Conrad M. Arensberg, The Irish Countryman: An Anthropological Study ([NY:] Macmillan 1937)

‘We owe the first poem of the eighteenth-century poet O’Rahilly to the expression of this rivalry [between old and young men], in a older day when Gaelic poetry still survived. He was called to in to defend the young unmarried men, the “boys” of today, in a poetic contest over respective merits between thenm and the “old men”, that is, the married men of family and substance. And he played, too, in the hurley game which fought out the contest on another field. For wer are dealing here not so much with truths and faslities as with group-attitudes reciprocally held. Pareto would call them derivations; he would find their residues in the sentimental of those grouped together about a common status in the community. Once these sentiments were expressed ceremonially as in O’Rahilly’s day. Even now the men of Luogh point out a large stone. With that stone the “men” and the “boys” competed at tests of strength till just a few years ago.’ (p.116.)


‘Yet within a system of values in which the old represent the nexus of kinship and bear honour within the community, the young people do not see the issue so clearly. There is as much respect as there is antagonism in their verbal assessment of the old people. In the non-verbal behaviour of daily conduct, deference is uppermost. This fact sobers their group egocentricity. In their position there is a necessary balance between subordination and compensatory vauntings and [distastes]. If you remember Synge’s Playboy, you remember how reality broke in upon the playboy when the community see his father still very much alive.
  So, within this framework [viz., ‘a system of values about age status’] the young men can recognise themselves as a distinct group - an age grade, to use the technical language. They have [177] their own interests and sentiments, opposed in the scheme of rural life to those of their elders. Various places, pursuits and forms of activity are their own preserve. They greet the suggestion that they should take their place in the gatherings of the old men with something of a derision they reserve for women. But the ambivalence of their attitude makes general expression difficult. Their position imposes silence, except among themselves.’ (Ibid., pp.177-78.)


Francis Shaw, S.J., ‘The Irish Folklore Commission’, in Studies (March 1944), pp.30-36: ‘It is to be hope that when circumstances permit the work of investigating our social history and material folklore will be greatly extended. It is a subject of great value and one which is likely to make a popular appeal. The publication of Dr. Estyn Evans’s Irish Heritage: The Landscape, the People and Their Work robs us of our [34] last excuse for lack of interest or indifference to the value of this side of folklore, if indeed we had any excuse after the appearance of Dr. Conrad Arensberg’s The Irish Countryman.’ (pp.34-35.)

Marjorie Howes, Yeats’s Nations: Gender, Class, and Irishness (Cambridge: Cambridge UP 1996): Another aspect of Ireland’s sexual conservatism that sets it apart form contemporary developments in other nations was its relationship to several unusual and much-discussed Irish demographic and social patterns. Comments on these trends persistently outline other anxiety-producing relationships between Irish sexual behavior and national character. The anthropologists Conrad Arensberg and Solon Kimball used the term 'familism’ to describe the ways in which the economic imperatives of post-famine rural life structured cultural norms about such phenomena as aging, parent-child relationships, group social events, and, most important, gender boundaries, matchmaking and marriage. Under familism, farmers did not subdivide their already small plots of land among their children; instead they left the farm to one son and dowered one daughter. Other siblings had to learn a trade, enter the Church, or emigrate. In addition, a son could not marry until his parents retired and turned the farm over to him, but this often did not happen until he was in his 40s or older. These social structures helped make the Irish world-famous for their high rates of celibacy and emigration. By the early 1920s, 43 percent of Irish-born men and women were living abroad. Fertility rates within marriage were high, especially in rural areas.. [T]here is general agreement that from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, the Irish were the most celibate nation of any country that kept such records. (p.136.) Bibl., Conrad Arensberg, The Irish Countryman: An Anthropological Study [1937] (NY: Peter Smith 1950), and Conrad Arensberg & Solon T. Kimball, Family and Community in Ireland (Gloucester MA: Peter Smith 1961).

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