Friday, November 1, 2019
6:00 pm doors, 7:00 pm lecture | Free Admission
Speaker: Ray Cashman, Director of the Folklore Institute
Topic: Neighborliness and Decency, Witchcraft and Famine: Reflections on Community from Irish Folklore
Many Irish folk customs and narratives both reflect and instill enduring conceptions of the nature of community as a social contract for mutual support—its workings, its vulnerability, its viability. Customs such as the return of a “luck’s penny” after a sale reveal a longstanding commitment to generalized reciprocity, and a deep-seated ambivalence toward money, profit, and ambition in “a world of limited good.” Likewise, legends about witchcraft, the evil eye, and fairy collusion pinpoint threats to community and suggest how such threats can be diminished or overcome. Arguably, there has been no more devastating blow to the popular, vernacular concept of community delineated here than the mid nineteenth-century Famine. Legendary materials representing the Famine are typically fragmentary and often opaque. But if folklore provides models for contemplating and replicating ideas about the nature of community, it stands to reason that folklore could also bear witness—however indirectly—to the haunting consequences of abandoning community. The second half of this lecture, then, addresses suggestive beliefs and coded narratives—in particular, about the hungry grass/an féar gorta associated with the Famine—that speak volumes about uncomfortable truths that cannot be expressed fully in a more expository way.
Ray Cashman is Professor of Folklore, Director of the Folklore Institute, and Editor of the Journal of Folklore Research at Indiana University. His interests include Irish oral traditions and vernacular custom; the relationship between folklore, history, and memory; the politics of culture, identity, and tradition; material culture; sense of place; and fieldwork and ethnography. He is the author of Storytelling on the Northern Irish Border: Characters and Community (2008) and Packy Jim: Folklore and Worldview on the Irish Border (2016), and Co-editor of The Individual and Tradition: Folkloristic Perspectives (2011).