings of Ireland’s richly vocal political tradition at this important intersection of cultural, intellectual, social, and public history.
Winner of the Donald Murphy Prize for Distinguished First Book, American Conference for Irish Studies

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. v-

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The rituals of eighteenth-century sociability often led patriots to gatherin taverns. At evenings end, numerous toasts were proposed to honor intellectual debts and to embody friendship and fellowship. In a somewhat drier fashion but with as much pleasure, I am happy to acknowledge my many debts and thank many friends. I must first acknowledge...

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pp. 3-27

In August 1784, as Ireland descended into political turmoil, Charles Francis Sheridan, MP and pamphleteer, wrote to Lord Northington, reflecting on the great changes he had witnessed in recent months. In April, a crowd had invaded the House of Commons and called for the execution of several leading members of the parliament. In the following months, Dublin “mobs” tarred and feathered those suspected of...

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1 “Alehouse Politicians”: The Culture of Print and the Political Nation

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pp. 28-55

The theatrical performance of the hawker or “news-boy” in his green apron lugging his supply of papers, pamphlets,and broadsides through the streets, colorfully announcing the arrival of the morning and evening press with a cry of “bloody news”’ was a familiar sight in eighteenth-century Dublin. While the picaresque aspects of this trade have often been emphasized, the quoted song also high-...

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2 “Paddy Shall Rise”: Celebration, Commemoration, and National Identity

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pp. 56-81

In July and August 1780, fresh from their successful agitationfor free trade the previous year, Volunteer companies across the country gathered to honor the “dense cluster” of significant moments in the Irish Protestant commemorative calendar. On the anniversary ofthe battle of the Boyne, newspapers reported the unlikely sight of Catholic “gentlemen” of the Drogheda Association parading to the tune of...

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3 Shopping for Ireland: Consumption, Gender, and the Politics of Free Trade

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pp. 82-105

I must confess, that Dress, in the general acceptation of the world is a subject of little importance; but the national dress of our ancestors receives some consequence from the circumstances of its having been so often the object of parliamentary consideration. Indeed the history of the Dress of any Nation...

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4 The New Magna Carta: Voluntary Association, the Crowd, and the Uses of Official Political Culture

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pp. 106-127

While the consumption practices of ordinary men andwomen were a central focus of the patriot campaign for freetrade, a variety of other means were promoted to pressure the British administration to concede patriot demands: the formation of associations; the issuing of addresses, instructions, and petitions; and the violence of the crowd. The years 1778–79 witnessed an unprecedented...

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5 A Rage Militaire: The Volunteers

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pp. 128-150

In August 1780 land agent John Moore of Clough, Co. Down, wrote to his employer Arthur Annesley on the subject of this swift rise of volunteer militia companies in his locality. Moore regarded this voluntary militia force with a mix of suspicion and apprehension. He admitted that while he “at first no means liked the scheme,” after witnessing a large review he could no longer withhold his amazement and...

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6 “Playing the Man”: Invasion, Masculinity, and the Citizen-Soldier

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pp. 151-177

The Volunteers took seriously their self-appointed military role as defenders of the nation. As the last chapter demonstrated, they expended considerable time and effort in equipping, organizing,financing, and disciplining their companies. In the context of Britain’s imperial crisis, this military enthusiasm also had broader cultural and political implications. With the entry of the French and the Spanish into...

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7 Petticoat Government: Women and Patriotism

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pp. 178-201

The ideology of patriotism propagated by the Volunteers wasprofoundly gendered. Patriotism and masculinity were intimately connected. This can be seen in the heroic masculinity celebrated in Francis Wheatley’s well-known Volunteer paintings, particularly The Dublin Volunteers on College Green, which captures the demonstration on that date, but also in his Irish House of Commons, which depicts Henry ...

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8 “A Democratical Spirit”: Reform, Protectionism, and Popular Politics

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pp. 202-233

In July 1784 Edward Cooke, a government official, reflected on politics in Dublin: “The party here consists of some Volunteer corps ofheroes and accordingly are open to the instigations of the wild, the desperate, the enthusiast, and the villain.” He noted that these plebian Volunteers were in league with “papists” and the poor manufacturers,who were an “instrument to try the temper of the city.”1 The social and...

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pp. 234-242

Poor Ireland, whose chief pride had been the white shirt that covered, and scarcely covered her nakedness, looked wondrous well in her red cloth and her gold-lace. Her story is a short one. About six years ago the honest gentlewoman awaked from a...


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pp. 243-296


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pp. 297-322


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pp. 323-333

E-ISBN-13: 9780299233334
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299233341

Page Count: 333
Publication Year: 2010