The Merchant in Peripheral Ireland: A Case from Donegal
Taylor, Lawrence J. (1980) The Merchant in Peripheral Ireland: A Case from Donegal. Anthropology, 4 . pp. 63-76. ISSN 1091-613X
The place of the local merchant or shopkeeper in rural Ireland is a point of some contention among the ethnographers of that island (1). Arensberg and Kimball describe the credit-debt relation of shopkeeper and countryman as an “extension of the sentiments surrounding the reciprocal familial relations” (Arensberg and Kimball 1968:395). Although dealing in money, the local shopkeeper is thus depicted as operating within the idiom and values of “traditional” social relations. Differences of income and cultural orientation seem not to separate the shopkeeper from his clientele, with whom he may be anxious to establish affinal relations. This sort of merchant is as dependent on his customer as they are on him, so that the relationship naturally follows the same egalitarian rules operating between small farmers. Peter Gibbon (1973), on the other hand, notes that rural shopkeepers in the west of Ireland are, and have long been, “gombeenmen”: usurious exploiters of a dependent peasantry. This essay presents a description and analysis of the historical emergence of a particular group of rural merchants in western Ireland, but is further aimed as explaining the apparent discrepancy in described merchant-peasant relations with a model applicable to other, structurally similar, cases elsewhere.
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