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Reviewed by:
  • Irish Ethnologies ed. by Diarmuid Ó Giolláin
  • Elizabeth M. Gilbert
Irish Ethnologies. Ed. Diarmuid Ó Giolláin. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017. Pp vii + 238, preface, introduction, list of contributors, index.)

Originally published in French, Irish Ethnologies is a compilation of articles covering the historical scope of ethnology in Ireland. This trove of Irish voices explores the emergence of folklore studies in Ireland, as well as the contentious categorization of both the discipline and Irish folklore itself. Diarmuid Ó Giolláin, author of Locating Irish Folklore: Tradition, Modernity, Identity (Cork University Press, 2000), a critical resource in the study of Irish folklore today, is effective in the role of editor.

Ó Giolláin tells us in the introduction that "Irish unity was never a political fact" (p. 2), and this anthology makes the case that unity in Irish ethnology has perhaps never been a fact either. The role of folklore in establishing and maintaining Irish identity and the struggles that inevitably ensue over "authentic" identity are clear threads running throughout the chapters. The role of folklore in Irish cultural nationalism has taken many forms, and this anthology offers the reader a sample of not only this historical trajectory, but also the ways in which it has differed across the island for both scholars and subjects.

In chapter 1, Hastings Donnan outlines the relationship between folkloristics and anthropology in Ireland, particularly how "Ireland has been 'placed' and 're-placed' as a site for ethnographic study" (p. 21). He explores this relationship through the lens of "multilocality" (p. 32) and the struggle of both academics and their informants to place Irish folklore between modernity and traditionality. Those familiar with Ó Giolláin's work, and even Donnan's earlier work in The Anthropology of Ireland (Blooms-bury, 2006), will be pleased with this first essay, which feels like both a tribute and a sequel to those earlier studies. Donnan now looks to anthropology to "engage the challenge of understanding social and cultural relationships that are not 'localized' in a geographical sense" (p. 31).

In chapter 2, Anne Byrne investigates correspondence records between anthropologists Conrad Arensberg and Solon Kimball. She consults letters containing research observations shared between these scholars, as well as correspondence between researchers and their subjects that Arsenberg and Kimball intended as primary sources of ethnographic data. She asks what these letters can tell us, "the unintended audience," about the minds of these "unseasoned young American anthropologists" (p. 38). She proposes a narrative approach to analyzing the letters, allowing her to highlight their "functional, contextual, and performative aspects" (p. 44). [End Page 239] In the end, Byrne concludes that the letters serve utilitarian and political functions as well as offering a unique method for ethnographic research.

In chapter 3, Pauline Garvey and Adam Drazin explore the history of ethnographic collections and the effect of their materiality on expressions of Irish heritage and identity. It is a fascinating chapter as Garvey and Drazin attempt to tell the history of museums and material objects, even as they explain how these spaces resist such a practice. The authors point out that just as there came to be a "renationalization" (p. 71) of ideas and intangible expressions of heritage, so, too, were ethnographic artifacts claimed and reclaimed according to political and cultural purposes. This has proved to be a point of contention historically, but it has also, as the authors note, provided an opportunity. The act of displaying material objects inherently elevates particular histories and identities, and it is the contentiousness of these narratives that provides the grounds for debate not only around whose narrative is told, but whether any have the right to be told at all.

Gearóid Ó Crualaoich, in chapter 4, traces the history of folklore and ethnology in Ireland through the lens of Lauri Honko's work on the "first . . . and second [lives] of folklore" (p. 75). Like other authors in this collection, Ó Crualaoich highlights that folklore has increasingly involved "a concern with process in the representation of shared identity in aesthetic" (p. 82), complicating the model of differentiation between the disciplines of folklore and anthropology. He uses the example of his own urban fieldwork as a means of...


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