Table of Contents


Contact Information

Spain in Irish Literature 1789-1850
An Approach to a Minor Representation

By Asier Altuna-García de Salazar



This brief approach aims at analysing and extracting some general guidelines on the much-neglected discourse which arose from the representation of Spain and Spanish references in Irish literature between 1789 and 1850. It focuses on the ways in which a number of canonical and non-canonical Irish and Anglo-Irish writers use Spain, her history, traditions and culture to construct the contemporary Irish discourse. The history of Spain, Spanish tradition and literature were topics much referred to by a number of Irish writers at the turn of the eighteenth century. These authors and their discourse deserve a new approach; for, though they have been the focus of some research, many of these poets, novelists and playwrights have been considered minor in importance by traditional literary criticism on the grounds of their lack of aesthetic quality and politically partisan bias, among many other issues. Our aim is to propose some guidelines for further study. 

As for the selection of the chronological period 1789-1850, many factors have been taken into account. Indeed, on the one hand, Spain between 1789 and 1850 provided Irish authors with instances of national turmoil, which were open to interpretation and representation. After the French Revolution, Spain declared war against France, which resulted in the passing of power to Napoleon, who, in turn, gave the Spanish Crown to his nephew, Joseph Bonaparte. The French invasion of Spain inspired patriotic and independent movements in England and Ireland. The figure of the Anglo-Irish Duke of Wellington assisted in the resolution of the Peninsular War, restoring Ferdinand VII to the Spanish throne.

A number of internal conflicts in Spain after this period, such as the Carlist wars, found ample resonance in Ireland. On the other hand, a number of historical events in Ireland conditioned much of the writing of the period. The Union with Great Britain (1801), Catholic Emancipation (1829) and the Great Famine (1845-1849) found extensive expression in the Anglo-Irish literature of the period. The final year of 1850 has been chosen not only because it was the year of publication of Edward Maturin's significant Lyrics of Spain and Erin, but also because much of the writing after this date was stigmatised by the representation of the Irish Famine. After this, the late Irish Romantic Period was conditioned by preoccupations that prepared the way for a new resurgence of Irish literature in the English language. 

Through Spain as the connecting 'anecdote', which within the new historicist critical context is a move 'outside of canonical works', an 'effect of surprise' which pulls away or swamps 'the explication of the work of art', (Gallagher & Greenblatt 2000: 36), we propose that it is possible to conceive a way of constructing a cultural dissection in which to explain this recourse to Spain between 1789-1850 in Ireland. Our main concern is to identify the importance of the anecdote, the event, that is Spain and Spanish references, in a twofold way. Firstly, as an event per se; and secondly, as an event that is literally significant within the period under study in this brief introductory approach.

Most important works and authors: a brief list

So, after fixing the period of our analysis, we propose a list of the major writings which present references to Spain in general. [2] Some absences are telling. Among them any future researcher should not overlook the enormous bulk of data contained in the myriad of pamphlets, broadsheets and periodical material which constantly referred to Spain and her plight. Nevertheless, and bearing the latter issue in mind, we include below an alphabetical list of some minor and major authors who produced  writings in which the references to Spain are reflected on Anglo-Irish and Irish issues. Our intention is not to delve into all these works in detail, [3] but due to the unknown character of these authors' productions we decided to include a few comments on their works.

Lady Sophia Raymond Burrell produced two works with Spanish theme: a poem, 'Epistle from Elvira (a Spanish Lady) to her Lover (a native of Portugal)' (1793) and her play Theodora; or, The Spanish Daughter, a Tragedy (1800) in which a female point of view is introduced about the 'gendered' Revolutionary aftermath. Andrew Cherry dedicated his life to acting and writing musical sketches and songs of importance. His Spanish Dollars (1806) included the famous song 'The Bay of Biscay', about coastal life in Ireland.

For Henry Brereton Code, his writing activities were accompanied by his political presence in the Anglo-Irish unionist discourse. His play Spanish Patriots a Thousand Years Ago (1812) is a good example of this. The same applies to the critic and politician John Wilson Croker and his praise of Wellington in his famous poem The Battles of Talavera (1810) which advocated, through the representation of Spain, the defence of the Union between Ireland and Britain as a model for many other European nations. Rev. George Croly produced his poem Sebastian; A Spanish Tale (1820) deeply imbued with religious controversy and Oriental difference.

Although intermittent in his contributions on Spain, the translator and poet Samuel Ferguson wrote the short poem 'Don Gomez and the Cid' (1833) during the first year of the influential Dublin University Magazine. Not much is known about Preston Fitzgerald, who penned The Spaniard and Siorlamh (1810) and his long poem Spain Delivered. A Poem and Two Cantos (1813), denouncing Napoleonic intervention in Spain. The Anglo-Irish playwright Robert Jephson produced his Two Strings to Your Bow (1791) through the portrayal of stock-characterisation. The later James Sheridan Knowles was one of the most popular dramatists of the period and would produce patriotic and heroic compositions in blank verse principally. Of importance we find his early 'Fragment of a Spanish Play' (about 1806), his short story The Guerrilla (1837) and his play The Rose of Arragon (1842).

The other female writer to be considered is Miss Alicia Le Fanu, who produced her romantic novel Don Juan de las Sierras, or, el Empecinado. A Romance (1823), establishing connections with Spain, Ossian and Irish romantic nationalism. James Clarence Mangan, regarded as the national poet of Ireland, produced various translations from the Spanish and German, but with Spanish themes, as well as a short introductory essay on the interconnections between the Spanish romances and national character, which Mangan then connected with the Irish situation he was experiencing at the time.

The Maturin family, represented by the Gothic Charles Robert Maturin and his son Edward Maturin, deserves closer attention. C. R. Maturin's play Manuel (1817) is set in Spain. His Gothic masterpiece Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) has recourse to Spain and Spanish religious conflicts constantly. His son Edward, a member of the Irish Diaspora, although publishing in the United States, followed the religious preoccupation of his father in writing his short story Benjamin, the Jew of Grenada (1847). His most interesting instance of Spanish influence is, however, his poetical piece Lyrics of Spain and Erin (1850), which closes our brief analysis, chronologically speaking.

The final group of Irish and Anglo-Irish authors on this alphabetical list are playwrights. The most famous author is Richard Brinsley Sheridan because he has also been included in the English canon. His Pizarro (1799) portrays England's colonial attitude towards India and Ireland through the approach to the figure of the Spanish conquistador by the same name. Minor in fame is Charles Stuart, about whom not much is known; his The Irishman in Spain (1792) approaches the Irish picaresque stock-character in Spain. Our last author on this brief list is Reverend Matthew West, whose work on a Spanish topic is a sequel to Sheridan's Pizarro, also produced in 1799.

Aspects of a minor representation: main features

Many of the authors above, some of them considered minor, express the need to not only invent but also impose a new tradition to some extent and, hence, an ideology of class or group. Their writings portrayed and followed the interests of the newly formed Anglo-Irish 'Protestant Nation', during a period extending from 1782 to 1800. This temporary and brief flash of 'nationhood' in Irish history resulted from Henry Grattan's achievement in securing the independence of the Irish parliament in 1782. It was also related to a period of turmoil and rebellion exemplified by the United Irishmen and the events of 1798 lasting until the complete collapse of the very same parliament that 'Grattan had emancipated.' The parliament eventually 'voted for its own discontinuance' (Rafroidi 1980: 70) and union with Great Britain in 1800. The 'self-enforcement' of the Union between Britain and Ireland brought about once again a general perception that only through the Union of the Irish and British peoples could progress be made. [4]


1 - 2 - 3 - 4


Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 31 August 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Altuna, Asier, 'Spain in Irish Literature 1789-1850: An Approach to a Minor Representation
' in Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, 5:2 (July 2007), pp. 96-101. (www.irlandeses.org), accessed .


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

 Copyright Information