Ireland’s ‘feminine’ nature became enmeshed in England’s discourse on colonization. Viewed as the weak, ineffectual woman, Ireland was in need of the strong resolute man to control her. The land (and her people) would be dependent on – and subservient to – the control of English masculine domination. This relationship between colonialism and landscape created Ireland as the geographic object of English power. Seen as ‘an essentially feminine race,’ the gendering of both the people and the landscape by the English is understandable in the historical context of colonial efforts to control Ireland. The representation of Ireland as woman has a long history within an Irish context. Ériu, the female goddess of sovereignty, often symbolized pre-Christian Ireland. Within pre-colonial Irish mythology, for a king to be considered a legitimate ruler, he had to undergo a ritual of initiation in which he copulated with the ‘sovereignty goddess.’ It can be re-imagined that the English were the masculine king who would dominate Ériu in order to rule Ireland. Consequently, conceptions of both gender and national identity would imbue traditional landscape representations in Ireland.
Constantly being shaped and reshaped as people’s understanding of the world around them evolves, landscapes are temporal. Landscapes are seen not so much as a record, but rather a constant recording of human interaction. Whether eliciting a memory or enabling (or blocking) actions, the landscape acts as more than a reflection of the cultural meanings of time and space. Rather, landscape conveys its own social and political charge. Landscape becomes a nexus of contested meaning as people engage with landscape and create a sense of place and belonging.
Landscape offers a lens through which historical change can be studied. As geographer E. Estyn Evans has argued, ‘Ireland is a land where the past is ever present, both in the minds of men and in the landscape.’ Consequently, landscape is a central term not only in geographical studies, but also in the discourse concerning the relation between the natural environment and human society through time. English colonialism attempted to control the landscape of Ireland through the patriarchal control of the female body. Both English pride and English fears were projected onto the bodies of Irish women and thus onto the Irish landscape.
Embodying the very essence of its people and their chaotic society, Ireland’s wilderness was the opposite of England’s landscape. While England would be conceptualized as an idealized Garden of Plenty, the fertile lands of Ireland would be seen as a paradise spoilt by the barbarity of its inhabitants. The wilderness of Ireland was valuable to England for what could be made of it – not for what it was. The task of civilization was to transform this wilderness into a cultivated garden. Moreover, in this soon to be transformed world, the original inhabitants could have no place –...