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Storytelling on the Northern Irish Border

Characters and Community

Ray Cashman

Publication Year: 2011

More than quaint local color, folklore is a crucial part of life in Aghyaran, a mixed Catholic-Protestant border community in Northern Ireland. Neighbors socialize during wakes and ceilis—informal nighttime gatherings—without regard to religious, ethnic, or political affiliation. The witty, sometimes raucous stories swapped on these occasions offer a window into Aghyaran residents' views of self and other in the wake of decades of violent conflict. Through anecdotes about local characters, participants explore the nature of community and identity in ways that transcend Catholic or Protestant sectarian histories. Ray Cashman analyzes local character anecdotes in detail and argues that while politicians may take credit for the peace process in Northern Ireland, no political progress would be possible without ordinary people using shared resources of storytelling and socializing to imagine and maintain community.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Front Matter

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Preface: The Road to Ballymongan

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pp. ix-xxiii

As a folklorist I consider the stories that people tell each other to be eloquent of culture, a window into the shared beliefs, values, and worldview of a given group. Moreover, oral...

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pp. xxv-xxix

Thanks go first and foremost to the people of Aghyaran for their remarkable hospitality and neighborliness. I owe the greatest debt and offer my most sincere gratitude to the people I name in the chapters that follow. There are, however, many people who are not mentioned, or are...

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1 Goals and Orientations

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pp. 1-31

This book examines how local social life and culture are both represented and enacted through storytelling in one Northern Irish community, Aghyaran. Extending language philosopher J. L. Austin’s memorable formulation that people “do things with words” (1997 [1962]), we can also say...

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2 Aghyaran: A Sense of Place and History

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pp. 32-51

Storytelling in Aghyaran is always informed by and in many ways a response to a changing social, historical, economic, and cultural environment. Understanding the contents of but also the motivations for these stories requires appreciating a certain amount of prior context. In order to...

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3 Ceilis as Storytelling Contexts

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pp. 52-70

In Aghyaran, people are more likely to tell stories in certain situational contexts, but even in those contexts stories are not usually planned for, much less scripted, in the way that homilies are at masses. Given the right occasion, conditions, and moods of individuals present, storytelling is the...

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4 Wakes as Storytelling Contexts

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pp. 71-93

One Saturday morning, about three months after settling in Ballymongan, I woke a bit late and groggy having been to a music session at Eugene O’Donnell’s house the night before. I wandered outside to appreciate some rare sunshine and was greeted with a flat tire. Resigned, I crouched down...

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5 Local Character Anecdotes

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pp. 94-106

Storytelling at wakes, ceilis, and other social occasions has directed our attention repeatedly to a particular genre: anecdotes about neighbors and local characters, sometimes living but more often dead. Given the centrality of local character anecdotes to our investigation, we should...

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6 The Wider Range of Storytelling Genres

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pp. 107-149

The ubiquity of the local character anecdote suggests its centrality, and yet the anecdote significantly overlaps with jokes, tall tales, personal experience narratives, and legends to the point that the anecdote has the potential to lose its autonomy in the “crowd of neighboring genres” (Stahl...

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7 Anecdotes and the Literary Character

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pp. 150-169

If Aghyaran anecdotes are uniquely suited for contemplating the characters of those people depicted in them, then we need to know more about the issue of character. Of course, the term “character” has several meanings. “Character” may have an evaluative connotation when defined as a...

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8 Anecdotes and the Local Character

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pp. 170-203

To say, as has often been said, that “John McHugh was a great character” reveals something about what a character is in local rather than literary terms. If one man is considered a character then others are not. In emic terms, “characters” are not the narrative representations of all...

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9 Anecdote Cycles and Personality Traits

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pp. 204-222

When engaged in conversational storytelling about local characters, people’s memory for anecdotes works in at least two ways. If the topic happens to be Willie Laughlin, people may remember and make bids to tell every relevant anecdote involving him. The individual becomes the centripetal...

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10 Patterns and Implications

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pp. 223-232

Franz Boas—pioneer of anthropology and folklore studies in the United States—declared that studying the creations of a group of people, particularly folklore, is paramount because this practice “has the merit of bringing out those points which are of interest to the people themselves”...

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11 Storytelling, Commemoration, and Identity

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pp. 233-256

Whether told at wakes, at ceilis, or in other contexts, local character anecdotes are narrative orderings of past events. Given that a primary performance context for telling local character anecdotes is occasioned by death, the memorial impulse of the wake begs stories that remember the...


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pp. 257-266


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pp. 267-275


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pp. 277-283

E-ISBN-13: 9780253005687
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253352521

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2011