“Looking over my shoulder” is an exhaustive study of this small part of County Clare. It examines local land-holding patterns from the perspectives of landlords, agents and tenants; farming methods and practices; poverty and survival mechanisms including the local workhouse; evictions and ejectments (“an estimated one in ten persons living in Clare at the time [of the Great Famine] was evicted”, O’Brien writes); social and cultural practices including religion (“throughout the 19th century local families would have set out across the fields through Ogonnelloe on well-worn ‘mass paths’ to attend church … In pre-famine Ireland church attendance was on average only 33%”); folk beliefs and customs (local holy wells, patterns, wakes); and education and local hedge schools (“the space was too crowded to sit down [in the local hedge school, circa 1835]. A middle-aged barefooted man was teaching children in rags”).
The daily lives of our ancestors are also delineated - food and diet, illicit distillation, local fairs and markets, and faction fights (“men typically wore heavy felt hats, partially as a defence against the blackthorn shillelagh”). Patrick O’Brien has written a detailed, engaging and engrossing account of this part of North Killaloe and South Ogonnelloe, a work which also touches on neighbouring families and townlands. At 305 pages, with a seven-page bibliography, “Looking over my shoulder”(ISBN 9780646921815) is a model work of local history and a valuable addition to the scholarship of County Clare. The author has kindly deposited copies of his book in Killaloe Public Library and in Clare County Library’s Local Studies Centre in Ennis.