Atkinson: The Irish Tourist

Pdf Atkinson, A., The Irish Tourist, Dublin: Thomas Courtney, 1815
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The Irish Tourist by A. Atkinson published 1815 is a travelogue typical of the period between 1750-1850 when popular tourism developed in Ireland. Atkinson travelled much of Ireland on foot, being too poor to own a jaunting car or horse but gives astute observances on the landscape and people of Ireland.

The period was characterized by a new appreciation of the landscape and the sublime reflected in the poetry of the Romantic movement in Britain. This artistic, literary and intellectual movement which overlapped with the end of the Age of Enlightment and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Aristocrats and the rising middle classes sought to escape from increasingly crowded and industrialized cities for the peace and quiet of country estates. Poets and artists of the period created elaborate works that were quasi-religious in their worship of nature.

Ironically the countrysides of Britain and Ireland were undergoing a profound transformation. In the 18th and 19th century great tracts of woodland vanished due to the increasing demand for timber and Inclosure Acts did away with the open medieval commons and created the familar modern landscape of hedgerows and ditches enclosing fields. The countryside of Ireland was characterized by vast estates owned by Anglo-Protestant landowners while the majority of the Gaelic speaking Catholic Irish lived in dire poverty and often on the verge of famine. While Britain became heavily urbanized and industrialized, much of Ireland remained untouched by the industrial revolution.

In this context Atkinson travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, taking in all the major towns of the country. He describes the social, political and economic life of the country of the time in rich detail. It is a historical snapshot of Ireland in the midst of profound change between the Act of Union and the Great Famine.


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