The Popular Mind in Eighteenth-century Ireland

Cork University Press, 2017, xii + 362 pp.

Image of the cover

This book is a study of the Irish popular mind between the late-seventeenth and the early-nineteenth centuries. It examines the collective assumptions, aspirations, fears, resentments and prejudices of the common people as they are revealed in the vernacular literature of the period. Extensive use is made of song and verse from the period. Elements of both continuity and change are identified, and the evolution of popular attitudes is traced over 150 years from the Williamite conquest to O’Connell’s campaign for Repeal of the Union. The texts of eight works composed between 1691 and 1830 are presented in full (seven of them translated for the first time) to allow those who are unable to read the originals an opportunity to assess the temper of Irish popular culture during a formative period in the country’s history.

The book can be ordered directly from the publishers in either hardback or paperback format.


     Text 1. 1691
Chapter 1. Kingdom
     Text 2. 1697
Chapter 2. Faith
     Text 3. c.1715
Chapter 3. Memory
     Text 4. 1747
Chapter 4. War
     Text 5. 1775
Chapter 5. Patriots
     Text 6. 1785
Chapter 6. Land
     Text 7. 1795
Chapter 7. Rebellion
     Text 8. 1830
Chapter 8. Union?
Index of first lines


The author was interviewed by BBC Radio Ulster on 9 May 2017. A recording is available here:



"This work is a considerable contribution to studies in Irish history in the crucial centuries covered by the book. The work is equally interesting to those concerned with literary history and the contextualization of manuscript and related literature in Ireland in the period under review. The work represents a substantial amount of spadework for which historians will be grateful and which should energize those involved in 'Irish studies' in a more general sense."

Michelle O Riordan, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

"French historians have long studied mentalities among the general population, but in Ireland their counterparts have concentrated more on high politics. Consequently, their focus has been on the documents left in archives by the winners of conflicts. 'Tradition' — how ordinary people remembered things — seemed of far more interest to folklorists. The refusal of so many historians to use sources in the Irish language had a remarkable effect, argues Vincent Morley in this elegant and luminous study: 'it consigned the bulk of Irish people to the role of nonspeaking extras in the historiography' ... His book, along with Breandán Ó Buachalla’s Aisling Ghéar, is one of the most radical remappings of Irish Studies to appear in the past 30 years."

Declan Kiberd, The Irish Times, 15 April 2017

"This is an important, vital and, for the most part, persuasive book. The high value of the Irish-language sources is demonstrated conclusively. The tractability of such evidence remains problematic, however. To what extent did poets write for each other? How representative were their views? Imagine, by analogy, extrapolating later twentieth-century popular political beliefs from those encoded in a stylised literary genre of that era — academic history?"

Jim Smyth, History Ireland, July/August 2017

"This is a book that I have been waiting for all my life ... I encountered poets here whom I had never heard of before; others I knew something about but only by hearsay; yet others who were familiar but who had written poems that were not part of their obvious canon. Not only is Vincent Morley an original historian, he is an Irish scholar of significant achievement. Not every eighteenth century Irish scholar will have edited as much as he has with flair and with accuracy."

Alan Titley, Dublin Review of Books, July 2017

"In many ways Morley's book is admirable, and one wishes him well in his battles with Hibernia Anglicana. But problems arise with the narrow focus that he imposes on his materials. He reduces the poets to less than their proper dimensions.
     How are we to describe these poets? 'A disparate and scattered body of amateur authors', Morley calls them (p. 6). There were men among them who, if they had heard him saying such a thing, would have issued a richly-worded Barántas not designed to enhance his reputation."

John Minahane, Irish Political Review, September 2017

"This book has significance beyond Ireland. For some time now historians have been taking a greater interest in the role of non-elites in the intellectual movements emerging in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including the French Enlightenment. The authors of Morley’s texts are likewise drawn from a broad range of socio-economic statuses ... Those who study the Counter-Reformation in Continental Europe would do well to read this book in order to expand their knowledge of the role of local lay populations in the resistance to Protestantism. It is also relevant to the current debate over the origins of nations, a debate that pits those who hold that the nation is a modern construction against those who believe that most nations have more long-standing social and cultural roots. And, of course, anyone interested in European popular culture will find this book rewarding."

Samuel Clark, breac: A Digital Journal of Irish Studies, November 2017

"On remarquera aussi que l’entreprise de Morley fait écho de façon assumée à celle de Daniel Corkery dont l’ouvrage The Hidden Ireland (1924) citée dans l’introduction (pp. 1-8) fournit ainsi le point de départ de l’analyse ... Morley, dans son ouvrage plus nuancé, vient souligner l’importance cruciale de la continuité et de la tradition portées par les masses au cours de l’histoire. On discerne là en filigrane l’influence de l’école historique du temps long portée en France naguère par Fernand Braudel. En Irlande pour Morley, ce temps long se fait linguistique et gaélique. Les masses irlandaises étaient majoritairement irlandophones avant 1800 dans l’île, fait généralement admis par les chercheurs mais insuffisamment pris en compte dans l’historiographie de l’Irlande."

Thierry Robin, Études irlandaises, 42-2, 2017

"The argument advanced by this book will be controversial in some quarters, and Morley’s comments in his Afterword on the deficiencies and limitations of revisionist and transnational approaches may ruffle some feathers. The indelible achievement of this book, however, transcends specific ideological and disciplinary disputes. Morley has offered a description of what he terms ‘the popular mind’ that has both specificity and depth, outlining with detail and precision the core of continuity in the underlying attitudes and beliefs of the majority of the population, while also illustrating how those ideas changed and adapted to circumstance over time. It will no longer be possible to consign ‘the bulk of the Irish people to the role of non-speaking extras’ (p. 2) in the history of the period."

Clíona Ó Gallchoir, Eighteenth-Century Ireland; Iris an Dá Chultúr, 32 (2017).

"Vincent Morley has written a book that will engender debate, discussion and, quite possibly, some controversy among historians and scholars of the Ireland of the long eighteenth century. He has demonstrated the extent to which very useful and informative insights can be derived from a study of the native literature of the ‘common people’ in conjunction with other historical sources, and has also provided an excellent modus operandi for how such a task might be approached. Whether those who read this book agree or disagree with his observations and methodology, Morley has set before them a rich exploration of a bilingual society ‘in which oral and scribal means of communication played a decisive role in the formation of the popular mind’ (313)."

Ciarán Mac Murchaidh, Irish Literary Supplement, Fall, 2018.

"The British rulers of Ireland are repeatedly referred to as 'Danes' (pp 166, 211, 247, 260), while Irish Protestants are most commonly 'Calvin's progeny,' 'Luther's breed,' or some similar term. Language of this kind must inevitably raise the question of how far texts produced within such a closed, self-referential literary culture can be taken as a reliable guide to political attitudes in the wider society. The difficulty becomes especially acute when we consider the most popular form in which poets, right across the period, cast their political message: the aisling. Typically, this was a dream or vision in which the poet encountered a beautiful but downcast woman, a personification of Ireland who lamented her degraded condition but looked forward to her liberation from captivity when her true spouse returned from exile. Here the likelihood of literary convention dictating content becomes impossible to ignore."

Sean Connolly, Eighteenth-Century Life, 42 (2018).

"Before reading this work, I viewed the political aisling as an obsolete literary form that had outlived its usefulness after the death of Charles Edward Stuart in 1788. Morley has convinced me that it adapted successfully to the changed circumstances of the nineteenth century. Indeed, given our present-day fondness for complaining and protesting, I see no reason why the aisling could not enjoy a new lease of life in the twenty-first century. Perhaps in the years to come we will still hear the catchcry of old:
       Tá Gaeil bhocht cráite, gan fuascailt acu ón ndaorbhroid!"

Aidan Doyle, Studia Hibernica, 44 (2018).

"Leabhar é seo a nginfidh an t‑ábhar ann díospóireacht, plé agus, b’fhéidir, roinnt conspóide i measc an phobail scolártha a bhíonn ag plé le stair na hÉireann san ochtú haois déag fhada. Léiríonn an t‑údar ann cad é mar is féidir le scoláire atá sásta dul i ngleic le litríocht dúchais an phobail choitinn — i bpáirt le foinsí staire eile, ar ndóigh — earraíocht a bhaint as fianaise na litríochta chun ár dtuiscint ar stair na haoise sin a bheathú. Tá modus operandi leagtha amach aige faoi chur chuige amháin a d'fhéadfadh scoláirí a úsáid le dul ina bhun sin má tá siad sásta am agus dua a chaitheamh leis an litríocht dúchais a d’eascair as sochaí, dar leis an údar, 'in which oral and scribal means of communication played a decisive role in the formation of the popular mind'."

Ciarán Mac Murchaidh, Comhar Taighde, 4 (2018).

"This is a pioneering and important book that shines much light on historical Irish-language sources, both in manuscript and print form. Few scholars have the requisite combination of historiographical skill and knowledge of the late manuscript tradition that is required to produce such an exhaustive and authoritative work. As it is situated on the common ground shared by history and literature, it will potentially be of great value to scholars from both fields, and should be read by anyone who is undertaking serious study of eighteenth-century Ireland."

Nioclás Mac Cathmhaoil, Éigse, 40 (2019).

In presenting such a body of literary material, unfamiliar perhaps to most in the original language, wide in scope and previously unedited in many instances, Morley has expanded the terms of reference for all historians of the eighteenth century. He has made it easy for those who do not read Irish to follow his discussion by providing clear translations into English of every word of cited material.

Michelle O'Riordan, The Irish Review, 55 (Spring 2020).