Tag: Conrad Arensberg

The Pattern Day in Ballylanders

Tuesday, 15 August, 2017 0 Comments

Today is the Pattern Day as the 15th of August is still called in some parts of rural Ireland. Despite all the signs of the country’s secularization, people will journey the “holy well” in Ballylanders for the Pattern observances that echo a disappeared world and this brings us to The Irish Countryman, a book that allows us to contrast the Ireland of today with that of 80 years ago.

When the young Harvard-trained anthropologist Conrad Arensberg arrived in Ireland in 1935, he was a man with a plan. “Like Caesar we divide our Gaul,” he wrote and proceeded to treat the country as four regions, more spiritual than geographical. The first was “the seat of an age-old tradition, of the remains of a once brilliant Celtic civilization.” The second was one “some among the nationalists dislike” because “It is the Ireland of the merry and happy-go-lucky present” that revealed a “talkative, mercurial, witty people.” Arensberg’s third Ireland was a “grimmer land”:

“It is a sober, hard-working land of minute towns and small farms upon a soil not always grateful. It is a land of hard realities. This Ireland is subject to hot flashes of anger and dispute which throw into relief deep-lying hatreds and fierce loyalties… This is the Ireland of bitter economic fate and political unrest. Much of this can be laid at England’s door, but not all.”

The anthropologist’s fourth Ireland was “the land of the devout, where word and deed breathe a religious fervour which most of us have forgotten. This is the land of holy wells and pilgrimages and roadside shrines… To many of us, perhaps a paradox lies here. Fierce love of political liberty goes hand in hand with a deep devotion to the most authoritarian of Christian creeds.”

Conrad Arensberg was not the only visitor to be perplexed by a country where “a puritanical morality” coexisted with “the hilarity of the race meeting.” That was then. Or was it? In the 80 years since he explored Ireland, the country has moved from being a rural to an urban society, from an agrarian to a post-industrial economy. As a result, those “doing the rounds” of the holy well in the Ballylanders graveyard today will be accompanied by a soundscape of mumbled prayers and purring smartphones. Conrad Arensberg would not have been surprised, though, because as he wrote in the conclusion of The Irish Countryman, “the chief expression of traditional social life is calling the countrymen together through a whole countryside for a re-enactment, both solemn and gay, of their sentiments about their fellows and about their view of life and death and destiny.”

Getting ready for the Pattern