This chapter explores the transformation of Irish childhoods since the early decades of the twentieth century, and shows how demographic and socio-economic changes are intertwined with a transformation in the meanings of childhood. Where once children’s labour contribution to the Irish household economy was a taken-for-granted part of their daily lives, contemporary children are carriers of their family’s aspirations for socio-economic mobility through education and cultural attainment, evident in their ‘concerted cultivation’. The chapter draws on memories of childhoods in the past, together with contemporary children’s voices from the Growing Up in Ireland study, to reveal the extent of children’s agency, in particular the ways in which children have consistently ‘pushed back’ against adult constraints in different socio-historical contexts, finding opportunities for the construction of their own social and family worlds and, in the process, shaping the family and community lives of adults. The chapter explores how, in different ways, class differences mediated Irish childhoods and public discourses about the consequences for children of ‘failing’ families across all historical periods.
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