Private Spaces, Public Interest: State Regulation of Farm Households in Early Twentieth Century Ireland

Arlene Crampsie


For farm households across Ireland, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were nothing short of a revolutionary period. While the increase in state control and supervision of aspects of Irish life had been expanding throughout the 1800s, it was only in the later part of the century that this attention began to shift from the wider land and landscape to focus on the previously sacred private space of the family home. The Victorian preoccupation with improvement, particularly in relation to standards of hygiene and sanitation, would result in a raft of biopolitical legislation that impacted all families but was felt most strongly by farming households across the country. Public health and sanitation legislation ordered the eviction of animals from inside cottages, the removal of manure heaps from outside doors and introduced regulations for the sale or even provision of dairy produce. This paper will examine these and other changes introduced by the state in the period leading up to the First World War, investigating the role of local government in their implementation and using local authority records to reveal the practical consequences of this incursion of agents of the state onto private property and into private lives.

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