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The Good Enough Life: praise for an Irish town that finds meaning in family, sport and dogs

Skerries, anonymised as Cuan, comes pretty close to meeting Aristotle’s ideal of ‘flourishing’, according to author Daniel Miller

The Good Enough Life
The Good Enough Life
Author: Daniel Miller
ISBN-13: 978-1509559657
Publisher: Polity
Guideline Price: £17.99

There has been a lot of negativity about Irish society in recent times but British anthropologist Danny Miller has an answer for the doom merchants. “It is hard to find another currently existing society that is demonstrably better” than the suburban Irish town where he lived for 16 months.

For research reasons, he anonymises the town as Cuan. Since it was outed as Skerries last November, The Good Enough Life has attracted more attention than the average work of social science. But the book offers much more than a promotional strapline for estate agents in north Co Dublin.

Miller gives a nuanced analysis of what it means to live well – or at least relatively well – in modernity. Shunning political commentary, the Londoner focuses on the humdrum of Irish life: friends chatting over coffee; grandparents babysitting; residents meeting on Tidy Towns committees. Life is almost boring in Cuan but that’s the point. It is not the perfect society but, according to Miller, it comes pretty close to meeting Aristotle’s ideal of eudaimonia, or “flourishing”.

People here are relatively liberal and egalitarian – “there was a clear contrast between Cuan” and an “equivalent fieldsite in England” where he previously stayed. Locals displayed “conspicuous anti-consumption”, while the decline of the church has failed to dent social cohesion as people have turned to other things for meaning – family, sport and dogs (there are a lot of dogs in Cuan).


There are some qualifications. Older people are more heavily represented in the study – the voice of under 25s is largely absent. The housing crisis is addressed superficially, although “people in Cuan were well aware that migrants were relatively sparse as a result of high property prices”. Those who have moved into the area are well-integrated but Miller notes “a very different attitude” towards migrants from eastern Europe compared with Africa.

Miller adds richness to the study by imagining what great philosophers would have to say about Cuan but at times he comes across as gushing in his praise and too eager to please his former hosts. The anthropologist never intended for the town to be identified and this gave him licence for exaggeration. In short, his book doesn’t settle any arguments about the best place to live but it does act as a stimulating way of shifting the debate on what constitutes progress.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column