Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Archive: Irish Folk Ways - E Estyn Evans

Irish Folk Ways
E Estyn Evans

If you ever have a desperate, burning need to know about the finer details of the sorts of pots, pans, tools and equipment the Irish used in that strange, unspecified time known as ‘the bygone era’, then this is the book for you.

Irish Folk Ways is not an easy book to sit down and get stuck into, because the detail on any subject Evans turns his attention to often tends to border on the anally retentive, mind-numbingly boring and Just. Plain. Dull. And this is me saying this, so I assure you – there's attention to detail, and there's this.

That’s not to say it’s a bad book. It’s very very good, in fact. In amongst all the detailsdetailsdetails are some hidden gems that you won’t find anywhere else, and I've found it particularly useful in finding more bits and pieces to flesh out my understanding of festival practices and lore, amongst other things.

Evans concentrates on all the different aspects of everyday life in Ireland, and for anyone who wants to go beyond the basics, I think this is a good place to look. An excellent place to look, even. I’d hesitate to recommend it as the very first book to read for anyone interested in starting out as a recon because I think the reader would end up either bored to tears and running away from reconstructionism for ever, or would think “where the hell's the good stuff?” (assuming the beginner wants to know the important stuff, like festivals, practices and so on). Evans does cover all this - and there's a lot of it - but you have to work for it. On the plus side, there's a very good index in the back so it's easy enough to pick all the good bits out, but for a beginner, something like Kevin Danaher's The Year in Ireland would be a much better place to start, providing some 'instant gratification' (as the enthusiastic gardening correspondent at the newspaper I used to work for would say...).

This book requires a certain amount of dedication, unless you happen to be the kind of person that lives for this sort of thing. If minutiae is your bag, then buy the book now. Otherwise, gird your loins and prepare yourself. I would say that this is on my 'should be read' list for anyone interested in Irish practices (and it's handy for a Scottish Reconstructionist like me, too, for comparison), but I've given fair warning...You're not likely to find it a thrilling read. You'll probably find you'll put it to good use as a reference book, though.

In short, this is probably the most anally retentive book EVAR. But I mean that in a good way.

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