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This review is taken from PN Review 123, Volume 25 Number 1, September - October 1998.

A VERY AGREEABLE PASTIME ANDREW CARPENTER, Verse in English from Eighteenth-Century Ireland (Cork University Press)

According to Andrew Carpenter, the editor of Verse in English from Eighteenth-Century Ireland and a teacher of English at University College Dublin, thousands of those who lived in the country during this period considered the writing of poetry a 'very agreeable pastime': 'Many of these voices have not been heard for two hundred years and my aim in this anthology has been to include as many of them as possible'. A rescue mission, then, in search of 'authentic, honest, direct statements of the feelings, thoughts and prejudices of the people of eighteenth-century Ireland' and 'unique insights' into their ways of life.

Miserably, however, the first resurrected 'voices' we hear are ones of sectarian contempt, chiselling mistrust and vengefulness into ballad stanzas and heroic couplets that depict life in 'Shamrogshire', the boggy version of Ireland inhabited by the 'Teagues' and 'Priests that in Latin to Blockheads do mutter'. As a Teague myself, I had already looked with dismay on the dust-cover illustration. There, one of my barefoot, ragged, apelike ancestors sits on a cart, a misshapen stick in his hand, while an English officer in immaculate military gear delicately fingers a flute, entertaining two handsome, tophatted gentlemen by his side. Another Teague, meanwhile, embarks on a graceless dance with a pig and a bizarre-looking mongrel skipping about at his feet. For a literary correlative of this heart-warming scene, turn to Swift's 'A Pastoral Dialogue' on page 192 in which 'A Nymph and Swain, Sheelagh and Dermot hight' are ...


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