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Cows, Wolves and Witches: The Question of Marginality within Transhumant Communities of Western Ireland

Author(s): Eugene Costello

Year: 2017

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Small-scale transhumant movements were once quite common in Ireland, and continued in places like Conamara, Donegal and Achill Island up to the late 19th century and early 20th century. Also known by the term ‘booleying’, these practices involved young people, usually girls, bringing dairy cows up to hill pastures for the summer so as to free up land at home for tillage and winter fodder. However, the seasonal landscapes and settlements which they visited have until recently been neglected by archaeologists. Moreover, a significant amount of unexplored oral tradition exists in the Irish language. Some of this contains highly symbolic stories about supernatural interactions at summer pastures. This paper uses archaeological survey to interrogate the folk material and ask what it says about the social position of young female herders in 19th-century Ireland. It discusses their interactions, firstly, with one another and, secondly, with senior male figures in the home settlements. Is it justifiable to describe the young women as inhabiting marginal land when their economic role was absolutely central? To what extent were hill pastures considered to be liminal or dangerous places? Does the field archaeology support the idea that summer settlements were organised differently to home settlements?

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Cows, Wolves and Witches: The Question of Marginality within Transhumant Communities of Western Ireland. Eugene Costello. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 432067)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 16873

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America