Galway folklore

More than 300 primary school teachers attended a conference in Tuam in 1937, 80 years ago tomorrow, to launch the Schools Folklore Collection in Galway County. This was a scheme which invited senior primary pupils, under direction, to go to the oldest person in their community or their grandparents to collect folklore and folk life traditions relating to their own area. Caitríona Hastings has just published a book in which she has selected material from this project which was gathered by pupils of 14 schools in Galway and environs. They are Menlo NS, Castlegar NS, Carrowbrowne NS, Barna, Bushypark, Presentation Convent, Convent of Mercy NS, Claddagh NS (boys ), Claddagh (girls ), St Brendan’s NS, Claregalway (boys ), Claregalway (girls ), Oranmore (boys ), and Oranmore Convent.

The result is a wonderful collection of prose and poems, in English and Irish, written in simple child-like language, covering subjects such as children’s games, leprechauns, ghosts, hidden pots of gold, prayers, proverbs, riddles, cures, the fairies, superstitions, place names, holy wells, traditional food, churning, rush candles, weather lore, the care of the feet. This last item was particularly important as most children went barefoot for at least half of the year.

The book thus provides a wonderful insight into the everyday lives of our antecedents of about 100 years ago.

Here are some samples of the riddles ... “I looked through my grandad’s window and saw a dead thing carrying a living one? A man riding a bicycle.” “What’s the first part of the cow to go into the gap? Her breath.” “What grows down? A tail.”

A sample of a legend: “A giant was once supposed to live near Lough Athalia. He was able to throw large rocks about half a mile away. One time, another giant wanted to fight him, and he was called Fiachail. They met and they had a great fight. The first one put the second one, Fiachail, to flight and he was supposed to jump from Lough Athalia to Renmore. That was known afterwards as the Giant’s Leap.” — Patrick Doyle, collected from Mrs Doyle, New Docks.

Another legend: “It is believed the (Cromwellian ) soldiers came near a Poor Clare convent and they made the nuns flee from the convent. The nuns entered the River Corrib. The soldiers thought these people would die, but their cloaks spread out in the water and the nuns were carried to safety on the opposite bank. After this incident the place was known as Nuns Island.”

Here’s a tongue twister: “One fine day in the middle of the night, two dead men got up to fight, Two blind men were looking on, two cripples went for the guards and two dumb men told them to hurry on.”

Some cures listed — A sore foot: Wash it in the tide when the tide is going out. A scrape: Rub in soot three times a day. Pain in the back: Rub in mustard and cover with flannel. Baldness: Rub in the marrow of a hen’s bones. Thrush: Let a person who has never seen his father breathe three times into the patient’s mouth.”

And some superstitions: “Long ago, it was the custom for anyone going to a wake to put some salt in his mouth, believing the fairies wouldn’t go near him. When they make butter, they put a lighted ember under the churn, for fear the fairies would steal the butter.”

“It isn’t right to cut a person’s hair on Monday: Monday’s clipping, a week of plunder. Dirty water shouldn’t be thrown out on a Monday.”

These few contributions represent just a tiny fraction of the hundreds in this very important Galway book. Many are historic, informative, folkloric, and some very funny and nostalgic. They will prompt a host of memories for many people. It should be in every Galwegian’s library and would be an ideal Christmas gift for those living abroad. Congratulations to Caitríona Hastings and to History Press who published the book. Very highly recommended, in good bookshops. We have today one of the many illustrations in the book, a group of Claddagh girls from the national school, some of whom may well have contributed to the book.

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