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Family and Community in Ireland Book Cover
Family and Community in Ireland, 3rd Edition
North Munster Antiquarian Journal, Vol. 42, 2002

Conrad M. Arensberg and Solon T. Kimball,
Family and Community in Ireland,
CLASP Press, Ennis, 2001, pp xxxiii + 417,
ISBN: 1 900545 13 6, Price €33.00

This is the third edition of a work first published in 1940. It is a facsimile of the second edition, published in 1968 with the important addition of a new scholarly introduction. In the early 1930s two American anthropologists, Arensberg and Kimball, came to Ireland to conduct research in Co. Clare, primarily in the rural areas but also in Ennis. They were part of a wider project which has been given various titles but is probably best encapsulated in the term Harvard Irish Study. This research was under the direction of Professor Earnest Hooton, of the Anthropology Department at Harvard University and it focused on three areas, archaeology, physical anthropology and social anthropology. The archaeology work was of immense importance particularly in regard to the Stone Age and the excavation reports were published in Irish Journals, mainly the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy and the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. The racial survey of the people was in part published in 1955, titled The Physical Anthropology of Ireland. But it was the social anthropology which excited the greatest interest and debate. In addition to the work under review, Arensberg also published The Irish Countryman in 1937. The first edition of Family and Community in Ireland dealt only with the rural part of Clare, it was only in the second edition that the work on Ennis was published, both studies are included in the third edition.

While making the work available in print again to a wider audience, the most valuable feature of this new edition is the long, wide-ranging and scholarly introduction by Anne Byrne, Ricca Edmondson and Tony Varley, all from the Department of Political Science and Sociology at Galway University. In general the authors are favourable to Arensberg and Kimball’s work which has been the subject of serious criticism. Both their approach and findings have been questioned, particularly the distinction made between traditional and modern concepts of Irish society. It has been argued that rural Ireland in the 1930s was already modern in very many respects and that the Americans failed to take account of class differentiation arising from this. Positive and negative views of the influence of the work remain and indeed of the debate that has ensued about it. On the one hand the work has been condemned as retarding the discipline in Ireland while others have seen it as providing an important and valuable point of reference. While the Galway scholars present the arguments in a balanced manner it is clear that they are sympathetic to the Americans, not least for the opening up of debates on a whole range of anthropological and sociological issues. “More than sixty years after Family and Community’s appearance” they write “the book is still capable of attracting readers and even of generating passion”. CLASP Press are to be congratulated for making the work available to a new, post Celtic Tiger Irish audience and for taking the opportunity to provide a valuable commentary to accompany it.

Mary Ryan

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