Exchanging looks: Gap girls and colleens in early Irish tourist photography

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2 Citations (Scopus)


The gap girl of Killarney is the most popular representation of the Irish figure of colleen during the nineteenth century. Colleen attributes come to be affixed to the gap girl due to the 'iconology' that, as David Brett observes, Killarney acquired in Irish Romanticism and became the currency of her representation in a cluster of popular forms by the 1860s. This inquiry focuses on the significance of the photographic representation of the gap girl during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in terms of her mediated visual image. It also addresses why a change in that representation became necessary in the late 1880s. Central to this study is an investigation of the role that gender plays in the construction of location in colonial tourism and also how photography sets a precedent for the gendered visualization of nation that will emerge in twentieth-century Ireland. In order to pursue this line of inquiry, two key representational compositions of the gap girl are analysed: a series of stereoscopic pairs (c. 1860s-1880s) and cabinet and royal format photographs (late 1880s-1914). The shift in the photographic representation of the gap girl, it is argued, reveals how colonial tourism and bourgeois nationalism shared an investment in the visualization of the feminine as an authenticating sign of identity while denying any potential for female agency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-343
JournalEarly Popular Visual Culture
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 20 Nov 2012


  • Photography
  • gap girl
  • colleen
  • tourism
  • colonialism
  • nation-narrative
  • gender
  • visual representation
  • mimicry


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