Rural Irish comprise nearly forty percent of the population of the Republic of Ireland and of Northern Ireland, United Kingdom. The Rural Irish speak both Irish Gaelic and English. Beginning in the twelfth century, English incursions imposed a manorial economy on an otherwise village-based Celtic culture and society. Farming, fishing and cattle are mainstays of the rural economy. Settlement patterns vary from dispersed farmsteads to small clustered hamlets. Depending on the size of a farm, inheritance can be partible, or is impartable with primogeniture or ultimogeniture.
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Europe --British Isles
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Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.
This collection focuses on the Rural Irish population located mainly in the poorer and more mountainous areas of western Ireland, including a number of small, off-shore islands. Few sources completely ignore historical background, and some studies are purely historical.
The main ethnographies are Arensberg and Kimball (1940), Arensberg (1937), Messenger
(1969) and Fox (1995). The first two sources are based on data from County Clare,
the third from County Galway and the last one from County Donegal, making these three
counties the best represented areas in the file. Arensberg and Kimball were members
of the anthropological survey of Ireland sponsored by the Department of Anthropology
at Harvard University. This project, begun in 1931, covered physical anthropology
and archeology as well as social anthropology. County Clare was chosen as the field
locale on the basis of an extensive survey, because its culture represented so well
a blending of the older Gaelic and modern British influences. Their work was a model
community study for both the culture area and the discipline. Evans (1957) is a general,
well-illustrated work on Irish peasant culture, emphasizing material culture. An early
work by Westropp (1910-1911) is a compilation
of Irish folklore from County Clare. Johnson (1958) provides an excellent overview
of rural Irish land tenure and settlement patterns, a subject taken up in other documents,
including McCourt (1971) and Shutes (1987), and in Ó Tuathaigh’s (1999) historiography
of the Irish "Land Question." Freeman (1958) writes an economic geography of the island
of Inishbofin, County Galway. Arensberg's work is a jumping off place for subsequent
studies that widen the frame of reference both spatially and temporarily to include
regional and historical influences on local society (Streib 1973; Taylor 1980; Gilligan
1988; Tucker 1999). Subsequent studies also examine more closely the gender and generational
relations within the family and kindred (Streib 1970; Kane 1979; O’Hara 1998; Humphreys
2010). Psychological studies examine sexuality (Messenger 1971) and motherhood (McKenna
1979). Conroy (1994) provides an ethno-medical report on community intervention and
heart disease. Kennedy (1999)
and Hannan (1979) look at inheritance and migration as coping/reproductive strategies.
A couple of studies examine nineteenth and twentieth century social movements that
emerged in response to the decline in the farming economy in the west (King 1999;
Varley 1999). Other studies focus on the reproduction of social relations in the judicial
system (Silverman 2000), local community and church relations (Taylor 1989), "large"
farmers of County Meath (Wilson 1988), the identity of a fishing community (Taylor
1981), the role of money-lenders (
For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.
Aithech – head of house – use HOUSEHOLD (592)
Baile – town – use TOWNS (632)
Bothach – cottage – use DWELLINGS (342)
Clachan – clustered settlement – use SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)
Fine – kindred – use KINDREDS AND RAMAGES (612)
Gombeenman –gombeenmen– – storekeeper/money lender use BORROWING AND LENDING (426)
Ócaire – low ranked family – use STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)
Rath – fortified dwelling – use DWELLINGS (342)
Rundale – communally shared land – use "REAL PROPERTY (423)
Tuath – tribe – use TRIBE AND NATION (619)