Writing from Dublin to her brother John, in May 1718, Sarah Mason, a native of County Waterford, described how she and their sister, Harriet, were putting in their days: ‘We spend our time in visiting and receiving visits, and buying for our Waterford friends etc. Harriet is very tired, very little stirring in the town, and few people, almost everyone at their country house.’ In analysing her words, one begins to get a sense of the female experience of Ascendancy society. In her comment that most people had retreated to their country homes and there was ‘very little stirring in the town’, Sarah is alluding to Dublin's recently finished social season, which ran from roughly November to March, with another brief flurry of activity in April and May. This season dictated the ebb and flow of the elite population between city and country, and elite women organised their year around it. When exactly it was established is unclear, but as early as 1695 ladies spoke of ‘passing 3 or 4 months of this winter in Dublin’. It is tempting to connect the season to the sittings of the Irish parliament, as historians have done for England, but in Ireland these were only biennial, and in the later eighteenth century at least, parliamentary sessions made little, if any difference to the social programme available in the capital. Outside the season, few entertainments remained beyond the staple activity of ‘visiting and receiving visits’, but Harriet's fatigue suggests that the season itself was as punishing as it was enjoyable (she had been in Dublin for some time by this point, while Sarah had only just arrived). Much more is needed, though, before we can understand the social landscape, both urban and rural, which was inhabited by the two sisters and their peers.
Thanks to the efforts of a number of historians, there is already a considerable literature on the amusements available to the Irish during the eighteenth century. David Fleming has shown that the upper, middling and lower orders enjoyed certain events together, including local fairs and state celebrations, with their firework displays and bonfires.