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The Blow-in Community

By Daniel Miller, on 4 April 2018

Sneem, Kerry, photo by Bill Barber

Most people one meets in this small Irish town describe themselves as blow-ins, meaning they were born in some other part of Ireland. That’s hardly surprising since given the huge expansion of housing estates since the 1970s it is demographically true. More interesting is their dedicated participation in the vast number of community and volunteer groups that can be found here. Many of these organisations were founded by people born here, but it is the blow-ins who have sustained and expanded them and seem quite passionate about their contribution to the subsequent sense of vibrant community.

There is an important lesson here for anthropology. We have tended to see authenticity through ideals of tradition and continuity relating authenticity also to actual origin. But in most places this ideal of community is a modern invention and antidote to the fragmentation of the forces that we call modernity. The original population had less need for such an explicit ideal of community. As one such person noted – when he was young his large family was sufficient for his social interactions. The Catholic Church was and still is often the primary vehicle for a sense of wider socialising. While identity with this pleasant town was simply a given by birth. The same person noted that he would always say he was coming into the town, while blow-ins might say they were coming into the village.

By contrast, the vast majority of blow-ins initially encountered this town through tourism and viewed it as a rural seaside idyll, very likely often the place they wish they had been born into. Once they have settled, and in many cases retired, community and identification develop through their active and creative labour. This is an opportunity to help create the idealised community that they have imagined themselves moving into. Some of them would like to call the centre a village while those born here are clear that it is a town. It is the blow-ins that need fascinating and anecdotal history, prizes from being a tidy or age-friendly town, books, chess, bowls, theatre, creative writing, painting, music, sports, film and many other clubs. In this they are joined by the original inhabitants who gratefully accept this support and appreciation, while remaining quite aware as to who is or is not a blow-in, for example, who has rights to be buried in the original cemetery.

 

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