Shortly after relocating to rural county Sligo, I became aware of the imagery used to promote the west as a tourist destination. The Wild Atlantic Way relies on rhetoric that is a continuation of a well established tradition; representing the countryside in an Edenic fashion.
This tradition has deep historical roots within European and American art. In the 19th century at a time when the expanding cities of Britain were bursting at the seams, writers and artists – in a response to the complexities of life created by the industrial revolution – began to construct an idyllic, uncomplicated vision of rural life as a panacea for the ills of the modern world.
The European colonisation of America depended on utopian imagery of the new world to persuade the early colonists to cross the hazardous ocean in search of reward. During the westward expansion early American genre painting played an important role in disseminating political ideology and propagating myths about American national identity.
In Ireland the west, originally a symbol of primitiveness and backwardness was reclaimed and reframed by the Irish cultural revival. It was regarded as uncorrupted by Anglicisation. Romantic nationalists regarded the west’s apparent primitivism as an affirmative quality and the poverty of the inhabitants became aestheticised in the name of authentic national identity. The west became synonymous with and a symbol for Irishness.
Today tourism has built on these romantic, quasi-religious foundations. In times of turmoil and economic uncertainty we naturally look for reassurance. The Wild Atlantic way has repackaged and relaunched the landscape of the west as an inspirational symbol to entice tourists to the countryside by displaying it in a permanently positive light, as a beautifully ordered, abundant world. Simultaneously rural infrastructure is underfunded and much investment goes to urban areas.

Be sociable!