New College of the Humanities

The Ascendancy Mind

A dream world, or a culture of style that carried within it the seeds of self-destruction? Roy Foster marks the high tide of the 18th-century’s Anglo-Irish elite.

Ireland and its tragic history, or indeed any phase of it, always to keep before them the fact that the Ascendancy mind is not the same thing as the English mind.


of life before the fall; but Victorian evangelicalism produced an intellectual, as well as an aesthetics reaction against the assured splendours of the Georgian ethos. In the 1890s W.E.H. Lecky devoted a major section of his great work on eighteenth-century history to a discussion of Georgian Ireland that was ambivalent but inspirational; it remains one of the best sources. The foundation of the first Irish Georgian Society in 1909, and its publication of J.P. Mahaffy's deliberately reactionary celebration of Georgian style, brought reassessment into disrepute; by the 1930s there was a dual tradition of interpretation, represented on the one hand by Daniel Corkery's condemnatory The Hidden Ireland and on the other by the commitment of both W.B. Yeats and Elizabeth Bowen to the imagined world of their ancestors:


The great bold rooms, the high doors imposed an order on life. Sun blazed in at the windows, fires roared in the grates. There was a sweet, fresh-planed smell from the floors. Life still kept a touch of colonial vigour; at the same time, because of the glory of everything, it was bound up in the quality of a dream.


Barrington, and with Orrery as a partial exception, all these observers were of English origin.


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