19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, No 18 (2014)

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‘The shouts of vanished crowds’: Literacy, Orality, and Popular Politics in the Campaign to Repeal the Act of Union in Ireland, 1840–48

Huston Gilmore


The movement to repeal the Act of Union that gathered steam in Ireland in the 1840s relied on the creation of a politicized reading public in a society in which a majority of the population was illiterate, and newspapers were expensive to purchase. This article seeks to examine the manner in which nationalist activists of the pre-Famine period relied on a developing and vibrant literary culture, which interacted on a day-to-day basis through the dissemination of newspapers in dedicated reading rooms in an increasingly literate and anglicized society. It seeks to draw attention to the interaction of literacy and orality, and the reliance of both the Loyal National Repeal Association and ‘Young Ireland’ on both a democratization of communication, and the establishment of ‘Repeal reading rooms’, which, it argues, were as close to a nationwide network of constitutional nationalist organizational infrastructure as had yet existed in Ireland.

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