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Packy Jim
Folklore and Worldview on the Irish Border

Winner, Michael J. Durkan Prize for Books on Language and Culture, American Conference for Irish Studies

A Donegal storyteller engages with this world and the next

Growing up on a secluded smuggling route along the border of Northern Ireland and the Republic, Packy Jim McGrath regularly heard the news, songs, and stories of men and women who stopped to pass the time until cover of darkness. In his early years, he says, he was all ears—but now it is his turn to talk.

Ray Cashman, who has been interviewing McGrath for more than fifteen years, demonstrates how Packy Jim embellishes daily conversation with stories of ghosts and fairies, heroic outlaws and hateful landlords. Such folklore is a boundless resource that he uses to come to grips with the past and present, this world and the next. His stories reveal an intricate worldview that is both idiosyncratic and shared—a testament to individual intelligence and talent, and a window into Irish vernacular culture.


Author. Photo credit, Name Ray Cashman is an associate professor of folklore at Indiana University. He is the author of Storytelling on the Northern Irish Border, which won both the Chicago Folklore Prize of the American Folklore Society and the Donald Murphy Prize of the American Conference for Irish Studies. He is a coeditor of The Individual and Tradition: Folkloristic Perspectives.



“Accessible to a broad audience. . . . A delight to read on many different levels and constitutes a valuable addition to the scholarship on the individual and tradition.”
Journal of Folklore Research

“Skillfully presents and analyzes stories naturally emerging from conversation and expressing a worldview that is both communal and formed by unique life experience. ... Highly recommended.”

“Draws on interviews with Packy Jim McGrath, a Donegal storyteller who grew up on a smuggling route on the border of the Republic and Northern Ireland.”
Chronicle of Higher Education

“Octogenarian bachelor Packy Jim McGrath of Lettercran, County Donegal, emerges here as both typical and singular, a barometer of continuity and change. McGrath’s resilience, dignity, and strong sense of self manifest clearly in his stories, which locate him both in the technological consumerist future and in the primordial self-sufficient past. Ray Cashman’s sharp and sympathetic observation delivers a classic ethnography that stakes a major claim for folkloristic studies as cutting-edge humanities research.”
—Lillis Ó Laoire, author of On a Rock in the Middle of the Ocean: Songs and Singers in Tory Island

“A brilliant testament to the ethnographer’s art, the deeply rooted wisdom of an ‘ordinary’ person, and the complex ways in which folklore figures in everyday life along the Irish border.”
—James P. Leary, author of Folksongs of Another America


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Of Related Interest

An Irish-Speaking Island

An Irish-Speaking Island
State, Religion, Community, and the Linguistic Landscape in Ireland, 1770–1870
Nicholas M. Wolf

A Greater Ireland

The Road to Home Rule
Anti-imperialism and the Irish National Movement
Paul A. Townend

Packy Jim
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New in Paperback!

November 2017
LC: 2015043078 DA
336 pp. 6 x 9
25 b/w illus.

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Paper $21.95 a
ISBN 978-0-299-30894-0
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Cloth $69.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-30890-2
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