Of Maypoles, Irish folklore and customs – the treasures of the National Folklore Collection

Rosary Pastoral Centre, Harold’s Cross, Monday 13th May, 2019

7 pm. My work as a volunteer – Zac van Horn at 7 pm – see below for details

7.15pm. Dr. Kelly Fitzgerald will give a fascinating glimpse into the National Folklore Collection in her talk. She will focus on a few areas likely to be of particular interest to residents of Harold’s Cross, such as the use of maypoles in celebrations, and the importance of ongoing work in adding to the Collection, such as the collecting that is currently taking place in neighbouring Dublin 8.  

The National Folklore Collection is one of the most important cultural resources in Ireland. The new Irish state was only 13 years old when in a far-sighted move it established the Irish Folklore Commission in 1935 to oversee a team of collectors working to systematically record and document oral traditions, vernacular artefacts and customs, traditional music and song, beliefs and folk practices throughout Ireland.  The vast and valuable body of work they recorded and preserved forms the core of the Collection and gives us a glimpse into a way of life that, in many cases, is no more.  The Collection, which also includes material amassed by the Irish Folklore Institute (1930-1935), the Folklore of Ireland Society (1926- ) and the Department of Irish Folklore UCD (1972-2005) was transferred into the custodianship of UCD when the Irish Folklore Commission ceased in 1971 and is still held by the UCD Library.  It includes approximately 2 million manuscript pages; 500,000 index cards; 12,000 hours of sound recordings; 80,000 photographs and 1,000 hours of video material.  Amongst the material are in-depth descriptions of the Famine (1845-1849), first-person recollections of the 1913 Lockout and the 1916 Rising, as well as oral traditional accounts of historical figures such as Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847).  Some of the material can be viewed online, and personal visits can also be scheduled to search through or view items from the Collection.

Approximately 740,000 pages of folklore and local tradition known as the Schools’ Collection were compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools in the 26 counties of the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939.  More than 50,000 schoolchildren were enlisted to collect folklore in their home districts. This included oral history, topographical information, folktales and legends, riddles and proverbs, games and pastimes, trades and crafts. The children recorded this material from their parents, grandparents, and neighbours.  There are 1,128 volumes, numbered and bound, in the Collection with a title page giving the name of the school, the parish, the barony, the county and the teacher, as well as approximately 40,000 of the children’s original copybooks.  You may be able to locate the work of a grandparent or other relative amongst them!

In recognition of its “world significance” and “outstanding universal value to culture”, the foundational collection – The Irish Folklore Commission Collection 1935-1970 – was inscribed into the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in September 2017.

Kelly Fitzgerald lectures in Irish Folklore and Celtic Civilisation in UCD. Her work has focused on the development of folkloristics and folklore studies in Ireland as well as on the creative process behind the verbal arts. She is a director of Fondúireacht Bhéaloideas Éireann (The National Folklore Foundation), a charitable company which was established in 2015 to preserve, protect and promote Ireland’s rich folklore heritage; to provide support to the curation of the National Folklore Collection and to enhance the Collection as a national resource.Kelly is a director of the Irish Association of Professional Historians.  She also works as an ethnographer and oral historian for ANU Productions of which she is a director.


Starting with 2019, we hope to feature an individual or group from the community, including from our local schools, at each year’s Festival to give an outline of the volunteer work that they do. Harold’s Cross has a fantastic community spirit and volunteer ethic. We would like to celebrate that and encourage everyone to get involved to help their community and others in need in the way that suits them best. We are always looking for nominations for this space! Please email your suggestions to haroldscrossf@gmail.com

Zac van Horn will talk about his work as a volunteer.

Zac van Horn is a US lawyer who worked in London before moving to Dublin, where he now lives in Harold’s Cross. Zac will give a 10 minute outline of the volunteer work he does for Amicus, a London-based pro bono organisation that provides legal support to those facing the death penalty in the United States  The death penalty is disproportionately imposed on the most vulnerable in society. Amicus works to provide better access to justice and to raise awareness of potential abuses of defendants’ rights. Zac will explain how volunteers working remotely from their desks in Ireland can assist US counsel with various aspects of US capital cases and academic projects. They can, for example, review evidence and trial transcripts for the purposes of appealing capital convictions, and assist US lawyers in preparing court submissions. Since 1973, more than 160 people have been released from death row based on evidence of their innocence.

You can book here on eventbrite for this event.