Family, leisure, and the arts: aspects of the culture of the aristocracy of Ulster, 1870-1925
McHugh, Devon Margaret
The historiography of the north of Ireland in the 19th and 20th centuries fails to address many key issues regarding the social and material culture of the aristocracy of the region. Existing work has concentrated largely on economic and political questions. This thesis seeks to redress this balance by providing a study of the world of the Ulster aristocracy outside the realms of national politics and land purchase. The work looks at six aspects of aristocratic culture between 1870 and 1925, using the personal and material records of twelve of the premier aristocratic families in the nine county region as a case study to examine changes in the family life, artistic and architectural patronage, and leisure practises of these families. The thesis does not seek to provide a comprehensive cultural history of the aristocracy; however, the discussions contained within this work are relevant to the wider aristocratic and elite culture of Ulster, Ireland, and Britain, and reflect the growing awareness of the landed classes of the rapid social changes of the time. While the study is in many ways central to examinations of contemporary aristocratic culture in Ireland and Britain, the specific intention of the work is to illuminate the (as yet) underexplored lives of these families. The families under examination demonstrate in their patterns of family life, artistic and architectural involvement, and leisure, both an adherence to a wider British-led ‘cultural unionism’, and a growing sense of their distinctive ‘Ulster’ identity. Additionally, the enormous wealth and exalted status of these families set them apart from their less privileged neighbours. The social, financial, and geographical place of these families within the United Kingdom influenced their culture in a distinctive way during this period. By offering a new focus for the study of the history of the north of Ireland in the 19th and 20th centuries, this thesis seeks to open up an area of study that has been largely neglected by historians. The topics of discussion have been chosen to engage with some of the more marked weaknesses in the existing historiography, and also to reflect those areas in which archival and material sources are most abundant. The intention of the thesis is to examine the ways in which these families took an active part in adapting their culture during this period. By altering their patterns of consumption and movement to suit contemporary changes, and harnessing and manipulating ideas about the place of the elite within the wider British social climate, these families worked to retain their relevance into the 20th century. The goal of this thesis is to begin to construct what has been termed an ‘occupied past’: the work seeks to provide, not a set of political and economic changes and an analysis of the responses to these challenges, but new research and discussion that more clearly reflects the day-to-day existences of these powerful and privileged families during a period of profound social, political, and economic change.