Places: The Emigrants of Ahadarra

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1848

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1840’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Ireland

*Ireland. Emigrants of Ahadarra, TheSecond-largest of the British Isles, a dependency of Great Britain throughout the nineteenth century. Among the novel’s several commentaries on the sorry state to which Ireland has been brought by its absentee landlords (even before Ireland’s great mid-century famine, which Carleton describes in other novels) there is one in particular–in chapter 24–which waxes lyrical about the unique affection that the Irish people have for their native soil, and the affliction of “home sickness” that eats away at exiles and sometimes kills them. It is an affection that is still preserved by American celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day.


Ahadarra. Hill farm in the Ballymacan district, one of two–the other being Carriglass–that have been in the M’Mahon family for generations. Ahadarra is now farmed by Bryan M’Mahon, whose father retains the other. Being in a mountainous region, the farm is necessarily extensive. Its fertile fields are widely spaced among barren slopes, but it has potential, including some three hundred acres of rough but cultivable land. Bryan has to invest heavily in order to develop this marginal terrain and thus stands in desperate need of the renewal of his family’s tenancy, which is promised but never delivered by the agent representing his aristocratic landlord Chevydale (whose name proclaims his English descent, although Carleton does not emphasize his alien origin).

Jemmy Burke’s farm

Jemmy Burke’s farm. The first setting introduced by the novel is characterized by the cheerful neglect to which the long slate-roofed farmhouse and its surrounding terrain has been abandoned. Its iron gate is so difficult to shift that even the Burkes prefer to use an informal side-path. Although the ill-kept farmyard stinks and the house is both cluttered and dirty, the majority of its multitudinous residents are generous and hospitable–the exception being Jem’s sly son, Hyacinth “Hycy” Burke, whose defective character reflects the slovenliness in which he has been reared. The general state of chaos at the farm makes the theft of Jemmy’s savings understandable as well as undetectable.

Gerald Cavanagh’s farm

Gerald Cavanagh’s farm. Although smaller than Jemmy Burke’s holding, Cavanagh’s far more orderly establishment is presented as a carefully contrasted model of what an Irish farm and home ought to be. The house is a thatched cottage built in the shape of a cross, located on a small rise overlooking a hundred acres of rich meadow. The adjacent green is carefully cut and the two thorn-trees close to the house are neatly clipped. It makes an appropriate setting for the local festival of rustic skills and dancing that Carleton calls a “spinsters’ kemp.”

Poteen still-house

Poteen still-house. Hycy’s illicit still is initially located in the hills beyond the boundary of his father’s land, three miles to the southwest. It is situated in a cave at the end of a covert approached by a narrow glen. The necessity of moving it–because it has been too well advertised by its regular patrons–offers Hycy a means of bringing down his rival for Kathleen Cavanagh’s affections.

*United States

*United States. Although no American setting is featured in the novel, reference is occasionally made to the United States as the place to which most emigrants from Ireland go. Although Carleton deeply regrets this necessity, he speaks of America in warmly favorable terms, as a place where honest and hard-working Irishmen can reap the rewards that are their just and natural due. By contrast, he disdains to mention, let alone to praise, England–to which many Irish emigrants went as itinerant laborers–and will not condescend to name the place (Australia) to which the plot’s actual emigrants are eventually transported when justice is done and the M’Mahons are saved.

BibliographyFlanagan, Thomas. The Irish Novelists 1800-1850. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959. An influential overview which did much to reestablish Carleton in the context of nineteenth century Irish literature and culture. Three chapters of the study are devoted to Carleton’s work, though treatment of the short fiction is more extensive than that of the novels. The author’s historicist approach emphasizes content rather than form.Kiely, Benedict. Poor Scholar. Dublin: Talbot Press, 1948. Drawing on Carleton’s Autobiography, this study remains the most accessible and sympathetic introduction to the novelist’s world. The approach is essentially biographical, emphasizing Carleton’s peasant background, awareness with the nature of which is indispensable for an appreciation of his work. Kiely does not provide a systematic treatment of Carleton’s oeuvre, but the study contains some relevant commentary on the major works, including The Emigrants of Ahadarra.Sloan, Barry. The Pioneers of Anglo-Irish Fiction 1800-1850. Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1986. Ranging more widely than Flanagan’s The Irish Novelists, this study includes coverage of various phases of Carleton’s career as a novelist. The brief comments on The Emigrants of Ahadarra locate the novel in the appropriate phase, and enable the reader to see connections between the novel’s preoccupations and those of contemporary nineteenth century Irish fiction. The study includes a bibliography and an elaborate chronology of the literary period in question.Sullivan, Eileen. William Carleton. Boston: Twayne, 1983. A critical introduction to Carleton’s life and works. Discussion of The Emigrants of Ahadarra links it to Oliver Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village, and the significance of the novel’s theme of reconciliation is briefly noted. The study contains a comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.Wolff, Robert Lee. William Carleton, Irish Peasant Novelist. New York: Garland, 1980. A brief general overview of Carleton’s fiction. Commentary on The Emigrants of Ahadarra concentrates on the way the novel treats the social aspects of emigration. The novel’s political context is also outlined.
Categories: Places