More Than A Woman To Me: A comparison of female personifications of Ireland in the late nineteenth century
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From 1801 to 1922 Ireland occupied a specific position in the British Empire under a law called the Act of Union. The Act of Union came into being because of the Irish rebellion of 1798 and did not address the religious and cultural oppression that majority Catholic Ireland suffered at the hands of Protestant England. Starting with the 1798 rebellion and blossoming after the potato famine of 1849, Irish nationalism became a force to be reckoned with, eventually ending in the establishment of the independent Irish Free State. During the time of conflict, people from each side sought effective ways to spread their beliefs and encourage others to choose their side. Many artists relied on symbolic imagery that was instantly recognizable and rousing. Goddesses based on Celtic mythology had represented Ireland for centuries (Martin 2003, 34) and depictions of young, sensual and inviting girls marked the English view of the Irish lands. These female figures, essentialized in the figure of Hibernia, represented Ireland while masculine and animalistic figures represented the Irish as a race (Innes 1994, 6). This view was problematized by Irish nationalists who reimagined Irish women as pious and pure mothers committed to the Church and the Irish state. This in turn allowed for the ‘sons of Mother Ireland’ to reaffirm their manhood by banishing the male colonizer and “restoring her to her youthful beauty” (Innes 1994, 10). Both of these personifications represent a specific idea of the norms and values of the Irish nation as well as the role women are allowed to play in the construction of that nation. Through the analysis of an English cartoon using Hibernia to criticize the Irish nationalists and a play written by prominent Irish poet W.B. Yeats aimed at mobilizing young Irishmen to the nationalist cause, I argue that female figures were employed by both sides of the conflict to entice men to fight, either for a romanticized wife or a dishonored mother. Additionally, I argue, these glorified depictions solidified the positions women (and to a certain extend men) were allowed to occupy in society as living symbols of the Irish nation.