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Scholarcast 31: Writing around the Irish Sea: Inlets, Outlets, Firths and Mouths

Fiona Stafford


The Lecture explores the enduring fascination of the Irish Sea, focusing particularly on the Solway Firth, an area regarded by the nineteenth-century artist, art critic, writer and social reformer, John Ruskin, as second only to the Holy Land in its cultural importance. The ageing Ruskin wrote passionately about the Solway in his autobiography, Praeterita, which pays tribute to the beauty of the coast and its creative legacy, as evident in the work of Walter Scott, J. M. W. Turner and the local Scottish music. The lecture considers the connections between these works and the coast itself, with its changing history, before moving across the Irish Sea to Ciaran Carson's 1989 collection, Belfast Confetti, which includes a poem about Ruskin, Turner and the modern city, 'John Ruskin in Belfast'. Exploration of the dialogue between different writers on either side of the Irish Sea, and on either side of the Solway Firth allows the area to be viewed temporally as well as spatially. It thus offers a new model for reading landscapes and literature, in which geographical and historical aspects are mutually informing. What may appear to be fixed and unchanging is revealed as being subject to successions of developing technology and economic imperatives; but conversely, the longer view encouraged by returning to the same place over the centuries offers a different perspective on the contemporaneous impulse of contextualisation.

Fiona Stafford

Fiona Stafford is Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford. She has published on various aspects of English, Irish and Scottish literature, from the eighteenth century to the present day and is especially interested in the relationship between writing and place. Her books include The Sublime Savage: James Macpherson and the Poems of Ossian; The Last of the Race; Starting Lines in Scottish English and Irish Poetry, from Burns to Heaney; Local Attachments; Brief Lives: Jane Austen; and Reading Romantic Poetry. Her most recent publication is an edition of Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads.


Series edited by: John Brannigan
General Editor: P.J. Mathews 
Scholarcast original theme music by: Padhraic Egan, Michael Hussey and Sharon Hussey.
Recording, audio editing, photography and development by: John Matthews & Vincent Hoban at UCD IT Services, Media Services.

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