On 23 May 2021 the death took place of Frank Carney, a well-known figure in Irish economic and social history circles in the 1970s. Frank, who grew up in the Boston suburb of Somerville, was a student of Richard Easterlin at the University of Pennsylvania and came to Ireland to work on his dissertation in 1972. He was soon offered a lectureship in TCD’s Economics Department, where he was very popular and very productive. Dublin in the 1970s was a good place to be for an economic historian fond of quantification and comparative perspectives. Other young visitors who spent time in Dublin in those years included Eric Almquist, Bob Rose, David Jacobson (who stayed), and Peter Solar, all of whom benefited from Frank’s advice, always generously given.
Frank’s expertise was in demographic history and in the history of the household. His work was fresh and highly innovative, and three of his most important contributions are listed below. All three reveal a meticulous scholar at work at the cutting edge of the field in his day. His ‘Pre-famine Irish population’, based on data he came across in Trinity College’s archives, compared the outcome of a private census conducted on the extensive College estates in 1843 with the results of the official 1841 census. It confirmed Raymond Crotty’s assertion that population growth in the immediate pre-Famine era was decelerating; according to Frank, “the changing economic and social structure had already set in motion forces requiring a downward adjustment in population” (p. 45). ‘Aspects of Irish household size’ was first presented at the memorable inaugural conference of Scottish and Irish historians held in Dublin in September 1976. It also involved the use of manuscript census data, in this case one of the first uses of what survives of the 1821 Irish census in what was then the Public Records Office (now the National Archives of Ireland). Frank used his sample of 2,663 households, spread across five counties, to estimate a range of measures of household size and compared them to the English ‘standard’ estimated by the Cambridge social historian Peter Laslett. It turned out that average household in Ireland was considerably larger than in England, but not that large in a broader European context. Frank then went on to describe variations in Irish household size in 1821 by occupational category and age of household head. Frank’s ‘Household size and family structure’ was, in effect, a continuation of his 1977 paper. Comparing aspects of household size and structure in 1821 and 1911 Frank argued against Conrad Arensberg and Solon Kimball’s then still influential view of a society in stasis. And he ended with the corollary that “the exploration of the demographic and economic forces which intruded on the household and changed its size and structure awaits’ (p. 163), a challenge taken up by later scholars, notably Timothy Guinnane.
Frank and his wife Patricia and their sons Sean and Niall loved living in Dublin, where they quickly made lots of friends. They were wonderful, generous hosts. But in 1977, for family reasons, the Carneys returned to the Boston area and made their home in Lexington. After brief interludes of teaching economics at Northeastern University in Boston and of management consulting, Frank turned to working with Pat for the family construction firm founded by Pat’s father, the late Mark Moore. Frank’s academic career in Dublin had been cut short, but he always kept in touch with his circle of friends in Dublin. Pat and Frank paid three return visits to Ireland in recent years, giving many of their friends a welcome chance to renew acquaintances.
‘Pre-Famine Irish Population: The Evidence from the Trinity College Estates’, Irish Economic and Social History 2 (1975), pp. 35-45.
‘Aspects of pre-Famine Irish Household Size: Composition and Differentials’, in L. M. Cullen and T. C. Smout, eds. Comparative Aspects of Scottish and Irish Economic and Social History 1600-1900 (Edinburgh, 1977), pp. 32-46.
‘Household size and structure in two areas of Ireland, 1821 and 1911’, in L. M. Cullen & F. Furet, eds., Toward a comparative study of rural history, Ireland and France 17th–20th Century, Proceedings of the First Franco-Irish symposium of social and economic history (Paris, 1980), pp. 149-165.