Maeve O'Riordan opens the doors of the country house (or the big house as it is often referred to) in Ireland to reveal the lives of women among the Irish ascendancy. Drawing on personal records from twelve different families, the reader is provided with unprecedented insights into the female experience among the privileged landed class at a time of social upheaval in Ireland. Space is given to these women's voices as they navigated the limited roles available to women at the time. Unmarried women are not excluded and their efforts at forging careers and identities outside the home are also uncovered.
Though their names are now forgotten, women like Mabel O'Brien - who was depicted as wife, mother and society woman in her husband Dermod's painting The Jewel (pictured on the front) - contributed to the public success of their families through their dutiful, private roles. Their marriages forged important social links and their commitment to home duties ensured that the family residence was a centre of prestige.
Women of the Country House in Ireland will appeal to anyone interested in the history of women or the ascendancy. It invites you to step into the country houses of Ireland and, for the first time, to get to know the women who lived within their grand drawing rooms before the onset of the First World War and the Irish War of Independence.
Maeve O'Riordan is Lecturer in Women's and Cultural History at the School of History, University College Cork.