Anthony  D  Buckley

Ethnology in the North of Ireland

by Anthony D Buckley

In Everyday culture in Europe: approaches and methodologies Eds Máiréad Nic Craith, Ullrich Kockel and Reinherd Johler 2008, Ashgate Aldershot and Burlington, 165-183.


My task is to survey some two centuries of ethnological inquiry in the north of Ireland. One problem is that, since the 1970s, droves of scholars have taken an interest in Northern Ireland, making it possible to cover this field only impressionistically. Another is that writers have traded under such different names as “anthropology”, “ethnology”, “folklife”, “folklore”, or even “geography” or “history” while studying essentially similar topics. I shall therefore risk using the term “ethnology” to refer to the study of the everyday lives, actions and activities of the broad mass of the population.

Ethnology in Ulster has broadly taken four approaches, each of which has its value. One has been the simple gathering of empirical information. This approach predominated during much of the nineteenth century and persists to this day. A second has been the use of ethnological materials to idealise group identities, be these national, regional, ethnic or local. This celebratory approach blossomed during the Celtic Revival that began in the late nineteenth century, but it existed throughout the entire period. Another approach involved a quest for origins. Key notions here were that certain types of past culture might “survive” into the present day, but also that they may “diffuse” from one population to another. The fourth approach, which arrived rather suddenly in Ulster in 1972, saw the central task to be to discover the meaning that actions and objects might have in particular social contexts.


Early empiricism

Much early ethnology in the north of Ireland consisted of the mere collection of information. In a recurring feature of Ulster ethnology, this information often consisted of bite-sized chunks – be they stories, tunes, brief accounts, finished narratives or even physical objects – that could be easily compiled, published or stored.

Such materials exist in the narratives of both travellers and residents (Carlyle 1849; Mr and Mrs Hall 1850; Plumptree 1817; Thackeray 1843). Many such people were interested to express sympathy or criticism of the poverty of Ireland; others, to represent Ireland’s supposed archaic exoticism (Bell 1998, 100).

A few such accounts are more systematic. Important here is Carleton’s Traits and stories of the Irish Peasantry (1832). So are the copious memoirs on such topics as domestic life, material culture and folklore made by the soldiers, surveyors and scholars who created the maps of the Irish Ordnance Survey (Ordnance Survey Memoirs 1835-40; see Andrews 1975; Gailey 1982b).

The transcription of Irish music is also important. This really begins with the work of Edward Bunting. In the late eighteenth century, the custom of itinerant harpers visiting the great aristocratic houses fell into decline. In 1792, surviving harpers gathered in Belfast to perform their music. Bunting, transcribed their tunes (see Audley 2003; Harbison 1989; Maloney 2000; (eds) O’Sullivan with Ó Súilleabháin 1983.), and these eventually provided the basis for a major genre of Irish song.

Newspapers often recorded ethnological information. Ronald Adams (1985) tells of the bonfires, cockfights and night burials recorded in early editions of the Belfast Newsletter. By the 1850s, the more scholarly Ulster Journal of Archaeology included similar information alongside its more central concern with archaeology and history. One typical volume of the journal (the seventh), for example, contained, “The remarkable correspondence of Irish, Greek and Oriental legends” (O’Laverty 1859); “On the heath-beer of the ancient Scandinavians” (Locke 1859); and (part of a series) “Six hundred Gaelic proverbs collected in Ulster” (MacAdam 1859). Both the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society and the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club (founded respectively 1842 and 1863), whose prime focus was in natural science, also took an interest in ethnology.

By the twentieth century, this empirical spirit had become more sophisticated. In particular, T G F Paterson, first curator of the Armagh County Museum (1935 to 1962) produced extensive archives and some still-useful publications relating to genealogy, local history, archaeology, folklore, place names studies, and dialect (see Abraham 2000, Evans 1971; (ed.) Evans 1975).

Empirical research is, of course, the backbone of all ethnology, and the task specifically of collection has particular importance in such fields as narrative, music and material culture. While somewhat crude in the nineteenth century, this empiricism laid the foundation for subsequent, more theoretically orientated research.


Revival and beyond

From the 1880s, Irish ethnology gained new impetus in the Celtic (or Gaelic) Revival, with its interest in recording and preserving narrative, music and language, all of which were conceived of as Ireland’s treasures.

A major force in Ulster was the Belfast lawyer and ardent nationalist Francis Joseph Bigger. Bigger became secretary and then president of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club. In 1894, he revived the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, becoming its editor. He soon organized a multitude of events from folk ballad expositions to pageants, plays and processions, which he saw as integral to social “regeneration” – a cause close to his heart. He restored Jordan’s Castle at Ardglass, turning it into a centre for a peasant arts revival. (Dixon 1997, 40ff)Perhaps his most famous achievement was the Feis na nGleann (Festival of the Nine Glens of Antrim and Rathlin) in 1904 (Bell 1988; McBrinn 2002, 2004).

Bigger propagated traditional crafts, encouraging them as commercial enterprises in the spirit of William Morris. For example, he helped set up toy-making workshops in Cushendall and Ballycastle (McBrinn 2002). The Ballycastle workshop included a mock-up of an old Irish kitchen with a “turf fire, dresser covered in delft and pewter, its grandfather clock and settle bed.” At the shop opening, there sat an old woman spinning and another grinding flour with a quern (McBrinn 2002, 45).

Bigger himself, like the Revival generally, has been widely criticised for its “fakelore” or “folklorismus”, the fact that many of its supposed traditions were invented (Gailey 1982c). Bell, however, generously claims there is nothing disreputable in merging old and new cultural forms, or vernacular and more elite traditions (Bell 1988, 1998).

In 1927, the Revival gave birth to the Irish Folklore Society followed by the Irish Folklore Institute (later the Irish Folklore Commission) under Séamus Ó Duilearga and located in University College Dublin (Briody 2005, 10). Despite an inevitable southerly orientation, these bodies maintained a continuing interest in Northern Ireland. For example, one of the Institute’s first projects was to publish a collection of Tyrone folktales by Ó Tuathail (1933; see Briody 2005, 17-18). In the 1960s, the Commission employed Michael J Murphy to collect folklore in Northern Ireland (1964, 1965, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1989). And a recent project called “Room to Rhyme” led by Séamas Ó Catháin and Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh of University College Dublin studied mumming as much in the north as in the south of Ireland (see Buckley et al 2007).


Estyn Evans and his followers

While the Folklore Commission dominated the study of folklore in the Republic, ethnology in the North was took a different turn, largely due to Estyn Evans and also his students, among them George Thompson and Alan Gailey. Together, these three men were to create the Ulster Folk Museum.

Evans came to Ulster as an archaeologist (Evans 1935, 1966) though he quickly turned to ethnology, becoming Professor of Geography at Queen’s University. He writes that, during fieldwork particularly in Rathlin and Donegal, he was impressed by “the wealth of survivals in material culture and folk beliefs” (Evans 1988, 92). He brought to Ulster’s ethnology a distinctive emphasis on the survival of ancient traditions and a focus on material culture.

“Survivalism” is a methodology still found in archaeology and in British and Irish folklore studies. It has two rather distinct origins. One is the romantic assumption, dating from the eighteenth century, that existing rural culture once belonged to a nation’s ancient inhabitants. The other is “social Darwinism”, which formed the basis of most late nineteenth century social theory, which applied evolutionary thought to the study of human culture (see, for example, Tylor 1871).

One version of social Darwinism, espoused explicitly by Evans’s teacher Herbert Fleure (1947) but found in Evans’s own writings, was that certain types of object, custom or even physiological trait were found in the present because they had allowed a population to subsist in a particular geographical environment. These types of culture either “survived” from a distant past or had “diffused” from somewhere else. The ethnologist’s task was to identify the origin of these types of culture, and to discover how they allowed people to adapt to a particular environment. In its emphasis on types (or species) of artefact and on the origin of these species, this kind of ethnology differs from mainstream historiography which emphases the unique actions of individuals in particular historical moments.

Much more to the point, however, Evans showed that, by describing and sketching material objects, and by explaining the way they were created and used, one could evoke or recreate an entire way of life (see 1942, 1957, 1967, 1992).

Evans’s publications are still a pleasure to read. His Irish Folk Ways (1957), for example, provides an elegant account of landscapes, houses, farmyards, fences, carts, boats, weddings and seasonal customs, each set in a contemporary and historical context. He can be criticised when his emphasis on vernacular and neglect of élite culture becomes a distortion. Also, he skips too easily between historical periods, insufficiently noting that different historical periods are indeed different. Furthermore, like many of the Dublin-based folklorists, he often portrays Ireland as having an idyllic communal coherence with few social tensions. Nevertheless, his writings remain a tour de force, well worth revisiting.

Evans did not however content himself with describing and drawing material objects. Instead, he turned to evoking the world of ordinaryUlster “folk” by putting these same objects in a museum.

The project of establishing a folk museum had been mooted ever since the time of Bigger. Indeed, there had been a primitive folk museum in the Bigger-inspired toy-workshop in Ballycastle (McBrinn 2002, 45). Two world wars had disrupted the project. In 1953, however, Evans helped form the Committee on Ulster Folklife and Traditions, later to become the Ulster Folklife Society. Ronald Buchanan became editor of their new journal, Ulster Folklife, and in 1958, this Folklife Committee brought the Ulster Folk Museum[1] into existence (by Act of Parliament) under the directorship of George Thompson.

Thompson was (still is) a remarkable man. He had a feel for the lives of ordinary people and was a serious student of folklife, having done postgraduate work under Evans himself (Thompson 1958a, 1958b, 1982; Gailey et al 1964). He is remembered primarily for his qualities of leadership for it was largely due to his vision and quiet charisma that the Folk Museum flourished.

Alan Gailey, Keeper of Buildings and Thompson’s successor as Director, was most immediately responsible for the discovery, research, dismantling and reassembling in the Folk Museum of vernacular buildings. Gailey also produced an outstanding body of writings. With one major exception and several small ones (1968, 1973b), this scholarship has been concerned with material culture. For example, he wrote about the spade (1970, 1982a); rope-twisters (1962b); furniture (1966); bonfires (1977); and harvest (1972a, 1973a, 1984a). Most extensively, he wrote about buildings (1961, 1962a, 1963, 1964, 1972b, 1974a, 1974b, 1984b; Gailey et al 1964). The major exception is a long association with the mummer’s play (Gailey 1967, 1974c, 1975, 1979, 2005). His Irish folk drama (1969) remains the cornerstone of research into Irish mumming.

The strength of Gailey’s scholarship, like that of Evans himself, lies in its use of the careful recording and locating of data to build a rounded picture of traditional Ulster. Gailey retained Evans’s interest in survivals and diffusion, but he often expressed an affinity with theAnnales school of French historiography, which he felt to be a bridge between his own form of ethnology and other emerging schools (Gailey 1990, 8). The sophistication of his methodology is found, for example, in his most recent article (2005) which uses a literary analysis to explore the genuine conundrum of the origin and development of the mumming play.

Evans had provided ethnologists in Ulster with a methodology and an example which allowed them to conjure an entire way of life out of the detailed study particularly of material objects. It was not surprising that those associated with the Ulster Folk Museum should continue to follow him even when they had ceased to accept his theoretical premises (see, for example, Carragher 1985, 1995, 1997; McManus 1984). Two of Evans’s pupils, Ronald Buchanan and Desmond McCourt, maintained an especially close contact with the Museum. Buchanan published widely on different aspect of folklife (1955, 1956, 1957, 1962, 1963), and McCourt – who succeeded Buchanan as editor of Ulster Folklife – provided a stream of articles particularly on vernacular housing and field patterns (1955, 1956, 1962, 1965, 1970; Evans and McCourt 1968, 1971). A similar approach to building was later adopted by Philip Robinson, (1976, 1977, 1979, 1982, 1985, 1986b, 1991) who assisted and then replaced Gailey as Keeper of Buildings and whose work was influenced by his earlier research into the Ulster Plantation (1984).


Paradigm change: Rosemary Harris

Before 1970, a major problem with Ulster ethnology was that – with its emphasis on objects and crafts – it had somehow sidestepped a central feature of Northern Irish life, its sectarianism. There had been exceptions. An early article by Mogey (1948) discusses the sectarian divide but without thinking it at all problematical or odd. Buchanan, who never accepted Evans’s survivalism (1955), suggested thatUlster’s sectarianism was down to the failure of Protestants and Catholics to intermarry (1956). This idea is an insight still battling to be understood. Again, the Ulster Folk Museum too – far ahead of its time – was quietly aware it might help overcome social division. In 1965, Evans himself wrote of the Museum, “Here at least, in the effort to record, preserve, and study traditional Ulster ways and values a divided community appears to find common ground” (1965, 355). His sentiments were to be repeated by Thompson and his colleagues informally throughout the following decades (see Cashman 2001, 2006; Evans 1984). Despite these examples, until the 1970s, the quite substantial body of ethnological literature rarely mentioned, let alone studied Ulster’s oh-so-important ethnic division. Then, suddenly, this elephant-in-the-living-room became hyperactive, requiring that ideas already current in British, European and American ethnology be applied to Ulster.

Brontislaw Malinowski, founder of British social anthropology, had disputed the twin Darwinian notions of diffusionism and survivalism as long ago as the 1920s. It was not possible, he claimed, in the faraway societies where anthropologists worked, to reconstruct the past from objects and customs found in the present. Better to see these items as contributing to the functioning of society and therefore the satisfaction of human needs in the here and now.

By the 1950s, Malinowski’s “structural functionalism” was itself under fire. A number of overlapping and competing ideas – semiotics, structuralism, phenomenology, existentialism, Marxism and others – dramatically led ethnology away from both diffusionism/survivalism and structural-functionalism. Collingwood invited historians to put themselves into the minds of historical actors: to relive what Caesarthought as he crossed the Rubicon (1946, 213-217). Merton (1949) so clarified the concepts of functional sociology that people came to question whether “society” could ever be a functioning whole. Lévi-Strauss (1958, 4ff) doubted that objects or customs belonged to “types” or “species”. Wittgenstein (1958) came to believe that words had meanings only when they were used in particular “language games”. Berger and Luckmann (1967) showed that people lived according to “socially constructed” beliefs. Kuhn (1962) thought natural science itself operated only through socially constructed paradigms. There was a shift, therefore, towards the idea that “social reality” was composed of the subjective meanings that arose in social situations.

The book that transformed Ulster’s ethnology was Prejudice and tolerance in Ulster by Rosemary Harris (1972), a former associate of Buchanan and pupil of Evans. This book did not show merely what the newspapers (and frequent explosions rattling one’s windows) were now making plain, that Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland often had differing political ambitions. Nor did Harris just try to show they had different “cultures”. Rather she showed that relations between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland were subtle and complicated.

The population of the area around “Ballybeg”, she claimed, participated in two opposed ways of life. One was perceived as “Catholic”, but was in reality associated with the poorer farms in the hills. The other was perceived as “Protestant” but was more properly associated with the more prosperous lowlands. Despite these perceptions, Catholics and Protestants lived both in the hills and in the valley. Catholics in the valley lived like “Protestants”; and Protestants in the hills lived like “Catholics”. In each area, sectarian divisions and prejudices coexisted with a sense of shared community.

Harris had transformed Ulster’s ethnology by relating Ulster’s sectarian divide to social geography. She differed, however, from Evans in one important respect. She entirely explained the present in terms of the present. There was virtually no reference to the past.

Harris’s study led immediately to similar work. Leyton described a different but similar pattern in the Mourne Mountains (1975a, 1975b). Here too, sectarian tension coexisted with a shared sense of community. McFarlane’s remarkable but never-published study of gossip (1978) further demonstrated the importance of observing face-to-face social interactions. In Buckley’s “Upper Tullagh” (1982), Catholics and Protestants took care to remain on friendly terms. Here, however, stereotypes of Protestant and Catholic did not come from geographical residence. Rather the population drew on stereotypes of other relationships such as female / male; parent / child; employer / employee; rich / poor. Later, a sophisticated historical study by Akenson (1991) cemented the idea that sectarian stereotypes depended radically on local conditions.

These writers seemed partially to have rescued Ulster’s communitarian ideals out of the wreckage of the Troubles. Donnan and McFarlane (1986), even worried they had gone too far. In practice, however, ethnology in Ulster was becoming deeply sombre. The rural idyll so often portrayed in earlier ethnology was crumbling.


Old wine, new bottles

Soon there were community studies based in urban settings. Ethnologists also returned to older topics, to seasonal customs, cures, folktales and the mummer’s play. They used, however, newer, relativistic methodologies and concentrated on interpersonal interaction, on subjective meanings and, above all, on the Troubles.

Urban studies revealed a Northern Ireland where sectarian aggression mingled with poverty (for example, Burton 1978; Jenkins 1982, 1983; Howe 1990)[2]. Few ethnologists after 1972 avoided making explicit or implicit political commentaries on the Troubles. Several studies got close to the brutality (Feldman 1991; Sluka 1989, 1999) or to the pathos (Santino 2001) of Northern Ireland life. Darby (1995), looking back to Simmel (1915), claimed that conflict – or at least ambivalence[3] – was at the heart of all human relationships.

It is typical of the new mood that studies of the well-established folklife topic of seasonal customs should now embrace sectarianism. The careful description that characterises Buchanan’s still unsurpassed study of seasonal customs in Ulster (1962, 1963) gave way to studies by Robinson (1994) and Santino (1998a, 1998b) which explored the meanings these festivals might have in a time of conflict.

So too with the Twelfth of July. Gailey was the first professional ethnologist to look at events surrounding the Twelfth. His exemplary study of bonfires (1977) explains that most bonfires were (some still are) held on the night before certain quarter days, before the feast of St Peter and St Paul, and before the First and the Twelfth of July, as well as for other less regular purposes. Later studies that deal with the Twelfth shift their emphasis away from a careful interest in location, or indeed in the breadth of the tradition. Instead, they focus on the meaning of these events in relation to social conflict.

Jarman’s studies of parades and visual displays (1997, 1998), for example, are heavy with the politics of defining urban spaces. Jarman and Bryan have written extensively on parades seeing them as “a ritual expression of the ethnic differences which exist in Northern Ireland” (Bryan and Jarman 1997, 212). Several of their studies have included an orientation towards identifying appropriate public policies in relation to parades and symbolic displays (Bryan 1996, 2000; Bryan and Jarman 1996, 1999; Bryan et al 1995; Bryan and Gillespie 2005; Jarman 1978, 2002a; see also Donnan and McFarlane, 1989). Indeed, one can fairly say that this work has made a major contribution to the resolution of these specific conflicts and to the Northern Ireland peace process generally.

There have been comparable studies with different perspectives. Buckley (1985-86) seeks to unpick the meaning of the Bible stories depicted on the banners of the Royal Black Institution. Bryan (1998) looks at the Twelfth through the eyes of journalists who find difficulty representing the dissonant coexistence of family festival and social disorder all in the same article, or even on the same page. Buckley and Kenney’s description of riots (1995, 153-172) discovers a similar ambiguity, where family festival and violence, hymn-singing and bottle-throwing, fighting and fun all incongruously collide. Their book, Negotiating Identity (1995; see also Buckley 1998) more generally examines the processes involved in constructing identity in a variety of situations.

There have been several studies of banner paintings, some of which have emphasised the systematic similarities and differences between nationalist and Orange artistic traditions. Such studies often compare sectarian art with that found among such organisations such as the Freemasons and the trade unions (Loftus 1978, 1990, 1994; Jarman 1999). Buckley has taken this idea further, looking at the more general tradition of forming brotherhoods (Buckley, 1987; Anderson and Buckley 1988; Buckley 2000, 2007; see also Robinson 1986; Kilpatrick 1996).

Leaving aside the Troubles, one feature of the new ethnology has been the blurring of distinctions between disciplines. Bell’s agricultural studies exemplify this change. His doctoral dissertation (1982) explicitly abandons the rigid distinction between history and anthropology (see also Bryan and Tonkin 1996). Bell’s publications draw on his training as an anthropologist, while he writes, nevertheless, as an historian (1979, 1983, 1985, 1992, 2005, Bell and Watson 1986). Bell weaves into his historical narratives notions of “tradition” that were central to Evans’s ethnology. Above all, his studies of material culture are at one with his understanding of the social setting where objects are created and used.

Another agricultural specialist, Watson (1979, 1980, 1982, 1988, 2000, 2003) became particularly interested in agricultural techniques, in spades and swing ploughs, flachters, pigs and ponies. Here too, an ethnological approach merges with a concern with historical process.

Contextualization also became important to folk-musicology and this increasingly meant a concern with politics. Shields’s considerable and valuable collection of traditional ballads (H Shields 1964, 1971, 1974, 1981a, 1981b 1987; H and L Shields 1975) is firmly in the spirit of Edward Bunting, and it is entirely proper that traditional music of different kinds should be recorded and published. Feldman and Doherty (1979), however, not only give extensive transcriptions of fiddle music found in Tyrone and Donegal, they also give a full account of the circumstances in which the music was played. Prosser (née Scullion) approaches fiddle music in the manner of a genuine ethnomusicologist (Scullion 1980) trying to discern the musicians’ perceptions of their music. Her account of the Lambeg drum (Scullion 1981), and even more her description of a soloist singing “The Craigywarren Heroes” to accompany an Orange ritual (Prosser 1982-5) introduces the reader to a very special, unfamiliar and intimate world.

Religion proper, long a topic for Irish historians, has received remarkably little attention from ethnologists. The studies that do exist concentrate on anti-Catholic forms of Protestantism. The most prolific writer, Bruce, is centrally a sociologist of religion (with research interests beyond Ulster), who has explored Paisleyism and political loyalism (Bruce 1986, 1992a, 1992b, 2007; Bruce et al 1986). Brewer and Higgins (1998; see also Buckley 1989) have explored the relation between Protestant theology and conflict. Buckley and Kenney (1995, 111-138) examined Pentecostalism, with an emphasis on conversion and religious experience. Buckley (1980) has also looked at the mostly religious practices he calls “unofficial healing”.

Similar developments have taken place in the study of narrative. Glassie, who is not above making mere collections (1982b), more seriously grounds his discussion of folktales and historical narrative (1982a, 2006) in the relationship between story, storyteller and community. Jenkins (1977) sternly links fairy-belief to rural aggression and deviance. Ballard’s (née Smith) work in folk-narrative is more literary, concerned with the nature of narrative. For example, she notes the strange identification of fairy belief with the Danes (Smith 1979); the way notions of authenticity often frame the Irish folktale (Ballard 1980) and, in an interesting discussion of seal stories, the quasi-totemic relationship between animal and community in Rathlin (Ballard 1983)[4].

There have been developments in the study of the mummer’s play. I mentioned that Gailey provided the ground on which all subsequent studies of the Irish mummer’s play have rested (1967, 1969, 1974c 1975, 1979, 2005). His work primarily examines texts and locates them in time and space with a view to tracing their history. In contrast, Glassie’s studies of mumming (1976, 2007) are more humanistic (even sentimental) paying attention less to the texts themselves than to their social context. Revisiting the topic he (2007) and also Cashman (2000, 2007) show how this drama has had a subtle and complex role in healing torn relationships between Catholic and Protestant.

Occasionally (in the circumstances, remarkably rarely), ethnology has become controversial. This happened with language. There had been research into Ulster dialect forms of English from the 1960s, largely through the work of Brendan Adams, Braidwood and Gregg ((eds) Barry et al 1982; (eds) Adams et al 1964; Braidwood 1965, 1966, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1978; Montgomery et al (eds) 2006 139-267).There arose, however, a claim that the “Ulster Scots” speech found in north-west and north-east Ulster was a separate “minority language”. Some commentators construed this claim as a politically motivated attempt to counter the Irish language espoused by nationalists, as a move in what Harrison has called “symbolic conflict”[5]. One can gain a flavour of this debate by looking at the two editions of Ulster Folklife (Vols 44 and 45) largely devoted to it.


Concluding remarks

Studies of such a small population have been remarkably many and rich, fuelled, as was inevitable, by the ferocious conflict that broke out in the late 1960s. That conflict precipitated a major paradigm-change among Ulster’s ethnologists. The best of these later writers now rise above Collingwood’s “externals” to discover “the ideas, perceptions, values, beliefs and assumptions which are the basis of peoples’ lifestyles and practices” (Donnan and McFarlane 1989, 3).

I have taken care, however, not to suggest that earlier generations of Ulster ethnologists were mistaken while the later ones were correct. Since the 1970s, there has grown a heightened awareness that people continually transform ideas, objects and practices so they have different meanings in different contexts. Nevertheless, empirical inquiry still remains central to ethnology. It is still useful to suppose that ideas and practices survive and get diffused from place to place, and that certain features of social life sustain a social group while others do not. Even in this article, I have spoken of ethnological “traditions”: I am aware that many of my own views have “survived” from the days of Malinowski, or were “diffused” from France and America. And if ethnologists no longer portray rural idylls, they have shown that community is still a feature of human life even in the worst of circumstances. There is, therefore, a dialectical process, according to which each generation rejects old ideas only to rediscover these same ideas in due course. The work of the Dublin folklorists and of Evans and his successors remain impressive. Even Newton knew he stood on the shoulders of giants. We should remember that we do too.



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[1] Later the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, subsequently subsumed into Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland.

[2] The essays contained in Irish urban cultures (Curtin et al 1993) are unusual in that they mostly discuss the non-violent aspects of Ulster towns using the methodologies of urban anthropology.

[3] The word is not Simmel’s but actually Freud’s (1915) and it is remarkable that these two men should publish such similar ideas in the same year.

[4] Ballard has also worked on extensively on textiles (1988, 1989, 1992, 1994) and marriage (1998).

[5] In one of the most interesting publications to arise indirectly out of the Troubles, Harrison (1995) shows how social groups fight by creating new culture; by overwhelming or stealing the culture of their opponents, or by claiming that their own culture has the higher value.