British and Irish Literature Irish Travel Writing
Raphaël Ingelbien
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0136


“Irish travel writing” refers here to travel accounts emanating from Ireland, rather than produced by foreign travelers visiting Ireland (Irish travelogues about the island are still included). Texts by Irish travelers are sometimes bracketed together with British travel writing in scholarship on the genre. Good reasons can be cited for this: the popularity of travel writing in English reached its apogee in the 19th century, a time when Britain and Ireland officially formed one kingdom and when many Irish writers published in London and wrote for British as well as (or instead of) Irish audiences. The commercial nature of travel writing and the expectation that it should interpret exotic realities for home readers combined to give a British slant to many travelogues penned by Irish hands. Since around 2010, however, scholarship has paid more attention to the Irish sensibilities at work in various travel texts, even when they ostensibly address British readers, and to the circulation and consumption of travel literature in Ireland itself. “Travel” is here defined as a movement that is circumscribed in time and implies the expectation or at least the possibility of a return, and/or the intention to translate the realities encountered during travel for the benefit of a “home” audience—in the case of Irish travel writing, such translations often bring out the complex nature of Irishness and of the position of Irish writers within broader cultural spheres. This article will mostly leave aside the subjects of Irish migration and diaspora, even though scholarship on travel writing sometimes addresses those themes. The focus here is not on Irish subjects’ migration to other climes, which has been treated elsewhere, but on texts dealing with places that are described by an Irish outsider’s perspective, whether that outsider is a tourist, explorer, pilgrim, or other visitor—the wheel comes full circle when Irish diasporic subjects visit Ireland itself. Some texts can, of course, blur the distinction between temporary travel and relocation; indeed, the nature or finality of travel are not always preordained. Moreover, they have varied considerably since the earliest Irish travelers (medieval saints and missionaries) set out on their journeys, yet those early travels are still invoked in more recent Irish travelogues. Much of the scholarship covered deals with anglophone Irish travel writing, but examples of the limited secondary literature that discusses Irish travel texts written in other languages (Latin and Irish) have been included.

General Overviews

A book-length introduction that attempts a systematic overview of Irish travel writing through the ages does not yet exist. Many of the sources mentioned under General Overviews in the articles in Oxford Bibliographies in British and Irish Literature “Travel Writing” and in O’Cinneide 2012 include discussions of Irish authors, but few writers attempt to tease out the Irish aspects of their writing. The reader will also find those bibliographies useful for travel writing about Ireland, particularly the sections on the Home Tour in Oxford Bibliographies in British and Irish Literature “Travel Writing” and on Ireland in O’Cinneide 2012. Travel writing by Irish authors is mostly absent from histories as well as anthologies of Irish writing, even when they make efforts to provide generic diversity. One exception is Agnew 2011, Volume 4 of the Oxford History of the Irish Book, which covers much of the 19th century and includes a discussion of travel writing to and from Ireland. Ingelbien 2016 charts the development of specific strains of Irish travel writing between 1829 and 1914, and Corporaal and Morin 2017 provides essays dealing with various kinds of Irish mobility (including travel) in the long 19th century. In an issue of the journal Studies in Travel Writing devoted to Irish travel writers, Agnew and Ingelbien 2016 gives an introduction with some useful pointers on theoretical issues as well as broad trends on travel writing in the 19th and 20th centuries. Peatling 2002 is here mentioned as an overview of the extensive body of literature on the Irish diaspora, as discussions sometimes overlap with travel writing as defined here. More information on the Irish diaspora can be found in Oxford Bibliographies articles (Gleeson 2014 and Lachenicht 2011).

  • Agnew, Éadaoin. “Travel Writing.” In The Oxford History of the Irish Book. Vol. 4, The Irish Book in English, 1800–1891. Edited by James H. Murphy, 389–398. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    Sketches the reasons for the popularity of the genre in the period, especially as it pertains to Ireland. Includes more discussion of travelogues about Ireland (often by British writers) than of travelogues by Irish authors, but closes with a discussion of several suggestive examples of the latter category, mostly by women writers like Lady Morgan. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Agnew, Éadaoin, and Raphaël Ingelbien. “Irish Travel Writers: Introduction.” Studies in Travel Writing 20.2 (2016): 121–125.

    DOI: 10.1080/13645145.2016.1173775

    Sets out to redress the imbalance created by scholarship’s tendency to discuss Ireland as purely a destination for travelers. Reviews the various motives that led Irish people to avail themselves of the increasing ease and affordability of travel over the last two centuries, and stresses how the journeys of Irish travel writers often heighten an awareness by them of the complexity of Irish identity. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Corporaal, Marguérite, and Tina Morin, eds. Traveling Irishness in the Long Nineteenth Century. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

    Besides an introduction that partly tackles the nature of Irish travel in the period, the volume includes various essays on travelogues to Italy and German and Irish fictions set in France, besides essays on “mobility” more broadly defined, e.g., explorations of the international networks of prominent Irish political and intellectual figures or the international circulation of Irish writing. Available online by subscription.

  • Gleeson, David. “Ireland and the Atlantic World.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Atlantic History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    This bibliography in the Atlantic History module lists scholarship on Irish engagement (mostly through migration) with the Americas. Available online by subscription.

  • Ingelbien, Raphaël. Irish Cultures of Travel: Writing on the Continent, 1829–1916. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-56784-0

    Focusing on public discourse (books and periodical literature), Ingelbien discusses how Irish travelers were encouraged to discover Europe in an era of “mass” middle-class tourism. Shows how debates in the Irish public sphere caused several strands of Irish travel writing to deviate from the better-known contemporary British variety, e.g., through an emphasis on cultural rather than class identity in the distinctions between several types of tourists. Available online by subscription.

  • Lachenicht, Susanne. “Migrations and Diasporas.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Atlantic History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    This bibliography in the Atlantic History module lists scholarship on the large-scale movements of people across the Atlantic that were set in motion by the rise of European colonial expansion in the early modern period. Available online by subscription.

  • O’Cinneide, Maureen. “Victorian Travel Writing.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Victorian Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    This thematically organized bibliography in the Victorian Literature module lists scholarship on British travel writing from the mid- and late-19th century. A limited number of the sources listed deal with Irish authors. Available online by subscription.

  • Peatling, G. K. “Recent Literature on the Irish Diaspora.” Studies in Travel Writing 6 (2002): 108–126.

    DOI: 10.1080/13645145.2002.9634925

    The focus here is obviously on diasporic Irish communities rather than on acts of travel, but the author also stresses how diaspora originates in “a form of travel under particular conditions” that gives rise to relocated Irish communities. Available online by subscription or purchase.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.