Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Ireland's National Folklore Collection launches online

Dinny McGinley TD, Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (AHG), has officially launched DĂșchas.ie, a new Irish folklore repository, at an event held at NovaUCD, University College Dublin (UCD).

The new website has arrived with some 64,000 pages of hand-written folklore and local history recorded in 1937-38 by Irish schoolchildren in counties Dublin, Mayo, Donegal and Waterford.

This original material, digitised for DĂșchas.ie in a project funded by AHG, is part of the Schools’ Manuscript Collection. This material, part of the National Folklore Collection at UCD, comprises in excess of 500,000 pages of material recorded by some 50,000 school children in over 5,000 schools in 26 participating counties. (See below for more about the Schools' Manuscript Collection.)

Speaking at the launch, Minister McGinley TD said, 'Folklore allows for fresh insights and interpretation regarding our culture. I am delighted to be here at NovaUCD to officially launch DĂșchas.ie which will enable Irish heritage and culture to be disseminated to a global audience allowing for a deeper understanding of the definition of society. This is an innovative project bringing together the old and the new in a way which allows for long-term possibilities regarding the understanding of our tradition.'

He also announced €1.75 million of new funding jointly provided by his Department and UCD. This will run from 2014 to 2016 and will fund the main phase of digitising of the National Folklore Collection including the remaining Schools’ Manuscript Collection material.

The National Folklore Collection at UCD is one of the largest folklore collections in the world. It comprises an estimated 2m manuscript pages, 500,000 index cards and 80,000 photographs, plus about 12,000 hours of sound recordings and about 1,000 hours of video material.

While the launch site still has many of its sections 'under construction', there's already plenty to explore. As well as the Featured Item (a 1939 account of Old Irish Christmas Traditions), I've been reading about hedge schools in Ballinlobaun, Crossmolina, Co Mayo, relics of Penal Times near Passage East, Co Waterford, and some very strange cures for blackleg in cattle and mumps in people, from Derries, Co Donegal.

This is definitely a collection to get lost in. I recommend you bookmark it.


Schools' Manuscript Collection (1937-38)

In 1937 the Irish Folklore Commission, in collaboration with the Department of Education and the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, initiated a revolutionary scheme in which schoolchildren were encouraged to collect and document folklore and local history.

Over a period of eighteen months some 50,000 children in 5,000 primary schools in the twenty-six counties were encouraged to collect folklore material in their home districts. The topics about which the children were instructed to research and write included local history and monuments, folktales and legends, riddles and proverbs, songs, customs and beliefs, games and pastimes, traditional work practices and crafts, etc. The children collected this material mainly from their parents and grandparents and other older members of the local community or school district.