English topographies of Ireland’s conquest and conversion

in A landscape of words
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Chapter 5 addresses how twelfth-century Church reformers and participants in the English invasion of Ireland also developed a poetics of Irish place to argue for their own entitlement to Ireland. I turn first to Gerald of Wales, whose Topographia and Expugnatio Hibernica show Ireland physically rejecting the ‘unworthy’ Irish from the landscape and embracing English and Welsh settlers, exhorting them to plant themselves in Irish soil. I examine the process by which the identities of Ireland’s invaders are mapped onto the territory and show how a changed Ireland is generated through textual culture, particularly important when in historical reality Ireland resisted full conquest. The chapter then turns to Saint Patrick’s Purgatory in Ireland’s north. Accounts of the Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii were repeatedly copied and translated over several centuries: 150 Latin manuscripts survive, and another 150 codices confirm its translation into virtually every European vernacular. While Patrick’s Purgatory is a site of pilgrimage, its rhetoric nonetheless suggests heroic, crusading conquest of Ireland’s dangerous spaces in which English reformers also became textual heroes. In conclusion, I examine how both Gerald’s works and the Tractatus accomplished the export of an English poetics of Irish space which became highly influential throughout Europe.

A landscape of words

Ireland, Britain and the poetics of space, 700–1250



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