Turbulent water: A cultural history of the Irish Sea

From Swift to Edna O’Brien, the crash of its rough waves has echoed through literature

Unquiet passage: George IV on board the ‘Lightning’, the first Post Office Steam Packet to Dublin, 12 August 1821, by William John Huggins. Photograph: Caird Collection/UK National Maritime Museum

Unquiet passage: George IV on board the ‘Lightning’, the first Post Office Steam Packet to Dublin, 12 August 1821, by William John Huggins. Photograph: Caird Collection/UK National Maritime Museum

Memories of Oliver Cromwell’s bloody Irish campaigns were long-lived. In the late 1930s, as part of a national project run by the Irish Folklore Commission, a schoolgirl named Annie Morgan of Coaghill, Williamstown, Co Galway, heard from John Gaffey, a 41-year-old farmer, that “when Cromwell died the earth refused to take him. Three times and each time the corpse was found near the grave. At last the people decided to throw him into the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. They did so and the part of the sea that Cromwell was thrown into, is rough the hottest day in summer.”

And in another story, recorded by Seán Ó Súilleabháin, “Cromwell died in Ireland and was buried there, but the Irish soil rejected his body and the coffin was found on top of the grave each morning. Finally, it was thrown into the sea and sank down between Dublin and Holyhead, thereby causing that part of the Irish sea to be very turbulent ever since.”

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