This book tells the untold story of the women who were the faces of the British administration in Ireland. As the wives of the country’s viceroys, who represented the British monarch, the vicereines were the fashionable figureheads of social, cultural and charitable life at Dublin Castle before Irish independence. Today they are almost entirely forgotten. Through a series of analytical studies, this book sets out to recapture the lost legacies of these women by exploring the portraits, papers and personal objects that bring their time at the apex of Irish society to life.
Richly dressed and elegantly depicted, the women who gaze out from the portraits featured in this book are accompanied by few clues to their public impact in Ireland. Yet here are women who were often dynamic, bold and influential agents of change. Uncovering the hidden personalities behind these portraits, the book reveals activists, artists and advocates who touched almost every facet of Irish life. Campaigns to develop hospitals, to relieve poverty, to promote Irish fashions, and, remarkably, to mitigate what several perceived as the injustices of British rule in Ireland, are just some of their overlooked initiatives. The experiences of the vicereines, and the impressions they recorded, have much to tell us, not only about official Ireland but also about the experiences and living conditions of those whose identities are largely lost to history, such as orphans, artisans and the working poor. Drawn together, they suggest an alternative, nascent reading of the British administration in Ireland as viewed not only through the lives of its men but also through those of its women. Featuring studies by leading scholars and based on many original sources including diaries and letters, this beautifully illustrated book brings together text and image to create new and illuminating portraits of these forgotten women.