Wild Irish

In Brief

The Irish have seemed wild to the English ever since they began trying to tame them. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, "wild Irish" was a term for those who lived outside the Pale, ruled by warring chieftains.

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Madness or wildness as a characteristic of the Irish psyche seems also to have been a commonplace stereotype in the early twentieth century. W. H. Auden wrote of Yeats, “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry” (In Memory of W. B. Yeats), and Stephen similarly thinks of Jonathan Swift in Proteus that “A hater of his kind ran from them to the wood of madness, his mane foaming in the moon, his eyeballs stars. Houyhnhnm, horsenostrilled.” Such turbulent currents in the national psyche are a matter of detached amusement, Stephen thinks, to the tourist Haines.

JH 2011
"Wild Irish" in John Derrick's Image of Ireland (1581). Source: freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com.