Collection Description

Culture Name

Rural Irish

Culture Description

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.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Europe --British Isles



United Kingdom

OWC Code


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Collection Overview

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 ( gombeenmen) in transforming rural social relations (Shanklin 1994), and the shift in family identity from one based on land to one centered on the home, with consequences for population growth and control (Birdwell-Pheasant 1999).

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Ian Skoggard

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)

Indexing Notes by

Ian Skoggard

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