Saturday 20 January 2018

Summer slips away and the same old sadness returns to haunt rural Ireland

Large crowds gathered in glorious sunshine at the marina in Dingle for the Feile na Beile
Large crowds gathered in glorious sunshine at the marina in Dingle for the Feile na Beile

Gerard O'Regan

At the time she was a young American woman, and with her husband and three young children, she moved into a rented house on the Dingle Peninsula in the mid-1970s. Her choice of abode was a small village called Clahane, about 20 miles west of Tralee. Her mission was at one level simple - but also complex and controversial.

As a New York-born anthropologist, Nancy Scheper-Hughes was determined to try and find out at first hand why there seemed to be such a high rate of mental illness in rural Ireland. So she and her family lived among this rural Kerry community for well over a year. She was determined to sample, at source, the emotional undergrowth which influenced the lives of the local people. Her children went to school there, where her husband got a job as a temporary teacher.

Although she was greeted at first with some understandable suspicion, the locals gradually took her into their confidence. She would mix and converse with them in places like the local mart and creamery. Sometimes she would be the only woman in the fairly male-dominated pub of a night. The conversation, often stilted with the caution of the countryman, could sometimes be frank and free-flowing, hinting at some darker secrets. She listened, observed, went home and wrote up her notes. Eventually her anthropological study would be published in book form under the title Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics.

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