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In 1963, an efficient little shocker called Dementia 13 (or, The Haunted and the Hunted, to go by the title under which it appeared in the United Kingdom) was released, somewhat misleadingly promoted as ‘the most terrifying screen experience of your life’. The film concerns the Halorans, a castellated, fabulously wealthy, Irish landed family whose members appear to be cursed, haunted by the ghost of Kathleen, the youngest daughter, who drowned in a mysterious childhood accident in the family lake. Kathleen may be dead but she is certainly not forgotten and her puzzling demise is commemorated annually by a strange ritual choreographed by the family matriarch, the events of the plot taking place during the seventh such act of remembrance. During the course of the film, it appears as if Kathleen is less-than-faithfully departed and determined to wipe out the rest of the clan from beyond the grave in a series of brutally executed (and well-shot) axe murders. In an unsurprising denouement, the murderer is finally revealed to be rather more flesh and blood than spirit, however, and it is in fact Kathleen’s traumatised brother, Billy, who is set on re-uniting the family in the next world.
While a passable B-movie, only noted by film scholars as the first film directed by the then almost completely unknown Francis Ford Coppola, Dementia 13 is interesting from an Irish studies perspective for a number of reasons. The eerie use Coppola makes of Irish locations, shooting them as inherently frightening spaces in which anything could be (and probably is) lurking, the dysfunctional family dynamics (the Halorans are possibly even more psychopathic than the Corleones, the central figures in Coppola’s Godfather trilogy (1972–90)) and the familiar Gothic trope of the past violently erupting into the present connect this minor horror film to a much longer cultural tradition which figures Ireland as a zone of weirdness, the supernatural and the pathological.
At the time of shooting, Coppola was working for the veteran horror maestro Roger Corman, who had just wrapped up The Young Racers (a charmingly terrible film about racing car drivers and the women who love them), which he filmed all around Europe, finishing up in Ireland, and Dementia 13 was basically made with the left-over budget from Corman’s film, with some of its actors thrown in, supplemented by additional players brought in from the Abbey Theatre. The Irish setting was, then, purely happenstance, since, as Kim Newman points out, Coppola would have filmed in Texas had he been there at the time. Coppola got the most out of the location, however, and while naming the dead daughter Kathleen was probably simply a matter of invoking something suitably ‘Oirish’ for an American audience, it (un)happily results in the personal history of the Halorans becoming (unintentionally) emblematic of a national history in which the Irish are haunted by the ghost of a different Kathleen (ni Houlihan) and young men are led into perpetuating murderous deeds on her behalf. Concerning a ritual commemoration of death, and released three years before the Irish state celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Rising with tremendous pomp and circumstance, the film implicates such commemorative events in a cycle of madness and murder and suggestively anticipates the blame that would later be heaped on the anniversary festivities for the renewed campaign of the Irish Republican Army in 1969. Moreover, the IRA’s Border Campaign had just finished in 1962, and the image of young men conducting murderous assaults because of the memory of a ghostly and allegorical woman would have been fresh in the minds of an Irish audience at the very least.
Therefore, although Ireland was little more than incidental to its planning, the film resonates with what had by then become a very traditional version of Ireland as a site of queer goings on, and Coppola is merely utilising a recognisable trope in cinematic tradition which associates Ireland with either quaint Celtic charm or grand Gothic guignol (or sometimes both). For every Finian’s Rainbow (1968 – and also directed by Coppola, who must have been smitten by Irish blarney), with its jolly, cheerful leprechaun grotesquely over-played by Tommy Steele, there is a Leprechaun (1993; dir. Mark Jones) with a leering, gurning, homicidal version of the same mythical creature, played this time by Warwick Davis who seems to be enjoying himself a bit too much in the role. Ireland, and its (real and mythical) inhabitants, are convenient shorthand for the supernaturally bizarre and appealing in Walt Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959; dir. Robert Stevenson), and Dublin reappears as the location for the origin myth of the title character of the television series Angel (1999–2004). A recent example of this easy identification of Ireland with the demonic and the supernatural, Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008; dir., Guillermo del Toro), ends under the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, which is apparently where the Angel of Death hangs out. While the cinematic incarnation of these Gothic Irish associations is relatively recent, it draws on a long history of such representations in literary terms. If Ireland is a source of demented axe murderers for Coppola, for the ancient Greek geographer Strabo it was inhabited by incestuous cannibals who ‘deemed it commendable to devour their deceased fathers’. For Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), in Topographia Hibernia (c.1185), Ireland was populated by a bunch of deranged perverts who enjoyed sex with goats, lions and especially cows, and he described intimate relations with the latter as ‘a particular vice of that people’. As late as 1775, Gilbert White, the great English naturalist, was encouraging the study of the Irish since the ‘manners of the wild natives, their superstitions, their prejudices, their sordid way of life, will extort many useful reflections’. This particular construction has been especially useful in structuring relations between Ireland and its neighbouring nations. Indeed, the Celtic peripheries have very often been defined in direct opposition to England, so that the highlands of Scotland, the hills and valleys of Wales, and the boglands of Ireland were configured as atavistic zones of the irrational populated by primitive monsters, against which England appeared normal, rational and progressive, a contrast heightened by the Enlightenment. Siobhán Kilfeather has emphasised the juxtaposition of the strange, the dangerous and the Irish in early Gothic fiction, and the direct association of the Celts with the Goths was made by the Scottish antiquarian John Pinkerton in his Dissertation on the Origins and Progress of the Sythians or Goths (1787).
A good representative example of this conflation of Ireland and exotic danger is Sophia Lee’s The Recess (1783–5), a counterfactual history tracing the lives of the twins, Matilda and Ellinor, illegitimate daughters of Mary, Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk. In Lee’s novel Mary and Norfolk had married in secret, sincerely believing Mary’s husband Bothwell dead, only to be shocked by his reappearance, and therefore forced to secrete away their twin girls in an underground hiding place below a monastery, the ‘recess’ of the title, in an attempt to protect them. Matilda and Ellinor have various adventures in the course of a long novel, falling in love with the earls of Leicester and Essex and undergoing hardship and exile in their quest to survive. After her husband, Leicester, dies, Matilda is kidnapped and taken to Jamaica, remaining there for eight years. Her sister, meanwhile, has her own foreign tribulations, travelling to Ireland in search of Essex, where she excites the unwanted sexual desires of the Earl of Tyrone, who imprisons her so that he has the time to seduce her. Ireland is a wild and dangerous space, and Ellinor has little good to say about it or its inhabitants, complaining that it ‘offers to our view a kind of new world; divided into petty states, inveterately hating each other, it knows not the benefit of society . . . The advantages of commerce, the charms of literature, all the graces of civilization, which at once enrich the mind and form the manners, are almost unknown to this people’. So shocked is Ellinor by the behaviour and dress of the native Irish that she speculates that they have about as much in common with her as the ‘inhabitants of the Torrid Zone’, making the parallel between Ireland and Jamaica as exotic and perilous spaces clear for the reader. Ireland is to be interpreted here as if it has somehow been geographically displaced from its true location in the tropics; those visiting the island from the mother country can rightly view themselves as entering a state of nature and incivility, a ‘new world’ in need of taming, or one perhaps impossible to tame. Tyrone’s sexual licence, his perverted, ‘licentious’ and excessive desire for Ellinor, is mirrored by his rebellious ‘hopes of wholly expelling the English, and ascending the throne of Ireland’, allowing sexual and political subversion to merge together in his body. Indeed, his lust may stem from his political greed, so that Irish rebellion is figured as the cause of Irish sexual dissolution.
Although Lee’s novel is set during Elizabeth’s Irish wars, her treatment of Ireland is heavily dependent on eighteenth-century prejudicial accounts of the seventeenth century, especially David Hume’s History of England (1754–62), where the rebels of 1641 are described as naturally inclined towards violence and atrocity, a propensity ‘farther stimulated by precept; and national prejudices empoisoned by those aversions, more deadly and incurable, which arose from an enraged superstition’. Given that both sisters have spent their lives in another rather odd location, the recusant priest hole that is the recess, where they have been kept safe from the dangers of a stridently Protestant land, that Ellinor fails to see Ireland as an equivalent space in which the rejected and endangered find refuge is somewhat disappointing. Ireland is even stranger than the hollowed out cave in which the sisters have been raised simply because it is Ireland, whereas the cave is at least to be found in the homeland. This reversion to ethnic and geographical bigotry is also disappointing given that Lee herself had spent a lot of time in Ireland, living in Dublin, where her parents worked as actors, during much of the 1750s. Lee provides a rather more nuanced view of Ireland and the Irish in The Two Emilys (1798), the eponymous protagonists of which are both raised on the Irish estate of Bellarney. Although one of the Emilys (Fitzallen) is hateful and manipulative, determined to destroy her ‘rival’, the other Emily (Arden), this second Emily changes the initially prejudiced views of the Irish harboured by her cousin the Marquis of Lenox. The Marquis believes that the Irish are ‘wild’, but the key point here is that he has never even met an Irish person, and therefore Emily Arden can, through her kindness and intelligence, demonstrate to him that while Ireland is indeed rustic it is not necessarily therefore also ‘wild’ and uncivilised.
Ireland also makes a cameo appearance in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) when Henry Clerval is murdered by the monster on the Irish coast. Given the setting of this incident in 1797, it is likely that it should be read as an occluded representation of the 1798 rebellion, so that Shelley participates in a larger discourse about the rebellion which figured it as monstrous and atrocious, committed by the subhuman and bestial Irish Catholics. Sir Richard Musgrave, for example, in his monumental Memoirs of the Various Rebellions (1801), memorably describes the ‘lower class of the Irish’ as ‘fraudful, ferocious and sanguinary towards such of their fellow subjects as differ from them in religion; and for this reason the Scotch peasant, or mechanic, differs as much from the Irish, as a house dog does from a wolf or a fox’. For critics of the rebellion, the rebels were rather like abject monsters, and Shelley’s association of her creature with the Irish rebels suggests that while it is possible to look on both with pity they are still terrifying presences, and that Ireland is a fit place to find such human detritus. Fred V. Randel has argued that Shelley’s treatment of Ireland in this section of the novel should not be misread as an unsympathetic dismissal of an unregenerate colony. When Victor Frankenstein first sees Ireland from his boat he describes it as possessing a ‘wild and rocky appearance’, a phrase that would seem to confirm negative associations, but he goes on to explain that ‘as I approached nearer, I easily perceived the traces of cultivation’. For Randel, this is an illustration that ‘Mary Shelley temporarily posits and then decisively discredits the stereotypes about the Irish that supported England’s colonial dominance’. Victor’s last words about Ireland, however, position it as a ‘detested’ space, and it remains identified in his mind with murder, madness, imprisonment and loss, so that it is difficult to accept Randel’s liberal reading of the text.
These Gothic associations continue in William Hope Hodgson’s brilliant but bonkers The House on the Borderland (1908), which is set in the west of Ireland in a village called Kraighton, 40 miles from Ardrahan in County Galway (where Hodgson lived for a time), a place that turns out to be a gateway to an otherword, out of which come horrific pigmen (and for some observers, the distance between swinish monsters and the natives would not have been very large). Arthur Machen’s The Terror (1917) is set in Wales, but one character, an Irish traveller, announces, ‘I can hardly believe . . . that I’m not still in the wilds of Ireland,’ and who can blame him when the animals all begin a large scale assault on humans – especially given the tendency of the Victorian popular press to depict Ireland as peopled by sub-human beasts. As Luke Gibbons has emphasised, for English readers exoticism ‘begin[s] at home . . . colonization and the animus against Catholicism were inherently bound up with the subjugation of the Celtic periphery’.
It is hardly surprising, then, that many Irish novels written for the English market specifically set out to deflate or at least problematise this sense of Irish oddness and of Ireland as an exotic tourist resort. Famously, in Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee (1812), Lord Colambre moves from Oxfordshire to the family’s estate in the Irish midlands. Though he has been warned by his mother that he is heading into the regional equivalent of the heart of darkness, he actually finds a much more complex and attractive place and eventually persuades the entire family to move back and take their responsibilities towards the country’s improvement seriously. A more neglected novel, Elizabeth Griffin’s The History of Lady Barton (1771), opens with its heroine and her husband travelling to Ireland during a storm (echoed, perhaps, by Victor Frankenstein’s journey):
Behold us then landed upon what may almost be called a desert island, for it is entirely surrounded by an arm of the sea, and uninhabited by every thing but a few goats, and some fishermen, who are almost as wild as they.—It was about four o’clock in the morning, when we arrived at this dismal place, and such a morning, for darkness, rain, and wind, I never saw!
While first impressions are not good, Lady Barton quickly establishes convivial relations with the group of local fishermen she meets, and the ship’s passengers are treated with courtesy and respect by the inhabitants. Lady Barton does maintain the class distance between the natives and the newcomers, describing the former as reacting to her arrival ‘with that sort of surprise which I imagine we should feel, if an order of higher beings were to descend by miracle to visit us’. This distance is lessened, however, by the fact that far from Ireland being a source of dastardly evil, the villain of the novel is Colonel Walter, an absentee landlord born in England, who clearly lacks what Lady Barton thinks is a proper understanding of the responsibility he has for his estate in the Irish countryside. Lady Barton complains that the colonel ‘is now going to Ireland, to take possession of his estate, and a seat in parliament for a borough he never saw—I am no politician, or I should animadvert a little upon this subject’. As Christina Morin has pointed out, the novel ‘constructs Colonel Walter as not just the source of . . . [Lady Barton’s] troubles in the narrative but of Ireland’s as well.’ Irish strangeness is quickly dismissed and English malignity becomes more prevalent as the novel progresses. Such Irish writers realise the expectations of alienation their English readers anticipate and set up Irish exoticism only to undermine it and suggest the two nations have more in common than might be expected given the representational history into which the authors are intervening.
Although Ireland has been long constructed as a strange place, barbarous and dangerous, it was an Irish political theorist who supplied perhaps the most powerful discourse through which such a construction could be refracted. In 1757, Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful delineated a version of the Sublime which connected it to obscurity, darkness, danger and the primitive past when druids ‘performed all their ceremonies in the bosom of the darkest woods, and in the shades of the oldest and most spreading oaks’, and (perhaps inadvertently) in doing so he provided a powerful language with which the Irish landscape could be described. Burke, of course, considered the Sublime to have positive rather than negative associations, and indeed connected it to the most powerful force in the universe, God, and this positive reinterpretation of the primitive is unsurprising from a man who spent much of his childhood in the extraordinarily impressive Blackwater Valley in County Cork, whose imposing mountains may have helped to shape Burke’s understanding of the power of nature. The sublime power of nature was certainly clear to him, and he also surveyed these destructive forces when he was fifteen and experienced a flood of the Liffey near his family home on Arran Quay. In a letter to Richard Shackleton he admits that the natural disturbances ‘excite’ him, ‘the whistling winds, and the hoarse rumblings of the Swoln Liffy . . . It gives me pleasure to see nature in those great tho’ terrible Scenes, it fills the mind with grand ideas’. As Luke Gibbons points out, it may have been these childhood experiences of nature in extremity which provided Burke with the beginnings of his Sublime theory.
Whatever the source of Burke’s own views, his theorisation certainly provided the basis for versions of Ireland as a Sublime space. When, in Regina Maria Roche’s immensely popular The Children of the Abbey (1796), the heroine Amanda Fitzalan travels from Wales to Ireland, upon entering Dublin Bay she is greeted with an extraordinary sight, ‘a scene which far surpassed all her ideas of sublimity and beauty, a scene which the rising sun soon heightened to the most glowing radiance’. It is while in Ireland that Amanda encounters Castle Carberry, ‘a large Gothic pile, erected in the rude and distant period’ (a time in which Burke located sublimity) ‘when strength more than elegance was deemed necessary in a building’. The castle is on the pinnacle of a ‘rocky eminence overhanging the sea’ and is surrounded by ruined druid temples to emphasise its majesty and antiquity. As Burke insisted that the power of the Sublime was such that its observers would be struck into reverence and fear at its majesty, so is Amanda impressed by the imposing power of Castle Carberry, and she ‘viewed the dark and stupendous edifice . . . with venerable awe’. In the romantic Irish novel, English visitors to Ireland are often so struck with the sublime magnificence of the scenery they encounter that they are rendered silent. Famously, Horatio Mortimer, the hero of Sydney Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl (1806), is so astonished at the wilds of the west of Ireland that he lapses into Burkean reverie: ‘Mountain rising over mountain, swelled like an amphitheatre to those clouds which, faintly tinged with the sun’s preclusive beams, and rising from the earthly summits where they had reposed, incorporated with the kindling aether of a purer atmosphere. All was silent and solitary – a tranquillity tinged with terror, a sort of “delightful horror”, breathed on every side.’ There is danger as well as delight in surrendering to the power of the Irish Sublime, and Horatio is in peril here of stumbling out of his stable English self into a kind of interpretive free play, impelled by the Irish landscape.
So evocative did this trope of the foreign visitor having a ‘sublime’ experience when first coming into Ireland become that Owenson’s scene is virtually repeated in Bram Stoker’s The Snake’s Pass (1890), when the hero, Arthur Severn, is so astounded by the extreme environment of the west of Ireland, its ‘mass of violet and sulphur and gold’, that he confesses to feeling ‘exalted in a strange way, and impressed at the same time with a new sense of the reality of things’. Two hundred years later this experience is recreated (though toned down somewhat) in the film adaptation of Cecelia Ahern’s P.S. I Love You (2006; dir. Richard LaGravenese), where the American tourist Holly Kennedy (played by two-times Oscar winner Hilary Swank!) finds herself both amazed and lost in the Wicklow mountains (which have been obviously CGI-ed for extra sublimity). Holly is looking for the ‘national park’ and is gobsmacked to discover that the wildness of the countryside is what the Irish think a park looks like. Luckily, Holly also encounters a gorgeous yet wise local man (an improbable Gerard Butler) who can direct her back to civilisation, and, of course, they end up married. The genders may have been reversed, but the marriage plot of the romantic novel remains intact, as does the Celtic weirdness and devastatingly sublime Irish environment. Whereas these sympathetic versions of the Irish Sublime tend to emphasise the positive dimensions of the experience, the danger of the Sublime is nevertheless retained, its ability to completely overwhelm and overcome the Self. Certainly, awe is an appropriate reaction to such extremity, but while the experience of terror can be ‘delightful’ to a certain extent, horror narratives have played on the dangers rather than the thrills of Ireland.
Ireland as a whole is readily identifiable as a Gothic space in popular culture. In The Milesian Chief (1812), the great Gothic novelist Charles Robert Maturin articulates this commonly held view of Ireland cogently. The country possesses a ‘dark, desolate and stormy grandeur’ and is ‘the only country on earth, where, from the strange existing opposition of religion, politics, and manners, the extremes of refinement and barbarism are united, and the most wild and incredible situations of romantic story are hourly passing before modern eyes’. In this passage, Maturin references the version of Ireland which was dominant. Certainly, seen through the eyes of the English reading public for whom the Gothic authors were writing, Ireland was a spatial and temporal anomaly, and it remains so for a modern cinema audience. Of course, this version of regional space as a classic site of ghostly energies and horrific creatures has always been central to Gothic convention, and where the plot of a traditional Gothic novel does not take place on the Catholic Continent, it usually locates itself in those geographical areas deemed marginal to metropolitan sophistication. Traditionally, horror and the Gothic take place in what has been called the ‘outlandish’: obscure, out-of-the-way places, usually in the countryside and in villages, or – where the Gothic locates itself in an urban environment – monstrosity emerges from under the stairs, from the attic, out of the cellar, spaces on the edge rather than at the centre. To English eyes, the Celtic fringes were such ‘outlandish’ spaces, Ireland peculiarly so given the link between the geographical term ‘outlandish’ and the Catholicism dominant there. Darryl Jones has termed fictions which concern themselves with identities and areas ‘marginal’ (a word he rightly objects to) to England (and also to cosmopolitan America) ‘regional Gothic’, and he claims that ‘in the ideological rhetoric of horror, Catholics, Welshmen, hillbillies and cannibals are all pretty much the same’. He points out that the construction of the Celt as a kind of counter-Enlightenment figure, and of Celtic lands as zones of the weird, went hand in hand with the emergence of the Gothic novel and the appearance of a modern English identity. As English identity was configured as normative, those areas which surrounded it – the ‘Celtic fringes’ – were simply constructed as abnormal.
Moreover, as Christopher Morash has outlined, the Celtic fringes were not only considered repositories of all that which England wished to deny and banish (the irrational, the superstitious, the perverse, the Catholic, the cannibalistic), they also became a kind of collective zone of atemporality, a place of the primitive, the out-of-touch and the backward which the modern world had not yet affected. If the Gothic is often seen as the return of the repressed, the past that will not stay past, Ireland has usually been constructed as a place where the past had never in fact disappeared, a place where the past is in fact the always present. Morash points out that nineteenth-century philologists such as James Cowles Prichard, Franz Bopp and J. Kasper Zeuss all argued that in Celtic languages was preserved the remains of a European ur-language and that ‘in a slide which was common in nineteenth-century ethnography and beyond, this was taken to indicate that the Celtic peoples of the present day were an instance of a cultural anachrony, a race out of time’. In such Celtic regions as Ireland time and space took on different meanings and history itself was out of joint. According to Declan Kiberd, Ireland operated as ‘England’s unconscious’, hence the surprising number of English Gothic narratives which use Ireland as a shorthand indicator of the depraved past rather than the technological future.
This version of Ireland as a Gothic madhouse had to be confronted by Irish writers, but rather than reject it, a great many of them, on first glance, appear to have embraced it, allowing the tropes and themes of the Gothic to infect practically everything they wrote. Any list of important Irish writers includes a rather extraordinary number of Gothic specialists and horror aficionados, and their apparent over-representation in the Irish ranks has rightly seemed to some critics to require an explanation. In fact, one of the great ‘problems’ in Irish literary history has been not only that Ireland apparently failed to produce the equivalent of George Eliot’s realist classic Middlemarch (1871–2) but that instead it produced so much literary material that can be called ‘non-realist’, and particularly a large amount of what has now been classified as ‘Gothic’. In assessing the Irish contribution to world literature, Vera Kreilkamp has noted that the ‘marginalised Gothic mode . . . permeates virtually all Irish writing’, and this seems about right to me. Indeed, Kreilkamp suggests that far from existing as a separate tradition in Irish writing, it is the only tradition of Irish writing. When Irish writers tried to produce purely realist novels, they generally failed, as the Gothic interrupts, intrudes and disrupts any supposedly stable realist mood.
Since the critical turn to the Gothic in the 1970s, after which a torrent of theoretical and historical material on various versions of non-realism poured from the academic presses, a number of important cultural historians with an interest in Irish studies have attempted to provide an explanation for this state of affairs. Explaining the Gothic diffusion has been a serious difficulty for theorists of Irish writing, although many have pointed out that because of the impact of colonialism, authority and control have been very much contested fields in Ireland so that distinguishing between the real and the unreal has usually been a function of power. In such circumstances the paraphernalia of the unreal, and a language of fragmentation, paranoia and schizophrenia, have seemed more useful to many writers in representing Ireland than the tools of literary realism. While this explanation is certainly suggestive, the overwhelming pervasiveness of the Gothic remains one of the most contentious areas of Irish studies, and although a great deal of ink has been spilt in the critical discussion, a fully theorised and historically grounded account of the emergence of the genre in Ireland has not really been attempted. This scholarly gap possibly remains because the texts in which the form first made its appearance are not only very little read but are also (apparently) not very good – unlike the more attractive terrain of the nineteenth-century Irish Gothic canon, which contains such extraordinary achievements as Charles Robert Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1829), Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas (1864) and Carmilla (1871–72), Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). The persistence of this overattention to the Irish Gothic canon and away from Irish Gothic origins has allowed a number of serious misconceptions about Irish Gothic to arise and persist in critical argument.
In this study, I will set out to provide a robustly theorised and thoroughly historicised account of the ‘beginnings’ of Irish Gothic fiction, map the theoretical terrain covered by other critics and put forward a new history of the emergence of the genre in Ireland. It should be noted that although I will theorise the Irish Gothic, I will not be Theorising it – in other words, those looking for a full-blown engagement with Theory should go elsewhere. The study will try to clarify why it is correct to think of the Irish Gothic novel as an Irish Anglican response to historical conditions, and it will also assess this Irish tradition in the broad context of Gothic Studies as a whole, rather than relegate it to the backwaters of literary history, where it has often been placed. Very early Irish Gothic fiction should be subjected to close reading and careful historicisation, but also firmly placed in relation to Gothic as a genre which, as Richard Davenport-Hines puts it, comprises ‘four hundred years of excess, horror, evil and ruin’. In other words, the early Irish Gothic texts should be read in relation to both Irish history of the 1750s and 1760s and to the conventions of the genre in broad terms. Until this is done, a reading of the Irish Gothic through, for example, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, seems premature. The main argument I will be making here is that the emergence of Irish Gothic should be understood in the context of the split in Irish Anglican public opinion that opened in the 1750s and seen as a fictional instrument of liberal Anglican opinion in a changing political landscape. This will allow me to demonstrate the connections between these little read, almost completely forgotten, supposedly negligible Gothic fictions and the Irish Gothic tradition more generally, and also the Gothic as a genre of global significance. Of course, even using the terms ‘Irish Gothic’ and ‘Irish Gothic tradition’ has become problematic in recent years, and in this introductory chapter I will address some of the theoretical problems that have stymied discussion of the field so that the way can be cleared for a proper historical account of the genre in Ireland.