Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Irish Folklore Website

Peig Sayers, famous storyteller and Gaelic speaker.

     The fighting was over when the Folklore of Ireland Society was formed in 1927.  The bloody Irish War of Independence, notable for the number of civilians targeted by British forces, and the heartbreaking Irish Civil War that followed on it's heels were finally finished, though recent enough to still traumatize.  The newly founded Irish Free State and it's citizens were eager to move forward in establishing their national identity and part of that was to preserve their precious heritage.  Interest in the Irish language, which most of them could not understand, let alone speak, was growing along with the desire to pass down to future generations the stories and legends of old Ireland.  The Irish Folklore Institute was founded in 1930 with a government grant, and commenced collecting material, it's members traveling all over the country to do so, specifically to outlying areas where the Gaelic language and folk stories were likely to be found.  The older Folklore of Ireland Society also continued it's work, producing a journal called Bealoideas that is still published today.

     Being a country with an extensive oral tradition, from the seanchai of ancient times, who kept the tales and histories of their tribe, (and were the first genealogists in Ireland), to the traveling seanchai, who took to the roads after the old way of life was destroyed by the foreigners and kept the knowledge alive, Ireland must have been particularly well suited for this sort of endeavor.  In 1935, with another government grant, the Irish Folklore Commission was founded, continuing the work of collecting Ireland's folk history.  Among it's projects, was a collaboration with the National Schools from 1937 to 1938, that involved asking schoolchildren to document local history and folklore as well as songs, beliefs, proverbs, food, crafts and other information from their home areas. The result was half a million pages of invaluable cultural history, much of it told to the students by grandparents and elderly neighbors, and painstakingly written out by the children.

     A project is currently underway to digitize the collection and can be found here.  While you may get lucky and find an ancestor here, it's real value is as a window into the cultural history of Ireland.  One child wrote of his great-grandfather, a hedge school teacher who had to flee to America after two of his students were overheard speaking Gaelic and authorities demanded to know who had taught them the language.

     When you arrive at the site, you have the option of doing a search or clicking the red "start exploring" bar.  If you choose the latter, a page appears with a box on the left to select a county.  Only four are currently available, Dublin, Donegal, Mayo, and Waterford, but more are on the way.  Once you've chosen a county, you can choose from a list of schools and locations.  Having selected one of those, you can opt for more details by clicking the red bar on the right, and the page below will come up:

      From this you can select a title to view, or choose by people, (the author or his source).  Alternately, you can do a standard search for people or places from the home page.

     Oh, and the picture of Peig at the top of this page?  I hope you will seek out some of her stories, they are simple, but moving and I think you will enjoy them as I did.


  1. Thanks Ellie, some of my relatives' stories are recorded in the School's Project - I should share them on my blog. As for Peig, sorry, but you'd have a hard job convincing many of us to give her another chance - she was compulsory reading in school and generations of Irish teenagers suffered daily doses of her miserable life - I remember her as such a whinger! Admittedly, we may have read an edited version, but noooo...lol

  2. Hi Dara, I for one would like very much to see your relative's writing, you should blog about it. I'm not sure what a whinger is, is that like a whiner? Sorry you had to read daily stories you didn't care for, her life was pretty depressing I guess, but I found most of the stories charming. What I took away was a sense of community that is so lacking here in the USA. Hardly any of my friend's children even live in the same state they do, and half the time the grandparents retire and move to Florida.. America is so big, and everyone is so mobile, I guess it all depends on your point of view. I won't try to convince you to read her though, lol