By Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Borbála Faragó
Animals in Irish Literature and tradition spans the early smooth interval to the current, exploring colonial, post-colonial, and globalized manifestations of eire as state and nation in addition to the human animal and non-human animal migrations that problem quite a few literal and cultural borders.
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The vigour and energy of this spectacle gave rise to engaging forms of popular representation. ‘Lord Altham’s Bull’ (1772) is a street song that reveals the excitement of these sports and the attraction they held for ordinary Irish men and women. Each stanza begins with four short lines, moving the action of the poem along in alternate rhymes, while longer sections of prose patter allow the narrative of the tale – its many characters and rich variety of comment – to be developed more freely. The first-person narration, together with the idiomatic language that 22 Animals in Irish Literature and Culture facilitates the vivid humour of the piece, offers a particular perspective on a shared activity.
Kelly, Sport, 157. Kelly notes that, though Irish tavern owners did not match their English counterparts in the promotion of cockfighting as a sport, some did host major matches, as well as the less prestigious ‘shake bag’ events. Kelly, Sport, 166–7. Kelly, Sport, 165. Keith Thomas notes that Samuel Pepys, visiting a cockpit in 1663, saw everyone from ‘parliamentary men’ down to ‘the poorest prentices, bakers, brewers’. Keith Thomas (1983) Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500–1800 (London: Penguin), 145.
While it is beyond the scope of this essay to chart a thorough history of fox-hunting discourse, Stringer’s text helps us to see some of its salient features: first, its reliance on and reinforcement of a class hierarchy masquerading as the maintenance of a natural order of communal bonds, and second, its shoring up of species hierarchies inscribing human exceptionalism whereby all animals are valued according to their relative usefulness to (some) humans. Charting the power relations of class privilege involved in the hunt, historian James Kelly describes the damage to tenant-farmer livelihoods during fox-hunts as gentlemen ride across farm boundaries ‘damaging stiles, gates, hedges and crops in pursuit of their quarry.
Animals in Irish Literature and Culture by Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Borbála Faragó