Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Agriculture, until recently the overwhelming mainstay of the Irish Economy, remains important, although a decreasing percentage of the population is engaged in such pursuits. Most arable land is devoted to pasture or hay production, and livestock and livestock products are the most important exports, sold in European and Near Eastern markets. The United States is also a major trading partner. Tourism, greatly promoted in recent decades, provides the single largest item in the country's net earnings. Since the 1960s, attractive conditions have brought many foreign-owned small factories to Ireland, and they along with Irish manufacturing and construction firms now employ around 27.5 percent of the labor force. While the city of Dublin has grown at a great rate, the lack of a large Industrial or commercial base there has meant much unemployment. Membership in the European Common Market has benefited agricultural producers through subsidies and opened up new channels for emigration for professionals, but so far has not done much to change the economic peripherality of Ireland. The relative prosperity of the sixties and seventies seems to have been based on borrowed money, leaving Ireland with one of the highest per capita foreign debts in the world. Inflation and high unemployment fueled renewed Emigration, mostly to the United States, in the late 1980s. In the west of Ireland, where most anthropological fieldwork has been carried out, small farms—where viable—continue to produce livestock and dairy products sold at marts or through local cooperatives. Much of the extreme west, including Gaeltacht zones, is characterized by underfarmed smallholdings, which support a subsistence crop of potatoes and vegetables, combined in varying degrees with sheep farming (whose economic viability depends on government subsidies). In a few areas small- or medium-scale fishing or rural factory employment adds to the income of such families or provides the total support of younger families. Government welfare and old-age pensions, however, contribute Importantly to the maintenance of many households. Where the farm is viable, it absorbs the labor of the entire family. In smaller holding areas, however, younger family members are often engaged in subsidiary income pursuits. Where available, factory jobs are sought by young men and women. Areas of large farms, such as Meath and West Meath, and the city and suburbs of Dublin exhibit different sociocultural patterns, which are only recently being studied by anthropologists.
Land Tenure. Although after the seventeenth century the mainly British landlords held proprietary rights, the Irish tenantry continued to pass on the right to these tenancies as if they were property. Land reforms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century turned these tenants into peasant proprietors. Common rights were often retained in bogs (for peat fuel) and in extensive mountain pasturelands.