Established in 1935, the Irish Folklore Commission pioneered a revolutionary new approach to the collection of folklore in Ireland. Looking to collect and preserve the country’s oral tradition, the Commission hired full-time collectors from across the island to record and transcribe native tales, legends, traditions and customs, many of which faced extinction owing to the on-going effects of emigration, language decline and urbanisation. Focusing first on Irish language-speaking rural areas, the work of the Commission soon expanded to include English-speaking regions, both rural and urban. Here below we see three of our collectors at work, where for the first time they were recording tales and memories verbatim, that is word for word as spoken, so as to preserve as authentic a representation of the oral tradition as possible. Significantly, they also collected valuable contextual data on their informants and materials, allowing future scholars the opportunity to engage creatively with the raw data, discerning distribution patterns, migratory patterns and so on.
As a result of the boundless zeal and dedication the Commission’s full-time, and later part-time, collectors over 2000 volumes of manuscript material was collected and this is now held by the National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin, a successor to the Commission. Encompassing popular oral literature in the form of narrative tales, songs and poems; in-depth descriptions of Irish material culture and vernacular architecture; descriptions of calendar customs and cultural history, the collection is recognised as one of the richest in western Europe, covering all aspects of human life. Here below is a sampling from those early manuscript materials
The transcribed manuscript volumes held by the National Folklore Collection are further complemented by its rich photographic archive, as well as its audio and film collection, its specialist library and its breath-taking art collection. Enjoy a few samples below from these collections, depicting a number of key aspects of Irish folk life and tradition – music, religion, livelihood and festival customs
But folklore is not simply a matter for the history books, it is a living tradition and the work of the National Folklore Collection continues. Currently there are two new folklore collection projects underway – the Irish Traveller History Project and the Irish Protestant Folk Memory Project – both intended to document these two under-represented traditions in Irish life. Why not stay up-to-date with the archive’s activities by liking them on Facebook (facebook.com/NationalFolkloreCollectionUCD) or by following them on Twitter (@bealoideasucd)