The Irish Studies Lecture - 'Desire and Dishonour: Heterosexuality in Nineteenth-Century Ireland'

Institute of Historical Research

The Irish Studies Lecture - 'Desire and Dishonour: Heterosexuality in Nineteenth-Century Ireland'

Joanna Bourke (Birkbeck College)

It was the day after St. Valentine’s Day in 1865 and love was in the air. But all was not what it seemed for a courting couple in Kanturk (Cork). Locals laughed loudly at a ballad that made fun of their predicament. It went:

There was a young man in Ballinacrazy,

Who wanted a wife to make him unaizy;

And thus he addressed her with sighing and groanen,

Oh, will you marry me, Miss Kitty Cronin.

What was acceptable courting behaviour in Ireland between the famine and 1914? What do we know about sexual desire between Irishmen and women? What was the role of honour and dishonour? In this paper, I explore the relationship between money and marriage, religion and reproduction. The philosophy and performance of sexuality in Ireland underwent some important shifts in this period. As Miss Kitty Cronin discovered, heterosexuality practices were inherently unstable.

Joanna Bourke is Professor of History in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck College, where she has taught since 1992. Her work has ranged from the social and economic history of Ireland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to social histories of the British working classes between 1860 and 1960s, to cultural histories of military conflict between the Anglo-Boer war and the present. In recent years, she has been researching the history of the emotions, particularly fear and hatred. She has also been exploring the history of sexual violence, asking questions such as "in historical time, who is the rapist?" and "how have his (and occasionally her) violent acts been explained?". Her primary focus has been on British, American and Australian societies from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries.

School of Advanced Study, University of London
Joanna Bourke (Birkbeck College)
Event date: 
Thursday, 5 June 2014 - 1:00am
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