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Buying Irish: Consumer Nationalism in 18th-century Dublin

Sarah Foster offers a fascinating account of how Irish identity, with its sectarian implications, asserted itself in the manufacture and purchase of luxury goods.

Eighteenth-century Dublin was an important centre for the design and production of luxury goods destined for the home market. These had to compete against imports, mainly from England and France, so design and workmanship had to be of the highest standard. Earlier in the century, commentators remarked on the time-lag of fashions between London and Dublin, but by the 1790s this was hardly apparent.

Most buyers of luxury goods whose papers survive were members of the Ascendancy. This nebulous class did not include all of the Protestant quarter of the population; it was linked specifically to Anglicanism, and could be of Norman, Old English, Cromwellian or, very occasionally, ancient Gaelic descent. The grander Ascendancy families usually held peerages from Britain as well as Ireland, and often intermarried with the English nobility, thus acquiring English lands. There was a. certain fluidity within the ranks of the Ascendancy; poverty or recent conversion from Catholicism were not great handicaps.

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