Glenamaddy and the Irish Folklore Collections

This post aims to showcase the contributions submitted by Glenamaddy parishioners to the Irish Folklore Collections which includes the Main Manuscript Collection and the 1937 Schools’ Collection. The Schools’ Collection which was organised by the Irish Folklore Commission in 1937 embodies a substantial body of material collected by primary school children and teachers throughout the twenty-six counties. We are indebted to the collectors and informants who provided folklore material for both collections, thus increasing our understanding of what life was like in Ireland in bygone days. Glenamaddy parish is well represented in the Schools’ Collection in particular, and to a lesser extent in the Main Manuscript Collection. Both Collections provide valuable insights into the customs, traditions, superstitions, pastimes, preoccupations etc. of a people who lived in an Ireland which differed greatly from the one we identify with today. In making that journey back in time, we are constantly reminded of the vision of those who managed the collection process and made provision for the preservation of a significant part of our cultural inheritance that would otherwise be lost to future generations.

The Main Manuscript Collection:

Following on from their involvement with the Schools’ Collection initiative in 1937 many teachers continued to collect and submit folklore on various subjects. Dónal de Grás, Seosamh Ó Deagha and Paddy Crosby from the parish of Glenamaddy followed up with contributions which form part of the Main Manuscript Collection. In a revealing interview conducted by collector, Ciarán Bairéad in 1954, Honor Harlowe (nee Walsh) describes her experience growing up in Boyounaghmore (Middletown), Glenamaddy, and her later life in Tuam where she relocated. She was a native Irish speaker with no formal education. A transcript of the interview appears under the ‘Heritage > Folklore > Seanchas’ tab of this website. Dónal de Grás attributes the information he submitted regarding Oíche Shamhna to Dónal Ó Conchatha, Stonetown, aged 60, and material on St. Stephen’s Day, Lá Bealtaine and Christmas to pupils attending Árd Aoibhinn National School. He also collected folklore about Cluichí and a story regarding Saint Brigid from Séamus Mac Gloinn, aged 84, who resided in Leitra. The following table shows the Folio Numbers in the Main Manuscript Collection where the original hand-written versions of Glenamaddy submissions are archived, the subjects covered, the informants, collectors and dates submitted. ‘Tomás Gabha’, ‘Na Brídeoga’, ‘Saint Brigid’, ‘Oíche Shamhna’, ‘St. Stephen’s Day’, ‘Lá Bealtaine’, ‘Christmas’, ‘Bonfires’, ‘Cluichí [Games Played]’, ‘Seanchas’ and three excerpts from Paddy Crosby’s lengthy ‘Local History’ submission, namely, ‘Fairy Lore in the District’, ‘Oileán an Chlampair’ and ‘Loch Loirgín’  are reproduced in print form under the ‘Folklore’ tab in this website.

Main Manuscript Collection – Glenamaddy Quick Reference Directory

Whereas the Schools’ Collection is an unchanging body of work, the Main Manuscript Collection continues to evolve.  About one quarter of the National Folklore Collections have been amassed since 1971. Folklore is still being gathered and in this regard Glenamaddy Boyounagh Heritage Project representatives were pleased to be present at the home of Nonie Golden (née Mannion) in Castlecoote on 14th November 2017 when Criostóir Mac Cárthaigh, Folklore Archivist and Director of the Folklore Department in U.C.D., travelled from Dublin to record her memories of growing up in Lisheenaheltia in the 1930s and 1940s and later her varied, busy and very successful life in business as well as her involvement in promoting Castlecoote. Nonie is a granddaughter of Labhrás Ó Ciaráin (Larry Comer) from Lisheenaheltia who was recorded by Dr. Wilhelm Doegen, Director of the Sound Department at the Prussian State Library, Berlin, in University College, Galway, on 9th September 1930. Labhrás was a noted Irish speaker and he is mentioned by pupils attending Lisín na hEilte N.S. and Gort na Léime N.S. as the source of stories they submitted to the 1937 Schools’ Collection. You can get background information on the Doegen Project, biographical information on Labhrás (Browse-Speakers page 4) who was born in 1868 and listen to him reciting “Scéal an Chiardubhánaigh” (Browse –Titles page 11) and singing “Bláth Bán na hAirne” (Browse – Speakers page 4) at

The 1937 Schools’ Collection (Bailiúchán an Scol):

Children attending Ardeevin, Glenamaddy and Lisheenaheltia primary schools, under the direction of their teachers, made an impressive contribution to the 1937/38 Schools’ Folklore Collection. A number of children from the townland of Woodfield who attended Gort na Léime National School also contributed handsomely. Over one hundred children attending primary schools in the parish were selected by their teachers to transcribe the information they collected from local informants into Department of Education-supplied copybooks, with many children covering multiple topics. It was a measure of the status of the Irish language in the day-to-day life of the parish community in 1937 that Irish was, by and large, the preferred language used by children attending Árd Aoibhinn, Lisín na hEilte and Gort na Léime National Schools when submitting information under the various headings suggested by the Folklore Commisssion. Glenamaddy pupil contributions, with a few exceptions, were made in English. A study of parish submissions reveals that:-

  • Children from the parish submitted almost 500 essays to the 1937 Schools’ Collection.
  • The collectors’ names and the townlands they hailed from appear in 90% of the submissions.
  • 70% of contributions mention the people who provided information and, in most cases, their townlands.
  • Of the 55 prescribed topics circulated by the Folklore Commission, most were addressed by local children
  • Overall, 40% of the submissions made by children living in the parish were made in Irish. In the case of Ard Aoibhinn, Lisín na hEilte and Gort na Léime schools the percentages were 77%, 72% and 72% respectively.
  • Many children submitted information on a variety of topics. The most prolific contributors were Pádraig Pléamonn, Woodfield, Oliver Bruen, Glenamaddy, Frances Corley, Glenamaddy and Máire Ní Chiaráin, Knockauns.
  • Access to potentially sensitive material posted on the dú website is restricted if deemed likely to cause embarrassment or offence.

The information submitted by Lisín na hEilte and Glenamaddy National Schools appears in Volume 17 of the Schools’ Collection while the Árd Aoibhinn contributions are to be found in Volume 18 and Gort na Léime National School in Volumes 37 and 38. The user-friendly structure of the ‘dú’ website provides instant access to the individual submissions of the children who participated in the project. The information contained in locally generated directories which are featured in the ‘Parish-Townlands’ tab of this website complement the search features of the ‘dú’ website by providing a quick reference facility which contains the names of Glenamaddy collectors and informants, the topics covered locally as well as the starting page numbers of submissions and the volumes where they are preserved. The quick reference directories are too extensive to appear as part of this post. Instead, the various submissions have been sorted according to collectors’ or informants’ townlands and posted at the end of relevant townland posts.

Inspirational First Director of the National Folklore Commission:

Séamus Ó Duilearga, a native of Cushendall, Co. Antrim, was the first Director of the Irish folklore Commission and it is primarily due to his vision and lifelong dedication that such a large body of Irish folklore was rescued from oblivion for the benefit of future generations. The following quotation encapsulates the importance he attached to an appreciation of our age-old traditions as a means of defining our national identity. “The traditions of Ireland are the background of our history; they have helped in large measure to mould the Ireland of the past; they are part and parcel of the Irish nation of today. We desire to see them known and honoured, for the Ireland of tomorrow will have need of them, finding in them a source of inspiration and pride.”      

Operation of the 1937 Schools’ Collection Scheme:

In September 1937 the Department of Education invited Primary School Principals to enlist the support of pupils in 5th classes and higher to collect information on a number of carefully chosen topics from parents, grandparents, relatives and people living in the locality. Seán Ó Súilleabháin, Folklore Commission archivist, drew up guidelines on the type of stories and material that should be collected, including a series of questions under fifty-five headings which were designed to elicit sought-after information from informants. The guidelines were arranged in a booklet entitled ‘Irish Folklore and Tradition’ and circulated to primary schools in the twenty-six counties. The fifty five topics chosen were – Hidden Treasure, A Funny Story, A Collection of Riddles, Weather Lore, Local Heroes, Local Happenings, Severe Weather, Old Schools, Old Crafts, Local Marriage Customs, In the Penal Times, Local Place-names, Bird Lore, Local Cures, Home-made Toys, The Lore of Certain Days, Travelling Folk, Fairy Forts, Local Poets, Famine Times, Games I Play, The Local Roads, My Home District, Our Holy Wells, Herbs, The Potato Crop, Proverbs, Festival Customs, The Care of Our farm Animals, Churning, The Care of the Feet, The Local Forge, Clothes Made Locally, Stories of the Holy Family, The Local Patron Saint, The Local Fairs, The Landlord, Food in Olden Times, Hurling and Football Matches, An Old Story, Old Irish Tales, A Song, Local Monuments, Bread, Buying and Selling, Old Houses, Stories of Giants and Warriors, The Leprechaun or Mermaid, Local Ruins, Religious Stories, The Old Graveyards, A Collection of Prayers, Emblems and Objects of Value, Historical Tradition and Strange Animals. Sometimes, teachers devised additional topics where they felt that the prescribed list of topics didn’t cater for all local needs. The booklet emphasised “the task of rescuing from oblivion the traditions which, in spite of the vicissitudes of the historic Irish nation, have, century in, century out, been preserved with loving care by our ancestors.” It reminded its audience that “The task is an urgent one for in our time most of this important national oral heritage will have passed away for ever”.

Whereas Ó Duilearga and Ó Súilleabháin were the driving forces behind the initiative, they depended, to a large extent, on the co-operation of national school teachers to implement the folklore collection guidelines.  The relationship between teachers and the government was at a low ebb in the period leading up to the introduction of the initiative. Salary cuts, a lack of consultation surrounding plans for the teaching of Irish in Infant classes and unheeded demands for the abolition of the Primary School Certificate had left teachers alienated and not well disposed to embrace new initiatives. Ó Duilearga and Ó Súilleabháin are credited with motivating teachers to embrace the scheme by providing reassurance and guidance at information meetings convened throughout the twenty-six counties. They ensured that school inspectors would have a reduced role in the operation of the 1937 scheme. Ó Duilearga had been greatly impressed by storytellers like Seán Ó Conaill from Kerry whom he had encountered on his travels around the country and he felt that in a short time the store of folklore which people like him possessed would be lost to posterity unless positive action was taken immediately. For the Folklore Commission the main value of the involvement of the children was to identify storytellers and tradition-bearers across the country so that professional collectors would collect the material “properly” from the informants at a later date. It was believed that the children would, as a rule, give the main points of a story or tradition but that they would rarely record information verbatim. In the absence of tape recorders, it is remarkable how well the children reproduced the information supplied by informants, given that some of the stories were lengthy and intricate. 

National School teachers had a huge impact on the collection, often including material that they had collected themselves in the copybooks. Indeed, in some cases it is only the teachers’ material that was forwarded to the commission with no input from pupils. Máire Úna Ní Chonfhaola who taught in Árd Aoibhinn National School collected folklore from people in the locality and submitted it as part of the Schools’ Collection scheme.  There are no pupils’ names cited in her submissions. The children in her care were probably too young to take part in the scheme. Dónal de Grás and Máire Úna Ní Chonfhaola (S.N. Árd Aoibhinn), Cáit Ní Choistealbha and Pádraic Ó Séadhacháin (S.N. Lisín na hEilte ), Seosamh Ó Deagha and Úna Bn. Uí Threasaigh (S.N. Gleann na Madadh), and Liam Ó Ceallaigh and Pádraig Ó Corcoráin (S.N. Gort na Léime) were the teachers who managed the scheme locally on behalf of the Folklore Commission in partnership with the Department of Education. Clondoyle N.S. didn’t take part in the project which was voluntary.

Generally speaking, the topics were tackled by children in the order outlined in the guidelines. The material in the copybooks by and large follows the same order, as does the material in the official notebooks into which the choicest pieces were subsequently transcribed. The teachers often edited and corrected the material that the pupils wrote in their copybooks. There was some debate about how much editing was desirable in the case of the folklore compositions with some School Inspectors advising teachers that it was in order for them to correct bad spelling and faulty grammar and to discard vulgar expressions. The teacher became the ultimate regulator of any selection before returning material to the Department of Education. Some pupils’ contributions weren’t deemed to be of a sufficiently high standard to be copied into Department copybooks. 

It was recommended that only children from 5th standard and higher should be invited to participate in the scheme. On 30th June 1937 there were 114,841 pupils (53,319 pupils in 5th class, 38,334 in 6th class, 17,201 in 7th class and 5,987 in 8th class) attending primary schools in the twenty-six counties. Allowing that children generally started their primary education at five years of age it can be assumed that the age profile of potential participants would have ranged from about eleven years in 5th class to fourteen years in 8th class. The Department of Education circular suggested that the time set aside for Composition, as part of ordinary school work, be devoted to Folklore composition and the recording of material collected by the pupils. The mechanics of the scheme were straight forward. According to Ó Súilleabháin the teacher would have a composition on a Tuesday, or, Thursday and a day or two beforehand he/she would suggest some of the topics to be covered by the children. If there were any festivals going on, they would have the children inquire at home about the festival and about the stories connected with it. The information collected as part of homework was presented to teachers for correction. When composition day came the children wrote down in Department of Education copybooks the accounts they had received from their families and neighbours.

The scheme was originally due to operate from September 1937 until June 1938 but as it was slow in getting off the ground and as additional copybooks had to be obtained from the Department to accommodate the unprecedented amount of material collected the closing date of the scheme was extended to 31st December 1938. The Department requested that the finished product in manuscript form and the pupils’ original composition copies be forwarded to the Irish Folklore Commission by post not later than 12th January 1939.

It is difficult to know to what extent the children’s work was directed and edited by teachers prior to submission as the digitised versions which appear online are the corrected versions with surprisingly few grammatical or spelling errors. Be that as it may, it was an important exercise in documenting local customs and traditions and the process helped to highlight the importance of our oral heritage in the context of the nation-building programme which the government had embarked upon.

The collections were separated and moved to a safe location for the duration of the Second World War.  They were re-united in 1949 at 82 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, where the work of arranging the official notebooks according to parish, barony, county and province began and a complete list of the schools which had participated in the Scheme was made. The notebooks were then bound in large cloth volumes (1952-1953), paginated and numbered. An interim catalogue of the contents of these volumes was completed in 1955 and their entire contents microfilmed. In 1971 the commission’s collections and staff were reconstituted in UCD as the Department of Irish Folklore which has since been renamed the Delargy Centre for Irish Folklore and National Folklore Collection. The Schools’ Collection has been digitised since 2016 and the latest technology makes it easy to examine the submissions by county, parish or school as the material is broken down under all of these headings. A portion of the collection has been transcribed by volunteers. This is helpful, as in some instances, poor quality paper and faded ink make the scanned versions of the original manuscripts difficult to decipher.

The Irish Language, Traditions and Customs Struggled to Survive in a Hostile Environment:

From the enactment of the Statute of Kilkenny in 1367 right up to and including the implementation of the Education Act of 1831 a host of government disincentives, including punitive measures calculated to obliterate the native tongue, put the Irish language under enormous pressure. The prominence given to the English language in administrative and commercial spheres, the introduction of a primary education system in 1831 in which Irish was prohibited and the Great Famine which hit a disproportionately high number of Irish speakers who lived in poorer rural areas decimated by famine-induced deaths and emigration, translated into a marked decline in the day-to-day use of the Irish language. Some Irish political leaders were critical of the language, seeing it as ‘backward’, with English promoted as the language of progress. A working knowledge of English proved advantageous to people forced to emigrate to the U.S.A. and the U.K. in search of a better life. The displacement of the native Irish population through plantations and land clearances caused great social upheaval and had the effect of disrupting and marginalising the way of life of the Irish-speaking population who were the keepers of the oral tradition and ancient customs. National Schools of all denominations discouraged the use of the Irish language in the 19th century. English, the official language of the national schools from the beginning, was the vernacular for most of Ireland by the close of the 19th century. The wonder is that the Irish language and native traditions survived as well as they did, considering the odds that were stacked against them over a prolonged period.

Renewed Interest in Our National Heritage: 

There was a resurgence of interest in Irish culture in the last decades of the 19th century. Organisations like the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language (1876), the Gaelic Athletic Association (1884) and Conradh na Gaeilge (1893) were established to promote the Irish language, advance the nation’s cultural heritage, preserve and cultivate traditional games and spearhead a political campaign to achieve national independence. Once Ireland achieved independence in 1922 there were fresh grounds for hoping that the Irish language would regain some of the ground lost in previous centuries.  Increased interest in Gaeltacht areas resulting from the supportive policies of the newly-founded Irish State focused attention on the Irish traditions which had disappeared in other areas. The Folklore of Ireland Society founded in 1927 and later the Irish Folklore Institute did much good work with limited means before the government-established Irish Folklore Commission assumed responsibility for the collection of national folklore in 1935. A greater sense of urgency now prevailed as with each passing year there was mounting concern that a wealth of folklore was being lost.  Folklore has been collected in the 19th century but the material was not considered by folklore aficionados to fully represent the authentic voice of the people due to a combination of factors including the background of the collectors, the editing of submissions etc. From the time of its establishment in April 1935, the programme of collection undertaken by the Irish Folklore Commission through its panel of full- and part-time collectors was designed to document as thoroughly as possible Irish folklore throughout the entire country with particular emphasis on Gaeltacht areas. National Schools were invited through the Department of Education to assist with the collection of folklore on Holy Wells in 1934 but teachers were reluctant to get involved because the scheme was perceived as an instrument for evaluating the work of teachers by school inspectors. Not to be deterred by earlier setbacks Séamus Ó Duilearga, Director of the Irish Folklore Commission, embarked on a far more ambitious programme in 1937. His plan to recruit schoolteachers and pupils to the cause was inspired by an extended visit to Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Estonia in 1928 where he studied their folklore collection and curation systems. While there he met with Professor Walter Anderson, Head of the Estonian Folklore Archive, who had been responsible for organising a highly successful folklore scheme among schoolchildren in San Marino. Supported by Archivist, Seán Ó Súilleabháin who joined the Commission in 1935, he convinced a cash-strapped Department of Education to provide basic funding for a limited period. The involvement of schools proved to be a master stroke as over a period of eighteen months, well over half a million pages of folklore were collected by more than fifty thousand pupils in five thousand primary schools across the twenty-six counties. Ó Súilleabháin who was an ex-schoolteacher himself said that they got the brilliant idea that if they could get the children of Ireland to help in collecting folklore, a great lot of areas would be tapped which they could never hope to cover by full-time or part-time collectors who concentrated in Gaeltacht areas.

UNESCO Recognition:

The ‘Irish Folklore Commission Collections 1935-1970’ at University College Dublin were inscribed into the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2017 where they share the international limelight with such world-renowned cultural masterpieces as the Book of Kells, the Magna Carta and the Bayeux Tapestry.  It is a fitting tribute to the tireless efforts of collectors and informants that the unique importance of the work they engaged in qualified for such a prestigious accolade.

The thousands of individuals from Ó Súilleabháin and Ó Delarga to the teachers, collectors and informants who were involved in the Schools’ Collection project could scarcely have dreamed that the body of folklore they assembled in 1937/38 would get a new lease of life when it went online and that eighty years on it would continue to be of immense interest to the relatives of collectors and informants and a rich source of information for students, researchers, genealogists, educationalists and people involved in heritage projects. The digitised versions of the pupils’ work in the Schools’ Collection can be viewed at The original children’s work that constitutes the Schools’ Collection may be examined in the Folklore Department, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, where experienced, well-informed staff members are always pleased to provide assistance. Glenamaddy folklore submissions that form part of the Main Manuscript Collection are not posted online but may be examined in the Folklore Department, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4. As outlined elsewhere in this post some of the Glenamaddy folklore submissions contained in the Main Manuscript Collection are reproduced in print form under the ‘Folklore’ tab in this website.

Schools’ Collection Quick Reference Directories:-

  • Submissions attributed to collectors, and/or informants are featured in quick reference directories under the ‘Parish > Townlands’ tab on this website. Where collectors’ names are omitted, submissions appear under informants’ townlands.
  • Quick reference directories are available for the following townlands – BallinapeakaBallinastackBarnaBoyounagh_More (Middletown),  BushtwonCashelClassaghroeCloonacross, Clooncon_EastClooncon_WestCloonkeenCultiafadda, Eskeromullacaun (Esker),  FelimsparkGlenamaddyGortaganny, Gortnagier, Kiltullagh, Knockauns, Lisheenaheltia, LoughparkMeelick, Scotland,  Shannagh MoreStonetown and Woodfield.
  • To view/save a manuscript, ascertain the Volume and Page Number from a quick reference directory and enter it in the search facility of the Schools’ Collection section of the dú website – Home Page > Collections > The Schools’ Collection > Jump To Page > Enter Volume No. and  Page No. > Find.
  • The small number of school submissions which don’t contain collectors’ or informants’ names have not been attributed to townlands.
  • The submissions of children from the townland of Patch who attended Lisheenaheltia N.S. and children from the townland of Currach who attended Ardeevin N.S. do not form part of the quick reference directories as they resided outside Glenamaddy parish. They are, however, posted online in the dú website under the relevant school.
  • Alternatively, schools listed on the dú website may be searched in various ways:
    • S.N. Lisín na hEilte [Cailiní] submissions are contained in Volume 17, Pages 1 – 96
    • S.N. Lisín na hEilte [Buachaillí] submissions are contained in Volume 17, Pages 101 – 189
    • S.N. Naomh Seosamh [Buachaillí] submissions are contained in Volume 17, Pages 325 – 506
    • S.N. Scoil Sheosaimh [Cailiní] submissions are contained in Volume 17, Pages 193 – 323
    • S.N. Árd Aoibhinn submissions are contained in Volume 18, Pages 5 – 237
    • S.N. Gort na Léime submissions are contained in Volume 37, Pages 286 – 324 and Volume 38, Pages 8 – 224

We invite folklore submissions for our website and would be delighted to hear from you if you have parish-focused, folklore-related material from the past which you may like to share online and which you think others would enjoy. Please use the ‘Contribute’ sub-heading under the ‘Archive’ tab in our website to submit your contribution.

Author: Pat Keaveny


The Schools’ Collection, Irish Folklore Collection

The Main Manuscript Collection, Irish Folklore Collection

A Work of National Importance, Caoimhe Nic Lochlainn

Irish Folk Custom and Belief, Seán Ó Suilleabháin

Scéim na Scol, Séamus Ó Catháin

The Folklore of Ireland Is Behind Those Hills, Julian Kruse

Irish Folklore and Tradition, Department of Education – 1937 Schools’ Collection Guidelines

Department of Education circulars 10/38 and 17/38

1937/38 and 1939/40 Reports of the Department of Education