The Irish: what Germany's poets and writers had to say


'Such a spirit of individualism is an essential characteristic of the Celtic race...'

Hermann von Pückler-Muskau, 1836:

In general, the people, with all their roughness, combine the upright nature and poetic disposition of the Germans with the liveliness and mental agility of the French and possess as a bonus the natural charm and assiduity of the Italians. One would be absolutely right in stating that their vices are to be ascribed to others, but their virtues only to themselves.

Heinrich Heine, 1828:

The feeling of individualism predominates in [the Irish]. [. . .] Such a spirit of individualism is an essential characteristic of the Celtic race which forms the core of the Irish people. [. . .] The Germanic race is more easily disciplined – it fights and thinks better in rank and file, but is also more predisposed to subservience than the Celts. The amalgamation of both elements would produce something excellent .

Karl Gottlob Küttner, 1783:

I find that on the whole [the Irish] are a very good kind of people in whose company a foreigner can certainly feel more at home than among the English.

Philipp Andreas Nemnich, 1806:

I made the experience that the Irish often express themselves too obligingly. They seem never to be able to turn down a request, and yet they never keep their promises, no matter how often one reminds them.

Karl von Heilbronner, 1836:

Nowhere in the world does one come across such extraordinary honesty among the down-and-out, and I was often to have the opportunity to acknowledge this initial experience of the honesty of the Irish as one of the nicest aspects of this poor people.

Johann Georg Kohl, 1842:

Erin – this island of saints, this sacred island, the Emerald Isle as it is called in the oldest and newest times, this island of fairies and witches, as it could be called even today, this island of misfortune and discontent, this country of so many incongruities otherwise unknown in the rest of Europe – can quite justly be called, like Prospero’s, an island of wonders.

Friedrich Engels, 1856:

Men who have nothing to lose, two-thirds of whom not having a shirt on their backs, they are real proletarians and sans-culottes, and moreover Irishmen – wild, headstrong, fanatical Gaels. One has to have seen the Irish to know them. Give me 200,000 Irishmen and I could overthrow the entire British monarchy!

Hermann von Pückler-Muskau on Donnybrook Fair

When I was leaving the fair, a highly inebriated couple of lovers took the same path. It was delightful to observe their behaviour. Both were as ugly as sin, but treated each other with great tenderness and courtesy, the male partner manifesting quite a degree of chivalry.

Nothing could be more gallant and at the same time more worthy than his repeated attempts to prevent his lady love from falling, although he himself had no little difficulty preserving his own balance. From his gracious demonstrations and her gay laughter I could gather that he was simultaneously doing his best to amuse her, and despite the exuberant mood she reacted with a flirtatiousness and deep intimacy which would have become a prettier woman most favourably. To do justice to truth I have to testify that not a trace of English brutality was to be found in their behaviour. They were more like the French, showed just as much joviality but more humour and good-naturedness, two truly national characteristics of the Irish that were always enhanced by poteen (the best of brandies, but illegally produced).

Don’t reprimand me for the vulgar images that I have presented to you. They are closer to nature than the gilded dolls of our salons.