Gaffney, Phyllis

Foreign Tongues: Victorian Language Learning and the Shaping of Modern Ireland

Soft cover



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This item will be published around April 30, 2024 and posted immediately


History shifts languages; languages shape history – a deep-rooted, dynamic process manifest in Victorian Ireland. Continental influences predating the Penal Laws were reinvigorated in the wake of the French Revolution. An influx of foreign teachers and religious orders created institutions for an emerging élite. University education expanded, while civil service reforms opened careers across the Empire to graduates of all religions. Trinity College Dublin had led the way in modern languages; now, Ireland’s Victorian colleges embraced language study – ancient and modern, Irish and European – more eagerly than their British counterparts. An adaptive, fast-changing academic landscape laid the groundwork for today’s Ireland, culturally confident, open to Europe and the world, while the dramatic rise of the Gaelic League forged a bond between language, education and politics with pervasive effects on Irish identities in the twentieth century. None of that was plain sailing. Profiles of individual professors reveal intriguing patterns: pioneering scholarship, precarious careers, sudden scandals, denunciations and dismissals linked to local conflicts and foreign wars. On the positive side, the advance of women’s education cleared the path for a cohort of notable female professors across modern languages. This wide-ranging, detailed study draws on multiple sources to cast a fresh light on aspects of Irish history, viewed through the complex lens of language education. Phyllis Gaffney’s research interests include Franco-Irish relations, literary translation and Samuel Beckett. She started as a medievalist, then taught every century of French literature at Carysfort College of Education and later at University College Dublin. Her previous books are Healing Amid the Ruins: The Irish Hospital at Saint-Lô 1945-46 (1999), Constructions of Childhood and Youth in Old French Narrative (2011), and two co-edited essay collections, Reverberations: Staging Relations in French Since 1500 (2008), and The Medieval Imagination: Mirabile Dictu (2012).

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Soft cover


Gaffney, Phyllis


University College Dublin Press

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