By any measure local studies of all kinds are booming in Ireland. A great diversity of themes is now under scrutiny from a regional or more local perspective. Within local studies the most vibrant activity is probably the practice of local history. An explosion of local history societies, local journals and magazines all testify to the health of local history in the parishes and counties of Ireland. The Federation for Ulster Local Studies in Ulster and the Federation of Local History Societies in the rest of the island are both evidence of the desire of local societies to come together and share common concerns about the problem of doing local history in an Irish context. In the past the main difficulty for the beginner in local history was 'how to find out' about a particular local topic or place. As studies have multiplied and guides to sources have become available, finding information about a locality has become rather less of a hurdle than it used to be, although we have a great deal to learn, especially about the effective use of non-documentary sources such as folklore, architecture and visual material.

The greater case with which appropriate sources can now be identified, together with their relative accessibility in archives and libraries, has inevitably given rise to other challenges for the local historian in Ireland. It is now possible to accumulate a large volume of information about individual areas within Ireland. Even for small units, such as the townland, the amount which can he discovered by an intensive trawl through the surviving evidence is staggering. We now need to turn our minds to the problem of how this material can be meaningfully interpreted and attractively presented to those who read local history. We need to remember those actively working as local historians who want to compare the experience of differing parts of the country as well as those who are simply interested in a particular locality. To reproduce the raw data may be interesting to a few, but to most it appears boring at best and at worst it seems entirely irrelevant.

This volume of essays offers some suggestions as to how local history in Ireland might be 'done' so as to make it more appealing and interesting to both the reader and the practitioner. It is not a manual. It does not supply a model to be followed nor does it pretend to answer all the questions. Rather it is an attempt to ask some pertinent questions about Irish local history and the best way to approach it. This is done by considering two dimensions of local historical study. The first we have termed 'the pursuit of Irish local history'. This section reviews the subject matter of Irish local history and suggests avenues of enquiry that might profitably he pursued in an attempt to answer some of those questions. In particular, the essays in the first section try to explore the sort of questions we can now ask of our sources, questions which do not necessarily lead to a replication of the studies of parishes, counties, schools and businesses that have often been done in the past. Four essays, each written from the perspective of a different discipline or approach to local history, try to look at the subject from different angles.From the perspective of an historian, Raymond Gillespie's essay points out that the usual preoccupation of local history of the study of particular places does not allow us to understand the local experience in the past as fully as we should be able to. It is only when we realise that the sense of place was created by the people who lived in that place that we can begin to fully appreciate the nature of the local past. Local history is not then about a place but about the people who lived in that place over past time. This insight enables us to link together the many regions of Ireland and the national experience through the eyes of those people living in a place who moved between differing worlds or 'communities of interest'. Such an understanding helps us to ask a new series of questions about our evidence for the local past, concentrating not just on the place but on the attitudes and values of the people who lived in it. The following essays explore the local past from two rather different perspectives. R J. Duffy explores the understanding of places as created by people by considering the humanised landscape of the locality from a geographer's point of view. The result is a geographical framework for local studies which is considerably more complex than that which local historians have normally used in their studies. The physical landscape with its building types, road networks and farms, combined with the mental landscape created by placenames and customs, become one method of understanding how people in the past lived out their daily lives in local places. Moreover, since these landscapes are not static they provide another means of measuring the responses of groups of people and individuals to the changes in the world around them.

Another way of thinking about how we do local history is to consider previously neglected kinds of sources and thereby develop new approaches to the subject. Linda May Ballard argues for the importance of folklore on a variety of levels as a method of approaching the past. Oral traditions not only provide information about aspects of life which in other circumstances can be difficult to find material on, it is also the case that in using the folk tales people remembered and retold as a source, we begin to understand a great deal more about the cultural climate of the past. Stories about fairies and ghosts are ways of understanding the reality of the supernatural world which was much more real to those in the past than to many people today. A similar point of departure, that of fictional works, enables Myrtle Hill to show the importance of literature in understanding the histories of localities. Sometimes these are established works of the literary canon, such as those by Anthony Trollope and William Carleton, but more ephemeral works are important also in conveying a sense of the past. However, none of these approaches to the past stands alone. The sources discussed by Ballard and Hill may appear different to those which Duffy and Gillespie deal with but, in fact, they are complementary to each other, the difference being one of perspective rather than of substance. The message contained in folklore, for instance, can only be understood when it has been compared with the documentary sources. Thus by considering the real diversity in the range of sources available, we can begin to understand something of the complexity of the study of local history. There is scope and need for a variety of approaches to the available evidence, just as there is scope and need to combine a wide range of sources so that we can reveal not just the physical worlds of localities in past time, but also come to understand the mental worlds of the people who inhabited those localities through time. As local historians we need to prepare ourselves to ask new questions of all the available sources, both those well-known, well-used documents and those lesser-used materials whose importance is only now being realised.

The second part of this book approaches the same problem of how we do local history in Ireland in a slightly different way. This we have entitled 'the practice of Irish local history', for it is more concerned with the practicalities of writing local history. Two essays, those by W H. Crawford and Leslie Clarkson, offer some practical advice about how to do local history, ranging from setting the task to locating the sources and finally to presenting the findings. Leslie Clarkson explores a town, eighteenth-century Armagh, by taking a series of approaches to the evidence which he has used in writing about that town in the past. First, there is the possibility of simply counting the differing types of inhabitants of the town; second, there is the possibility of trying to set those people in a social context, that of the community. It is also possible to approach that community, not in aggregate, but through the eyes of one family, and the example used here is the Custs. An exploration of the world of Annaritta Cust leads us into a more complex world of her relations and their associated families. All these are possible ways of doing local history. W H. Crawford, on the other hand, provides a way into the rural world through the history of one of its most fundamental units, the townland. Using the valuation of Ireland made by Richard Griffith in the middle of the nineteenth century as a base line, we can explore a series of themes of fundamental importance to the evolution of rural society. The study of the organisation of estates and the creation of farms, changes in farming practices, housing, communications and marketing are all important methods of examining local societies in the past. While Grawford's essay uses Ulster examples, the same themes are central to the exploration of the local past in every part of the island of Ireland, and similar sources exist for use in that exploration.

In the final two essays of this section, Nick Brannon and John Lynch address two rather more specialised problems in the practice of local history, one concerned with sources and the other with methods. Local historians are well acquainted with archaeological field monuments, but the built heritage in the wider sense is often overlooked. Yet the built heritage provides one of the key pieces of evidence for reconstructing the past, as P. J. Duffy's essay in the first part of this volume suggests. Lack of information about how to find sources to research this heritage has proved an obstacle in the past, but Nick Brannon here provides a guide to the work of the Environment and Heritage Service which maintains a record of such matters. Finally, John Lynch demonstrates why local historians in the practice of local history must not he myopic in their studies. If local history is to be both interesting and meaningful, those who practice it must set their own studies in context. Those who write local history must ask the question why regions have their own characteristics, and then should describe these particular characteristics by comparison with those of other regions. These four essays provide new insights on the practice of local history by advocating new ways of approaching problem issues, suggesting various alternatives in writing up the results of research, and prompting consideration of sources which perhaps we have not thought about, or could not find, before.

This volume is not about prescribing a new programme for local studies. It is rather a response by a number of people from various backgrounds, interested in and working in the area of local history, to what they perceive as the challenges presented in the study of local history today. It is not the intention to provide ready answers to the problem of how to do local history in Ireland but rather to provoke all practitioners of that subject into asking some more searching questions about what they are doing and how they might do it better.


Raymond Gillespie

To judge from the growing number of Irish local history societies and the recent explosion in the volume of local historical publications, there are more people in Ireland today 'doing local history' than ever before. It might be worth stopping to ask what are we doing? Even a brief survey of the results of this activity would produce a bewildering variety of answers. Not surprisingly, histories of families abound but there are a myriad of other topics also being tackled: local studies of place-names, folklore and topography are all in a healthy state. If it is difficult to generalise about what is being done, might it be more helpful to ask how it is being done? The answers again seem obvious. More people than ever before are visiting local libraries to consult older local studies and are making their way to the record offices to search for primary sources relevant to their own area. Part of the reason why this task is so popular is that it now much easier to locate primary sources than it was ten years ago. Several helpful guides to assist in the quest have been published, many prompted by the growth of interest in genealogy, and most of the courses available in local history spend a good deal of time tackling the problem of locating sources. 1

There is no doubt that sources are of the first importance in the study of local history. The strength of many of the great nineteenth-century local studies, such as Carrigan's history of the diocese of Ossory, Burke's history of Clonmel or Reeves on the diocese of Down and Connor, was their encyclopaedic knowledge of the source material for their own area.' It is perhaps a measure of the greatness of these works, and the continuing demand for them, that they managed to combine a mastery of the evidence with the ability to make the subject matter interesting to those outside the area being studied. This is an aspiration which few of us lesser mortals can hope to achieve. For many of us the temptation when constructing the history of a locality is to rely overly much on the sources without much in the way of interpretation or explanation. Lists of nineteenth-century local residents from Griffith's valuation or names from attendance registers of the local national school at the beginning of the twentieth century, printed as part of a modern local study, more often than not fail to catch the imagination of any but the most parochial reader. Sources do not speak for themselves. They have to be enticed to give up their secrets. As the great French rural historian Marc Bloch once expressed it, sources are like witnesses at a trial; the cross- examination by the historian must contain the right questions to make them yield up what they know.3 Asking questions then must be a large part of the 'how' of local history. It is the key to the proper use of the 'historical imagination' which should bring the past to life and make local studies of relevance beyond the boundaries of the townland, parish, town or county which is their primary focus.


To pose questions on what local historians should do and how they might do it raises a myriad of issues which local historians in Ireland have not yet begun to consider. For most practitioners of local history their subject almost seems to define itself - the study of a small place, or locality, in the past. In their eyes it is the scale of the study which differentiates their work from that of 'national' historians. In this way of thinking the fundamental questions which local historians must ask of their sources are about place. Of course the immediate cry which this approach prompts is 'which place?' Here there is no agreement. County, diocese and parish are all, of course, newcomers to the world of local history for before their discovery local history was being written in medieval Ireland in a different way in the form of genealogies, annals and local chronicles. In the native Irish tradition it was the lordship which provided the inspiration for questions about place. This tradition survived into the early eighteenth century in texts such as the 'Genealogical history of the O'Reillys' and Roderic O'Flaherty's description of hIar Connacht and has been more recently rediscovered by some local societies such as Cumann Seanchas Breifne and Teathbha. The county, an area much beloved by many Irish local historians, has only been used by them for a relatively brief period of time. The county in most of Ireland is a creation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and hence only began to be used by historians as a unit of study towards the end of the seventeenth century. As the new settlers tried to explore the world in which they had settled, they produced county descriptions with substantial historical components. First, in the 1680s, William Molyneux collected county descriptions for the abortive atlas planned by London publisher Moses Pitt.4 An even more ambitious scheme was embarked on in the 1740s for the Physico-Historical Society under whose auspices histories and descriptions of counties Down, Cork, Waterford and Kerry were produced by Waiter Harris and Charles Smith.5

By the end of the eighteenth century the Royal Dublin Society was at work producing its Statistical Surveys. All these works drew on English traditions of local history-writing stretching back to the sixteenth century. The philosophy which inspired them was tied to the expansion of central authority into the regions (hence the interest in powerful local families) and a growing interest in local antiquities. It was this tradition also which heavily influenced the writing of Irish local history in the nineteenth century. E. P. Shirley's 1879 history of Monaghan was written by a man educated at Eton and Oxford and with estates both at Lough Fea and in Warwickshire. It is hardly surprising that it was dedicated to 'the nobles and gentlemen of Monaghan'.6

As local history societies sprang up in the late nineteenth century it was usually under the patronage of a powerful local landlord. One of the oldest of these societies, which many others imitated, was the Kildare Archaeological Society founded in 1891 under the patronage of the duke of Leinster and his brother the redoubtable Lord Waiter Fitzgerald. The influential position of the county as a unit of study in Irish local history in the past should not blind us to alternative ways of writing local history. In the nineteenth century a better-educated Catholic clergy (due mainly to the establishment of St Patrick's College, Maynooth in 1795) turned its hands to writing local history. Instead of a county focus they looked to the diocese and parish as units of study. As the Catholic church grew in confidence in the course of the nineteenth century it needed a history which established its credentials in the modern world of rival denominational orthodoxies. Thus many of the diocesan histories of the nineteenth century, such as that for Down and Connor by Monsignor O'Laverty and that for Ossory by Canon Carrigan, are parish-by-parish tours showing how the succession of Catholic parish priests descended from Saint Patrick and how, in effect, theirs was the true church of Ireland.7 As the introduction to Cogan's 1862 history of the diocese of Meath explained, it was written 'for love of religion and country'. In more recent days the effects of Vatican 11 are discernible in the writing of this type of local history. The three volumes on the diocese of Killaloe by the late Monsignor Ignatius Murphy, published in the 1990s, are more concerned with the core of religious life such as worship, prayer and pastoral work than with the organisation of the church or the succession of parish priests.


There is therefore a plethora of different questions which the local historian can ask about 'place' with a consequent confusion in the sort of answers which are obtained. The simple idea of studying places as a way of doing local history is fraught with problems. The result is often a series of unconnected studies, which have little hope of being connected because of the different concepts behind them, and which do little to illuminate the workings of the past. Moreover, if there are few connections to link different local studies together there are even fewer to connect those studies with what is sometimes called 'national history'. It seems we are doomed to live in a compartmentalised world of 'particular places' with no hope of seeing the wood for innumerable trees, saplings and shrubs, each with its own characteristics.

In an attempt to avoid this sort of problem let us think again about the idea of place which seems to be such a defining characteristic of local history in Ireland. Almost as soon as we begin to think about places we fall victim to the creations of both the ecclesiastical and governmental bureaucracies of the nineteenth century. We think of a mesh of townlands, parishes, baronies and counties all delineated with precision on the Ordnance Survey maps of the mid nineteenth century. We are happy to use these boundaries both for the convenience of available maps and the fact that they were also the basis of information-gathering by central government. Thus the population and agricultural statistics fit neatly into a spatial framework. Yet to accept this landscape frozen in time is to lose sight of one of the main tasks of the historian to explain change over time. That neatly drawn administrative landscape was, in some places, of fairly recent creation. Let us take one example to illustrate the point. The townlands which comprise the site of what is now the town of Newport in county Mayo were described in the Books of Survey and Distribution of the 1660s as Ballyveghane, Carrowbane and Knockmagee although there was not yet a town on the site. In a rental of the town and its surroundings in 1744 a new townland of eighty-nine acres appears called Bleachyard. By 1774 two more townlands have appeared in the area, Barrickhill and Weaversquarter. The old names are also there. The changes are fairly simply explained in terms of the history of the estate. In 1700 the property, held by the duke of Ormond, was leased to a Thomas Medlycott who in turn sub-let it to a Mr Pratt who began to build a new town on the site (hence Newport Pratt, the older name of the modern town). By the 1720s part of this strategy of developing the town was to invite Quaker weavers into the region and this led to the beginnings of the linen trade and the creation of bleachyards. The newly created townland name records that the Quakers left in the 1730s but the linen trade thrived and weavers arrived, settling in 'Weavers' Quarter'. Finally, also as part of the development strategy for the town, an army barracks was constructed on Barrickhill.8

The lesson which we should learn from this Mayo example is that the administrative landscape recorded by the Ordnance Survey in the nineteenth century was not immutable. Townlands were created, and others disappeared, over time in response to social, economic and possibly even political changes in the local world. However this was not imposed by some set of impersonal forces. It was done by local inhabitants. The boundaries of such units and their names were remembered as long as they were useful and discarded when they were not. Today the same is true of micro-toponymics. Field names, for instance, have a relatively short life before they become discarded in favour of new names more relevant to changes brought about by changing agricultural practices or the arrival of new owners. Before the rise of estate mapping in the eighteenth century we can see a little of this process at work. Those who wished to know the boundaries of a townland or a parish had to ask the oldest inhabitants. The normal way of doing this was to summon an inquisition and ask the oldest inhabitants of an area about the local topography. Perhaps the most ambitious attempt in this direction was the 1654 Civil Survey which described, parish by parish, how boundaries ran along rivers, from stone to bush and across bogs.9 However the process also operated on a much smaller scale as juries were summoned to resolve disputes on individual estates where it was alleged that one man had trespassed on another's property.10 Why people remembered boundaries is a difficult question to answer. Sometimes particular events fixed boundaries in peoples' minds. The annual riding of the franchises in Dublin, for example, was undertaken to ensure that the boundaries of the city's authority was kept fresh in at least some minds. Tenants also had good cause to remember the bounds of their property to ensure they were not encroached upon. Before the advent of the Ordnance Survey, places and their boundaries were defined and identified not on paper but in peoples' minds. As R J. Duffy's essay reminds us, the landscape was strongly humanised.


What lies behind the questions about place which have so preoccupied local historians is another set of questions even more fundamental: the questions about the people who created those places and lived in them. Of the three organising principles of people, place and time which historians of all kinds use in presenting the past, it is people that should be the main focus of the Irish local historian's efforts. We might therefore see local history as the study of people in a particular place over time. This is at least implicit in H. P. R. Finberg's 1952 formulation of the task of the local historian: 'the business of the local historian then, as I see it, is to re-enact in his own mind and to portray for his readers the origin, growth, decline and fall of a local community .11 If people are to be central to the task of local history then rather than study individuals we are more likely to want to study groups, or communities of individuals. The definition of 'community' has bedevilled local history. This is not a purely academic quibble. Perhaps we might surmount the problem by saying that the people whom local historians wish to study are those living together with something in common.

Two elements of this definition, people and common interests, call for comment here. Irish local histories have never lacked people in their pages but they have always been people of a rather exalted kind. Parish histories have often been dominated by lists of Catholic parish priests or Church of Ireland rectors. Outside the parish history there has often been a tendency to demonstrate the high IQ of a particular region or its political acumen by recording the names of famed sons and daughters who originated in the county, townland or town. Finally there is the record of the famous who have passed through. There are many Irish local histories whose description of the Repeal Movement or the Land War is a newspaper report of a speech given by Daniel O'Connell or Charles Stewart Parnell in their own region. Such approaches tell us little about the experience of all the people in a particular place. Studies which put people at their core must attempt to study all the people from landlord to landless labourer and from priest or minister to atheist. This is an enormous task, hence the importance of utilising common interests as an interpretative tool. We need to find some way of categorising these people into manageable units to study them more clearly. Here we might try to break them up according to the things which they had in common or 'communities of interest'. 12

Let me try to define five 'communities of interest' or things which both drew some people together and also set them apart from others: the estate, social groupings, family, religion and politics. The list could, of course, be extended almost infinitely depending on the needs of the particular local study. The community of the estate was created by the commonality of living on a particular estate. This might be expressed in many ways. Until the middle of the nineteenth century those living on an estate might meet at regular gatherings such as the manorial courts which were often associated with hospitality provided by the landlord. Obligations to grind corn at the manor mill provided another common meeting place. More paternalistic landlords might also organise entertainment for their tenants at Christmas or Easter. Similarly, when labour services were part of the rent tenants were drawn together at harvest time to work on the demesne lands. The importance of the big house as an employer and as a source of charity in times of need should not be forgotten. Such a community was not always a tranquil one. Disputes frequently emerged between tenants and many of these fell to he resolved by the landlord. The result was that each estate quickly acquired its own character, determined by the temperament of the landlord and the balance of power between landlord and tenants.13 The community of the estate was not an undifferentiated one. There was within it a hierarchy of leaseholders, tenants at will, and those who held no land at all. Such a hierarchy was demonstrated in many ways ranging from church seating to manner of dress. Clearly, large farmers who had common interests showed some solidarity with each other. In some parts of the country this was demonstrated in the sharing of labour and resources at times of the agricultural year when a pooling of resources was required. Again some were more exposed to market forces than others and that reality bound the more commercialised together. The family provides a good example of a community of interest that transcended a single geographical region. Webs of kinship linked people from often diverse geographical and social backgrounds. Patterns of migration mean that a 'local' study of one family might extend over a geographically large area and after the nineteenth century might well reach to North America or Canada. Yet these would not have been remote links. The significance of the remittance money from emigrants to the local economy was often considerable.

Two other communities of interest are perhaps more difficult to define precisely. A shared sense of religious belief derived from meeting together on a Sunday morning at various forms of worship was a communal bond. There may have been a geographical framework to those meetings such as the parish in the Church of Ireland or Catholic traditions, but in the case of Methodists or Presbyterians that spatial commonality was much less well pronounced. Such communal bonds might express themselves in all sorts of cultural ways. Different senses of history and even of geography might be characteristic of religious groupings. Thus in the midlands members of one religious denomination might call a settlement Edgeworthstown while another would refer to it by its older name of Mostrim. However, we should avoid being prescriptive here for in 1641 it was the Church of Ireland minister who remembered the Gaelic name for Virginia in county Cavan when the Catholics had forgotten it. Finally, politics shaped communities of interest in localities. This is an aspect usually ignored by local historians who continue to take their understanding of politics from national studies. Yet great national movements such as the Land League or Catholic Emancipation were underpinned by local organisations whose membership and activities were reported in local newspapers.14 Politics also provided an occasion for people to meet together. Indeed local O'Connellite politics were as much underpinned by dinners and toasts as they were by serious discussions of Emancipation or Repeal. This opens up another world of sociability at a local level which was quasi-political in its organisation. Orange lodges, Masonic meetings and Tenants Defence leagues were all places where people of similar outlooks might meet and exchange ideas. Reading societies, or even the communal reading of newspapers so well documented from nineteenth-century Ireland, must have fulfilled similar functions.

It is important to realise that such 'communities of interest' were not static affairs. Individuals moved about a great deal in the past and it is now clear that their horizons were not limited by the townland, parish or even region. Even a cursory glance at a nineteenth-century local newspaper would reveal news not just about the locality but about Ireland, Britain and indeed Europe and America. Thus such 'communities of interest' not only overlapped considerably, they also had links to a wider world, and provided a link between national and local affairs. In the case of the church, each parish in the nineteenth century was not an isolated unit. Catholic priests were trained in Maynooth, the Church of Ireland ministers in Dublin and the clergy of the various dissenting churches in Belfast. These ministers brought to the localities the benefit of their central training and aspects of the shared culture of their fellow trainees. The religious literature, such as the catechism, which affected the lives of those who worshipped in their churches, was centrally disseminated through these local clergy. Again landlords performed a similar role as 'brokers' between the local and national worlds, bringing ideas from Dublin or elsewhere to bear on local problems. The village of Monivea in county Galway, for instance, was transformed in the eighteenth century by the activities of its landlord, Robert French, who implemented ideas he had become familiar with while in Dublin as a member of the Irish parliament. 15

All of this is not to argue that every region in Ireland was identical and passively received ideas from the metropolis. There was clearly enormous variation within the country as a whole. The fact that ideas travelled from Dublin to the localities, and vice versa, does not account for such variation. A crucial factor was the way such ideas were received within local societies. There were profound differences in the way in which brokers might function in a region of large compact estates as compared with a society made up of small scattered ones, between areas of highly differentiated religious allegiances and regions where the denominational balance was more clearly defined. Areas which had different patterns of emigration, either seasonal or more permanent, and other experiences were similarly diverse in their response to external influences. Here Estyn Evans' concept of 'personality' may be helpful in interpreting diversity. 16 Historical experiences and the activities of the various communities of interest in a locality could determine a great deal of its 'personality'. The area where, in the nineteenth century, industrialised, Protestant Ulster met the more agrarian Leinster is a case in point. Here was a region with its own personality which transcended county boundaries, being composed of parts of Down, Monaghan, Armagh and Louth. It differed from all the regions around it. It was one of the last preserves of toryism and the Irish language, and in the eighteenth century had a vibrant tradition of poets. 17 Clearly its reception of the ideas imported by the 'brokers', whether clergy or landlords, would be rather different from that of surrounding areas.



Local history therefore is primarily about people in places over time. It is not simply a set of questions about one place in the past. People create their own places, differing from each other by the configuration of their 'communities of interest'. Elements from a centralised government and church all combined with local needs and requirements to create a distinct 'personality' for a region. With this idea of local history in mind we should ask again how might we 'do local history' in Ireland. Clearly, when we begin any local study the first thing to do is to find the stage on which the actors will appear, that is to find a region to study. This should be something the actors when they appear will recognise, so it must be a 'human' unit. Before the advent of the county newspaper, the GAA, and county-based electoral units in the nineteenth century, few outside the elite probably identified with their county. There were other worlds, two of which are explored by Leslie Clarkson and W H. Crawford in their essays in this volume. River valleys, for example, are probably more important than we might think since they are usually topographically significant and have relatively dense settlement. Similarly, as suggested above, the south Ulster/north Leinster region is one with which its inhabitants have felt an affinity that has been sustained over time.

Many local historical studies assume that the reader is familiar with the place to be written about. This is not always so. A map of the local area is always required. Moreover since the past often has a foreign topography it is important to outline the contours of that world. We need to know how that landscape looked in the past; was it good land or had, were there buildings on it and if so what sort were they and how were they arranged? Here it is important to remember that the landscape is not an unchanging world and landscape change reflects changes in the wider social world. Changes in the landscape, which from the work of W. G. Hoskins and others we now appreciate to be an important piece of evidence, are significant.18 Moreover these changes in the landscape were made by the people who occupied that world. We need to know a great deal more about how landscapes were understood by the people who inhabited them in the past. Maps and travellers' descriptions clearly go some way to providing accounts of how contemporaries understood their world but folklore and place-name studies can be even more revealing. Behind prominent topographic features or archaeological features there are often stories. Sometimes these are religious in content: a holy well originating with the patron saint of the parish striking a rock in a Moses-like gesture to bring forth water or cupmarks from a saint kneeling to pray. One French traveller in the 1640s passing through the Cork area was told that a ruined round tower had been built by St Finbar without lime then it was lopped or half destroyed by the same saint who jumped from top to bottom of it and imprinted the mark of his foot on a flint stone'. It was at this place that women now gathered to pray because it was a holy place.19 In such stories we can see not only order being placed on the landscape. We can also see the invisible world of saints and demons being related to the tangible, and religious belief being made concrete in particular times and places. Similarly stories of the Fianna or Fionn Mac Cumhaill are often used to explain topographic features such as the Giant's Causeway or the origins of both Lough Neagh and the Isle of Man.

Questions about place, as I have already suggested, are only preliminaries to the real questions which local historians should be grappling with, questions about people. It is therefore necessary to populate this past landscape. Perhaps the most basic question to begin with here is how many people lived in this region and how did that change over time? For the nineteenth century the census returns, used with some care, will answer this question but the further back in time we go the more difficult the problem becomes. Bare statistics are not very interesting and we need to relate them to every-day life. Behind the census figures lie families, and local knowledge combined with reconstruction from the 1901 census and parish registers help us to see something of the dramatically different responses of people in a place to events, such as the Famine, which are usually described in the abstract.20 It is clear that there were enormous differences in response to events such as the Famine even over small areas. It is only by studying families in a locality that we will understand whether this was the result of mortality or migration patterns. Moreover we do not need a catastrophic event such as the Famine to point out significant variants in the history of small areas. Assembling lists of surnames, for example, would enable us to chart the local history of migration and determine whether townlands or other areas represent 'open' or Enclosed' societies. Townlands such as Cloonfush in county Galway were in the early nineteenth century a closed world with little land changing hands and the only way outsiders entered into that world was by marriage. However most marriages took place between families within the townland. In Roscommon, by contrast, some townlands retained a core of families from the eighteenth century but new families also appeared. In other places, such as Ballyrashane in north Antrim, a much more dramatic change in population has taken place since the eighteenth century.21 Explaining why such divergent changes have taken place is an important task for local historians.

After migration, marriage and death seem to be the main demographic variables. Parish register data provides readily accessible data for both. Simple counts of deaths will often reveal patterns of local epidemic and food shortages but here we can go a good deal further in the understanding of the history of death. We need to know a good deal more about how people thought about death and for this the local graveyard is a much underused resource. Changing patterns of funeral monuments, together with their inscriptions can tell us a good deal about attitudes to death and how people wished to be remembered. 22 Unlike death, marriage is a matter of choice and as such provides an important insight into the way in which local societies worked and how people interacted within a region. Whom an individual married is not only an important indicator of social organisation, but also reveals how individuals viewed their world. Some English studies have suggested that before the revolution in transport in this century people tended to marry within well-defined 'cultural regions' and we need to look more carefully at these in an Irish context by mapping marriage patterns.23

Simple aggregate numbers of people in a landscape are not a very good indicator of the social world. People have to be related to the resources in an area. County Tipperary can clearly support more people in a rather different style of life than north county Mayo and this reality influences how population should be analysed. It also raises other questions of how resources are shared within a community. This brings us back to the landlord and his role in sharing out resources through leasing policies on estates. Sometimes special treatment was given to some people specially brought into areas to improve them. In the late eighteenth century Ulster weavers were imported into the west of Ireland and given preferential status in newly created towns such as Westport, Newport, Monivea and Mountshannon. Others were given favourable leases in the countryside. Others were more marginalised in that world but they too have histories. Women and the poor, for example, rarely appear in local studies but they too have important histories.24

The allocation of resources often led to tensions within local communities and how these stresses were resolved should be an important part of the local historian's study. The police files for the nineteenth century, especially the period of the Land War, provide the material not only for the crimes being investigated and the motives which lay behind them, but also the social fabric within which they were embedded. Here we need to use a wide range of sources to provide different perspectives on the problem. Official.records, newspaper reports and folklore all provide differing perspectives on patterns of crime and criminality.25 Not all social tensions make their way into such exalted documents. Some events, while criminal in the eyes of the law, were clearly tolerated or ignored by local communities in the past and these require more investigations Much of the evidence here lies in the difficult world of folklore, the possibilities of which are discussed in Linda May Ballard's essay in this volume. Local historians over the last thirty years or so have spent some time discussing these social and economic problems and to a lesser extent have directed some of their efforts to political life. What remains as a major lacuna in local history is an understanding not of this material world but of the mental worlds of those who lived in the past. This has received little attention in parish histories which have concentrated on the institutional history of religion. There are innumerable histories of parishes and of individual churches that deal with the succession of clergy and church buildings. These are important but many fall victim to the difficulty of 'particular places': they try to explain what is unique to an area rather than what was normal in that kind of society. One example of this in the Catholic tradition might be the 'penny catechism' which is usually ignored because it was regarded as part of national history. Yet more than any other manifestation of the church this had an impact on the lives of those who lived in individual parishes throughout the country. We need to know a great deal more about what went on in individual churches on a Sunday morning and about why people chose to go there and participate in rituals such as communion. 27 One way in which we might approach the problem of what the institutional church offered to individuals in the localities is to focus not on institutions but on what we might describe as 'religious sociability'. People gathered at many religious functions apart from Sunday services. Within the institutional context there were sodalities, men's meetings and bible study groups which also met a religious need. Gatherings at holy wells for prayer or participation in pilgrimages are also important here. What is important is not simply to catalogue holy well sites and places of pilgrimage but to try to understand more clearly why people went there and what they did while there. Here we need to look more carefully at unusual sources such as depictions in art and popular novels, some of which are discussed below by Myrtle Hill, as well as more traditional autobiographies and institutional archives to appreciate more fully how the sacred and the secular intertwined in the past.

A concentration on the official church and the things which it organised can, however, be distorting. Beyond the world of pulpit and pew there was another supernatural world represented in beliefs about ghosts, fairies, charms and folk cures. The same people who listened to the exposition of orthodox doctrine on Sundays also believed in things for which the official church had little time. How did they square the world of the church with the other supernatural world represented in folklore? We need not see the two as diametrically opposed even if some in the institutional churches in the nineteenth century clearly did so. Rather than accepting the theology of Maynooth, Trinity College Dublin or Assemblies Theological College in Belfast, people in local places took notice of what their clergy had to say to them but also modified those orthodoxies to reflect their own experiences, traditions and local circumstances. Folklore may provide some of the answers to the local historian's questions on such topics but as yet we have barely begun to ask the questions.28

If religious belief brought local communities together around a shared view that there was a supernatural world which was active in their every-day world, it is equally important to recognise that religious ideas also divided communities. Why and how this was so has been little studied. We know very little about what each side of the confessional divide thought of the other and how those opinions were formed. We also need to know how deep those divisions ran. It seems clear that various confessional groups in Ireland were not, except in time of severe political or economic crisis, totally polarised. There are therefore limits to confessional division. Local historians can investigate how Protestants and Catholics might co-operate in the past and when an why they were unable to do so.



This essay has not tried to set out a complete way of thinking about the local or regional past.. The wide agenda which has been sketched out here is not relevant to every study. New questions have to be tailored to meet the specific evidence which emerges every time a new study is begun. What I have tried to do is to sketch out some general principles which might help when trying to frame what a local study might do. In particular 1 have tried to stress the importance of having people rather than places as the central focus of local studies. To do this means asking a vast range of new questions about how local and regional societies in the past worked. To answer these questions we will need to go back to the same sources used by the nineteenth- century local historians, combine them with a consideration of things they would have regarded as irrelevant such as folklore, visual evidence and popular literature and look at the full range of evidence in ways rather different to those of our predecessors. Only when we do this will our local historical imagination be able to have the free reign it deserves.

1. For example, William Nolan, Tracing the past (Dublin, 1982); D. E Begley, Irish

geneaology: a record finder (Dublin, 198 1); John Grenham, Tracing your Irish

ancestors (Dublin, 1992).

2. William Carrigan, The history and antiquities of the diocese of Ossory (4 vols,

Dublin, 1905); W P. Burke, History of Clonmel (Waterford, 1907); William

Reeves, The ecclesiastical antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore (Dublin,

1847). All these have been reprinted within the last ten years.

3 .Marc Bloch, The historian's craft (Manchester, 1992), pp. 52-4. The metaphor is

particularly apt for Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou: Cathars and

Catholics in a French village 1294-1324 (London, 1978) which was itself written

from court records.

4. Now in Trinity College, Dublin, MS 883.

5 .Walter Harris, The antient and present state of the county of Down (Dublin, 1744);

Charles Smith, The ancient and present state of the county and city of Cork (2 vols,

Dublin, 1750); Charles Smith, The antient and present state of the county and city

of Waterford (Dublin, 1746); Charles Smith, The antient and present state of the

county of kerry (Dublin, 1756).

6. E. P. Shirley, The history of the county of monaghan (London, 1879).

7. james O'Laverty, An historical account of the diocese of Down and Connor ancient

and modern (4 vols, Dublin, 1878-84).

8. I have taken this example from the second chapter of J. P. McDermott, 'An

examination of the accounts of james Moore, land agent, Newport Pratt, C

Mayo, 1742-65' MA (Local History) thesis, St Patrick's College, Maynooth,

1994. A large database exists at the Northern Ireland Place-Names Project at the

Celtic Studies Department, the Queen's University of Belfast which may yield

further examples of this.

9. R. C. Simington (ed.), The civil survey, 1654-6 (10 vols, Dublin, 1931-6 1).

10. For example Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond deeds (6 vols, Dublin,

1932-43), vi, pp. 126, 132, 134, 140, 141, 145.

11. Developed in H. P. R. Finberg, The local historian and his theme (Leicester, 1952)

from which the quotation is taken. For a critique of this approach, J. D.

Marshall, The tyranny of the discrete (London, 1097) chs. 4-6.

12. Some of these ideas are further developed in the introduction of Raymond

Gillespie and Gerard Moran (eds), 'A various country': essays in Mayo history,

1500-1 900 (Westport, 1987).

13. W H. Crawford, 'The significance of the landed estate in Ulster' in Irish economic and social history xvii (1990).

14. For an excellent example of the recreation of a local political activity see Fergus

O'Ferrall's essay in Raymond Gillespie and Gerard Moran (eds), Longford:

essays in county history (Dublin, 1991).

15. Denis A. Cronin, A Galway gentleman in the age of improvement: Robert French

of Monivea (Dublin, 1995).

16. E. E. Evans, The personality of Ireland (rev. ed. Dublin, 1991).

17. For this case in more detail, Raymond Gillespie and Harold O'Sullivan (eds),

The borderlands: essays on the history of the Ulster-Leinster border (Belfast, 1989);

Raymond Gillespie (ed.), Cavan: essays on the history of an Irish county (Dublin,


18. Most recently reissued and updated as W G. Hoskins, The making of the English

landscape ed. Christopher Taylor (London, 1992).

19. T Crofton Croker (ed.), The tour of M. de la Boullaye le Gouez in Ireland, 1644

(London, 1832), p. 30.

20. For two examples of studies which follow families over time, Robert Scally, The

end of hidden Ireland: rebellion, famine and emigration (Oxford, 1995); P. H.

Guiliver and Marilyn Silverman, Merchants and shopkeepers: an historical

anthropology of an Irish market town (Toronto, 1995).'

21. William Gacquin, Roscommon before the famine: the parishes of kiltoom and Cam

(Dublin, 1996). The Cloonfush study by Gabriel O'Connor is in Denis Cronin,

Paul Connell, Brian O Dailaigh (eds), Irish townland studies in local history

(Dublin, 1998) pp. 69-92. For another good case study of migration W A.

Macafee, 'The colonisation of the Maghera region of south Derry during the

seventeenth and eighteenth centuries' in Ulster Folklife xxiii (1977), pp. 70-91.

An important model for these sort of studies is contained in Ruth Finnegan,

Michael Drake (eds), From family tree to family history (Cambridge 1994), W T.

R. Pryee (ed.), From family history to community history (Cambridge, 1994) and

John Goldby (ed.), Communities and families (Cambridge, 1994).

22. For example Raymond Gillespie, 'Irish funeral monuments and social change,

1500-1700: perceptions of death' in Raymond Gillespie and Brian P. Kennedy

(eds), Ireland: art into history (Dublin, 1994).

23. See the English evidence in Charles Phythian Adams, Rethinking English local

history (Leicester, 1987). The idea is further developed in Charles Phythian

Adams (ed.), Societies, cultures and kinship, 1580-1800 (London, 1993).

24. An interesting exception to this generalisation is Maureen Langan-Egan,

Women in Mayo, 1821-50 (Westport, 1996).

25. There are a number of studies which might serve as models here including, W

E. Vaughan, Sin, sheep and Scotsmen (Belfast, 1983); Gerard Moran, The Mayo

evictions (Westport, 1986) and Jarlath Waldron, Maamtrasna: the murder and the

mystery (Dublin, 1992).

26. For an French example of collective actions in the nineteenth century on this

matter, see Alain Corbin, The village of cannibals (Oxford, 1992).

27. Two good studies are John Crawford, St Catherine's parish, Dublin, 1840-1900:

portrait of a Church of Ireland community (Dublin, 1996); and Francis Kelly,

Window on a Catholic parish: Granard, county Longford, 1933-68 (Dublin, 1996).

28. See Linda May Ballard's essay below and Charles Phythian Adams, Local history

and folklore: a new framework (London, 1975).