Chair: Meinir Olwen Williams
Much of Scottish historiography on the subject of the landed and aristocratic classes, and their houses, argues that they were in the vanguard of anglicisation from the mid-eighteenth century, promoting English culture and values as the force for modernity. While this is the case to some extent, and an aspect of their cultural activity this paper will discuss, it is also the case that some families and houses promoted particular historical, linguistic and cultural activities and identities wholly ‘Scottish’ or ‘Highland’. Clans, tartans, Scottish Gaelic and Scottish historical episodes were designed and displayed well before the Union came under increasing pressure in the late twentieth century. This shifting balance between Scottish and British will be examined up to the present day.
This paper is an exploration of the ‘psychology’ of the Irish country house in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The premise is that the Big House in Ireland has been generally seen as a sentry in hostile territory, occupied as it was by a gentry class that had been grafted onto Ireland, and whose roots had apparently not run deep enough. This treats the house as an externality, both to Ireland and to those who inhabited and moved around and within it. The paper will take a somewhat different approach. Using historical and literary sources, it will interrogate the house itself as an organic part of how the gentry saw its place in Ireland. It will look at the house’s centrality to the gentry’s cultural world as a sort of a permanent member of the family. It will examine how the house, as physical form, symbol and literary construct, formed and moderated the Irish gentry’s sense of belonging, patria and national consciousness – even if that national consciousness was, for them, a form of ‘Britishism’.
Peter Mandler famously called the country houses of England the ‘quintessence of Englishness’ and a ‘unique embodiment of the English character’. Reapplying these statements to the plastai of Wales is problematic. Few would see the country houses of Wales as the ‘quintessence of Welshness’. Indeed, from the second half of the nineteenth century the owners of these powerhouses were characterised by an influential radical nonconformist press as ‘anglicised’: Tory, English-speaking, Anglican and often absentee. This was contrasted with the idealised image of y werin, the true custodians of Welsh national consciousness as marked by their language, religion, politics and culture. However, against this virulent political backdrop many landowners in Wales retained a clear sense of Welsh identity, which they continued to present as an important part of their self-image (alongside an attachment to Britishness, and indeed Englishness). These displays and performances of Welsh identity usually revolved around ideas of ancestral patriotism, and formed a conspicuous element in the visual, material and performative culture of Welsh country houses.