THE BLURB on the back of City of Streams - Galway Folklore and Folk life in the 1930s by Caitrîona Hastings, published by the History Press is clear and concise:
“On the eve of the Second World War in Europe, the senior pupils in the national schools of the west of Ireland were engaged in an important, if somewhat unusual task. With the aid of a questionnaire supplied by the Irish folklore Commission, and under the direction of their teachers, the children were collecting a wide and varied range of folklore and folk memories in their own neighbourhoods. The stories they gathered were many and varied, covering such topics as local beliefs and customs, traditional crafts, weather lore, the Famine, cures, songs and riddles. This is their story”
Instead of writing the weekly essay, the children of Galway brought the Commission’s questionnaire home to their parents and grandparents who wrote down their answers to the questions therein and brought these back to their teachers thus creating an important and impressive body of knowledge which today helps us to a deeper sense of life as lived by the people of Galway 80 years ago.
The book consists of a comprehensive overview of the answers brought back to the teachers from 14 schools in Galway and its surroundings covering such topics as 'Hearth and Home', 'Beliefs and Customs', 'Oral Literature', 'Prayers, Poems, Proverbs', 'Riddles' and 'Local History'. There is therein a curious mixture of the harsh realities as lived by the people and the otherworld peopled by fairies, witches, and mythical giants with the occasional reference to Fionn MacCumhail.
Many of the original contributions were presented as Gaeilge and are reproduced here, followed by the English translation. The result is a fascinating and intimate portrait of the people of Galway in the 1930s, their hopes, aspirations, beliefs, and sense of being. Curiously enough the book does not touch politics, sport, WWI, or the War of Independence. The proliferation of old Galway photographs in the book add immeasurably to its sense of place.
City of Streams Galway Folklore and Folklife in the 1930s is an entertaining and informative read, but perhaps its real value is in the questions it raises, more than the ones it answers. As the book's theme is developed it also raises question of the possibility of such a survey being undertaken in Galway today. If it was what would its terms of reference be? Indeed, have we lost the sense of the traditions that inform our beliefs, mores, and actions? Is it time to take stock of the seismic social and cultural changes Galway and its environs have undergone over the last 80 years, and how to re-evaluate our sense of values? Has our City of Streams become our City of Languages?