Monday 14 July 2014

Schools' Collection now searchable by name and parish

The Schools Collection for Dublin, Mayo, Donegal
and Waterford can now be searched by name
and parish on Dú
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to receive a guided tour of the National Folklore Collection (at UCD) from Senior Archivist Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh.

What a treasure trove it is! And thank goodness its value has been recognised. It has already started to show its potential with the website Dú, which launched last December (see blogpost). Its first tranche of free material consisted of some 64,000 pages of hand-written folklore and local history recorded in the 1930s by Irish schoolchildren in counties Dublin, Mayo, Donegal and Waterford.

This material is part of the Schools' Collection which was gathered during an eighteen-month period from September 1937 to January 1939. Some 100,000 schoolchildren, aged 11-14, in 5,000 primary schools throughout Ireland took part in the biggest folklore collecting scheme ever mounted anywhere in the world.

"It was made part of the school curriculum during that period," explained Críostóir. "The schoolchildren were encouraged to collect folklore and history material from their parents, grandparents, neighbours and older members of their community. They were given topics to research and write about. These included local history and monuments, folktales and legends, riddles and proverbs, songs, customs and beliefs, games and pastimes, traditional work practices and crafts.

"As a result, the stories are full of both genealogical information and colour."

Their written stories were neatly assembled into collections of 'exercise books', with each story or article recording the name of the child plus the name and details of their informant. These details are typically the relationship of the informant to the child, address, age and occupation.

The total schools’ collection, amounting to a half-million pages, covered every school district in the twenty-six counties

Since the first batch of stories was launched, the website has been further developed so that the stories can be searched by name (this includes the names of the children and the names of their informants) and by parish.

The next batch of these stories to be added to Dú will be from schools in counties Galway, Kildare, Leitrim, Monaghan, Kerry and Laois. Scanning has started. It's too early to give a schedule of releases, but I'll keep you informed.

As well as the Schools' Collection, the National Folklore Collection holds around 17,000 audio recordings, nearly 100,000 photographs and a fabulous manuscript collection of some 2million pages. Just a quick browse discovered details of basket making, festivals, death customs, stockings, a 'thatch' map of the island, clothing... really, this is priceless detail about the lives of our ancestors, and hopefully more and more of it will find its way online.

Published 10:03am