RIFNET: Reconstituting the Irish Family Research Network

Project Overview

RIFNET is a network funded by the ESRC and IRC that aims to tell the story of Irish families that sit outside of what we perceive as the ‘traditional’ norm. We are interested in capturing the messy realities of Irish family life and we aim to create a more inclusive picture of what it means (and has always meant) to be part of “the family” in Ireland. The network brings together researchers working on the Irish family across Ireland, the UK, and the world, as well as professionals working in the Heritage and Museum sectors. 

The network will be hosting a number of exciting events over the next year that will connect people who are interested in the Irish family. Please keep an eye on our blog and events pages for more details.

About Us

Understandings of the Irish family have long been constrained by an over-emphasis on the ‘traditional’ unit. The ‘traditional’ Irish family is often imagined as being made up of a heterosexual married couple and their children, living under one household. Other characteristics are also invoked as being  representative of the ‘traditional’ Irish family: Catholic faith, white in ethnic origin, and settled status. Yet, this model is (and has always been) just one expression of the family in Ireland. Generations of Irish families have deviated from this ‘traditional’ model. Their stories, however, have been overlooked, overshadowed and omitted from the narrative. 

RIFNET aims to bring to the fore these marginalised stories and side-lined experiences. Drawing on the expertise of historians, sociologists, legal scholars, museum and heritage professionals, we aim to push the boundaries of existing knowledge and create a new model that captures the broad diversity and messy realities of Irish family life.

The network is led by Dr Leanne Calvert (University of Hertfordshire) and Dr Maeve O’Riordan (University College, Cork), and is supported by a team of 16 researchers and professionals with interests in Irish family life. The expertise of the network is broad in scope and spans the period from the seventeenth-century to the present day. We have active interests in areas that include stepfamilies and blended families; LGBGTQ+ families; siblings; single-parent families; divorced- and widowed spouses; single persons; Travellers’ and their families; and religious families.  For more information on who is involved, see Meet the Network.

As a varied and interdisciplinary network, our work is united by three central questions:

  1. How do we categorise the ‘Irish Family’?
  2. What is the meaning of ‘family’ in an Irish context?
  3. Why have some stories and experiences of the family been side-lined and others gained precedence? How can we change the conversation?

These questions underpin our network and guide us in our mission to tear down unworkable and static models, and replace them with a more inclusive and critically engaged picture of the family in an Irish context.


RIFNET events are now completed. Details of past events can be found below. 

A New Agenda for the Irish Family

Wednesday 15th June 2022, 9.15-5pm

Zoom hosted event

This online symposium showcases new approaches to researching the family in Ireland

9.15: Welcome

9.30-10.30am. Panel 1: Performing the Family

Liz Kiely (University College Cork): 'We're an outdoorsy family': family display as a conceptual model to understand family.

Leanne Calvert (University of Hertfordshire):'Queering the Presbyterian family, c. 1700-1830'.

10.45-12.15pm. Panel 2: Ideas and Perceptions of Family

Janice Holmes (Dalarna University, Sweden): 'Manse life: literary and historical interpretations of Presbyterian clerical family life in the north of Ireland, 1880s-1920s'

Ruth Coon (Queen's University, Belfast): 'Mixed marriage in Ireland: Perception and reality'

Maeve O'Riordan (University College Cork): 'Negotiating the Irish gentry family through singleness'.


 1-2pm. Panel 3: Looking Outside the Nuclear

Clodagh Tait (Mary Immaculate College, Limerick): 'His son is his son til he have a wife': thinking about parenting, 'other-parenting', kinship and young men in 17th-century Ireland.

Ciara Meehan (University of Hertfordshire): 'We will be [happy] when we're a real family again': Widows and the meaning of family in independent Ireland.

2.15-3.15pm. Panel 4: Horizontal Family Relationships

Shannon Devlin (Queen's University, Belfast): 'My brother ... wept in Cookstown street': exploring nineteenth-century Irish family life through sibling relationships.

Sarah O'Brien (Mary Immaculate College, Limerick): 'Critiquing the family dynamics of post-Famine Irish emigration to America'.

4-5pm Keynote

Katie Barclay (University of Adelaide): 'Emotion and the making of the Irish family'.



This online event will be held on zoom. Attendees will receive the joining link one day in advance of the event, using the email address provided at registration. In the interests of hosting a safe event, do not share the zoom link. 




Date Events
28th Jan. Roundtable on researching the family hosted by UCC Women’s Studies featuring Dr Shannon Devlin, Dr Deidre Foley, and Prof. Lindsey Earner-Byrne chaired by Dr Chiara Bonfiglioli
6th April Dr Deirdre Foley, UH research seminar: 'Their family responsibilities': Women’s work, maternity leave and childcare in the Republic of Ireland, c. 1969-1981'.
21st April

ReCollecting the Irish Family: New Perspectives and Directions. A roundtable event focused on championing marginalised stories of Irish family life. National Museum of Ireland


RIFNET (Reconstituting the Irish Family Network) have teamed up with the National Museum of Ireland to host a digital storytelling event, ‘ReCollecting the Irish Family’. Five members of the public were invited to tell their stories through family objects – an object which spoke to them about family. They were then interviewed about the objects to explore the meaning of LGBTQ+ families in Ireland today. These object-based interviews make an important contribution to the meaning of family in Ireland. Here, we share snippets of their stories. The exhibition can be found here and will run until 14 July 2027.

The full interviews and images of the collection have been permanently preserved by the Digital Repository of Ireland and the full collection can be browsed here.


RIFNET special issue of The History of the Family is now published online and all articles can be found here:  https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rhof20/0/0 
The journal presents five cutting-edge articles on the history of the family by Leanne Calvert, Shannon Detling, Deirdre Foley, Tom Hulme and Mo Moulton, in addition to the introduction. 


A bibliography of work by RIFNET members (published before or during the lifetime of the project) relating to the family in Ireland can be found at the following link: RIFNET Bibliography

Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century (ISS21)

Top Floor, Carrigbawn/Safari Building, Donovan Road, Cork, T12 YE30