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Ray Cashman's Packy Jim Receives Michael J. Durkan Prize for Books on Language and Culture

Wednesday, April 19, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jesse A. Fivecoate
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The Durkan Prize Committee writes,“Ray Cashman opens his meticulous ethnographic and folklore study, Packy Jim, with the personal story of driving out to meet Packy Jim for the first time in a remote cabin farm on the border between the North and the State. A local in a Landrover warns him to “be careful with Packy Jim. He can be a bit crabbit.” As this informed volume amply demonstrates, Cashman has been careful with Packy Jim McGrath. Using a human subject for a fifteen-year ethnographic study presents immense challenges, and Packy Jim negotiates these with grace and with style. In considering Packy Jim’s stories and beliefs through a variety of lenses — historical, political, ethnographic, cultural, place- and time-based, and religious — Cashman aims for a carefully defined “worldview.” In his introduction, he explains in admirably straightforward language the goals of his work: “worldview […] understanding the world from the perspective of others is, for me, the point of studying folklore.” Cashman extrapolates cultural meaning from Packy Jim’s stories, balancing extensive folkloric fieldwork and the academic apparatus of the discipline with a nuanced and personal understanding of human experience. In turn, the understanding of “worldview” Cashman cultivates in Packy Jim augments and informs research in a range of Irish studies fields: literature, history, visual art, geography and environmental humanities, politics, and more. And although the contribution to folklore and to the broad field of Irish Studies is intense, this study also shows the importance of local places and regional understanding, offering a welcome resistance to the globalizing impulse in the field. Not only does Ray Cashman’s Packy Jim contribute a depth of folkloric knowledge to field of Irish Studies, but it is also a pleasure to read. Treating Packy Jim McGrath with respect and privacy, Cashman nonetheless makes his readers feel they know this man, too, and have spent stormy evenings sipping tea or something stronger in his parlor, listening to his stories.”

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