Research visit to the National Folklore Collection at UCD

My recent visit to the National Folklore Collection in University College Dublin to view its boat and fishing related material, further demonstrated the close link that exists between that collection and the National Museum of Ireland’s Irish Folklife collection. The core archival material held by the National Folklore Collection was assembled by the Irish Folklore Commission between 1935-1971. Seán Ó Súilleabháin became the Commission’s first archivist and its small group of collectors of oral tradition were aided by Ó Súilleabháin’s A Handbook of Irish Folklore, which was first published in 1942.¹ The Handbook chapters divide Irish life by subject matter and activities that still guide the National Museum of Ireland’s acquisitions strategy to this day. Ó Súilleabháin’s subject classification was formed from experience gained in the field as a collector and in accordance with the most up-to-date and scientific method that was evolved by Swedish experts.² He had himself spent some months in Sweden being trained by folklorists.³

Details from the National Folklore Collection of bogdeal rope making in the Sneem area of Co. Kerry. © National Museum of Ireland.

Questionnaires, correspondence and fieldwork notes held in the National Folklore Collection add to our understanding of objects held in the Irish Folklife collection. The National Folklife Collection’s index book Ceistiúcháin/Questionnaires holds references to questionnaires sent out to adults in the 1930s. The Ceistiúcháin/Questionnaires returned valuable information on boats and rafts, clinker-built boats, currachs, boat building, fishing beliefs, modes of transport, piseogs related to fishing, rope making and more. More often than not, the Irish Folklife collection contains the objects described in the National Folklore Collection records.

Hand rotated twister for making rope on Toraigh, Co. Dhún na nGall from the National Folklore Collection. © National Museum of Ireland.

The making of rope from various organic materials is well recorded throughout the National Folklore Collection. From bog deal to straw and horse hair, strong rope was twisted for use on boats and farms.

Bog deal rope twister from the Irish Folklife collection. © National Museum of Ireland.

Bog deal rope from Glencolumbkille, Co. Donegal, Irish Folklife collection. © National Museum of Ireland.

Visiting institutions is an important step in the research required to develop the boat gallery at Turlough Park. More interaction with the National Folklore Collection’s records will certainly inform the final narrative of the gallery.

My thanks to Jonny Dillon of the National Folklore Collection for his assistance during my visit.

A confirmed appointment is strictly necessary when visiting the National Folklore Collection. Please click here for further details.

¹ Ó Súilleabháin, Seán, A Handbook of Irish Folklore, Folklore Associates, Inc. Hatboro, Pennsylvania, Herbert Jenkins: London, 1963.

² Francis Shaw, ‘The Irish Folklore Commission’, An Irish Quarterly Review, Mar., 1944, Vol. 33, No. 129, (Mar., 1944), p.31.

³ O’Sullivan, Seán, ‘The Work of the Irish Folklore Commission’, Oral History, Autumn, 1974, Vol. 2, No. 2, The Interview in Social History: Part 2 (Autumn, 1974), p.10.

Comments about this page

  • Very interesting snippet on seashore traditions, they are so varied Noel. Always great too to see the older Gaelic script which can be tough to decipher at times!! Away from the sea I well remember using a hand twister to make a hay rope (súgan) with my grand father, John McNulty from Toomore, Foxford, Co. Mayo.

    By Séamus Bourke. (18/10/2022)

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