In the 1930s, Ireland was the focus of an extensive survey known as ‘The Harvard Irish Mission’, produced by scholars from Harvard University who conducted a detailed study of family and community in three rural locations, one of which was Rinnamona in Killinaboy parish. The resulting publications, The Irish Countryman by Conrad Arensberg and Family and Community in Ireland by Arensberg and Solon Kimball, are considered to be ‘classic’ scientific texts and remain influential within sociological and anthropological academic spheres. The local response to both texts was mixed. The books were widely read in the local community and, for some, the revelation of the private lives of their forebears was unexpected and unwelcome. In an attempt to limit the harm within the locality the texts were rarely discussed openly. Despite the insights they offered into recent local history, the memory of the study and its findings lingered; the books were publicly ignored and a communal silence fell over the anthropological study.
In the course of her research, sociologist Dr. Anne Byrne (NUIG) came across some of the original diaries kept by Solon Kimball when he stayed in Rinnamona. Handwritten in pencil on a fading school copy book, Kimball gives an intimate record of a rural community in the 1930s. He details the evening gatherings of the older men whom he refers to as ‘the Rinnamona Daíl.Byrne made contact with some of the successors of the Rinnamona Dáil – Mary Moroney, Sean Roche, John Ruane and Francis Whelan – and they came together in early 2008 to read through the diary and decide how to use the material.
Two of the group were already actively using X-PO and, having seen the opening archival installation, asked if I would join them in making a public re-presentation of their story of Rinnamona in the 1930s. The research, exhibition and mediation of this work created space for a more complex understanding of the ramifications of academic representations of local cultures amongst a broader public. The interaction and the transdiciplinary meeting of the three ‘knowledges’ of sociologist, artist, and the local knowledge (in Gaelic dinnseanchas) of the research group members, combined to collectively tell a story-narrative of a people and place, rooted in history but connected to contemporary familial and community relationships.
A full account of the history, academic context, exhibition-making process and re-presentation of the project is given in papers co-written with Anne Byrne called Family and Community: (Re)Telling Our Own Story (2011) and Revisiting and Reframing the Anthropological Archive ( 2013).