Olive Sharkey,
Ways of Old:
Traditional Life in Ireland

(O'Brien, 1985; revised, 2000)

This updated and enlarged version of the well-known chronicle of traditional Irish life proves an indispensible resource for anyone curious about everyday life in rural Ireland of the past. Focusing on her home territory, the midlands, Olive Sharkey provides a comprehensive look at what she calls "bygones," the largely now-obsolete tools and implements that were an essential part of everday life in the Ireland of yore, as well as some of the social customs that marked that time.

The midlands, Timothy O'Neill notes in his foreward, are something of Ireland's "forgotten" region, remaining relatively untouched by the social upheaval and innovation that marked its neighbors to the west and east throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. This insulation from change, however, allowed for the survival of old customs and ways of life, and Sharkey mines this rich history, exploring everything from thatched home architecture to threshing tools to traditional Irish dress.

Sharkey also fills each page with especially useful drawings (made by the author at various museums throughout Ireland and Britain) and vintage photographs of tools, utensils and rural people in their environments, allowing the reader to visualize even better what daily life was like.

Sharkey is quite familiar with her subject matter and intersperses her historical accounting with anecdotes from her childhood. While her folksy approach may grate on the nerves of some historians, Sharkey has such an ingenuous closeness to the objects and time she describes that one can almost smell the turf smoking and hear the butter churning.

- Rambles
written by Celeste Miller
published 26 February 2005

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