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Folklife and Folklore on Clare Island

The folklore of Clare Island, what is still maintained through oral tradition, is to be found along the boreens and before the hearths of the people who live there. As in most other places in the West of Ireland, this oral tradition is declining, though there is still a considerable amount of stories that are carried about in people's heads.  As to written records of folklore, one can turn to the following sources:

  • Charles Browne's "The Ethnography of Clare sland and Inish Turk" (1895) includes some interesting inclusions of folklore and local history. 

  • T. J. Westropp. "History and Archaeology", The Clare Island Survey (1909-1912) Westropp includes some folklore with his descriptions of the archaeological and historical monuments.

  • John MacNeill. "Place-names and Family Names", The Clare Island Survey (1909-1912) Not strictly folklore but fascinating reading nonetheless.

  • N. Colgan."Gaelic Plant and Animal Names", The Clare Island Survey (1909-1912) This is a wonderful paper which includes two beautiful seal stories as well as fascinating asides regarding animals and plants which were intimately apart of the islanders' lives at the turn of the century.

  • Two folklore/folksongs collectors from the Irish Folklore Commission have visited the Island in the past (in 1935 and 1973),and though these visits were of short duration, a wealth of custom and historical tradition,and especially song, were recorded.

  • The Centre for Island Studies has been compiling and collecting folklore and local poems and stories, including material recorded by the late Michael Joe O'Malley. It is hoped that a small pamphlet of some of this material will be published soon.

  • Aine Ryan, Westport, has collected considerable material, especially that relating to the Congested Districts Board and the early part of the century.

  • As part of the New Survey of Clare Island, Chriostoir MacCarthaigh has been conducting research into the folklore and folklife of the island. The following is a brief synopsis of his research programme.  The complete work will be published by the Royal Irish Academy early in 1999.

A programme of surveys of vernacular buildings and other features was commenced in 1993; to date some twelve houses and outhouses have been surveyed in detail. The island is fortunate in having preserved many fine traditional buildings, some still in use,and the later traditional buildings also contain many design and other features directly inspired by the venacular and therfeore worthy of study. Examples of lime kilns, kelp kilns and a single sweat house were also recorded. As with all other aspects of the research,detailed plans,drawings,  35mm negatives and slides have been made.

During stays on the island in 1993-1994, detailed enquiries were made regarding the maritime infrastructure of the island: the boats (which,interestingly,at one timeincluded both carvel - and clinker-built vessels),line and net-fishing, shell-fishing, and accompanying fishing gear and equipment. Extensive interviews were made on this subject. In 1995, attention was directed towards domestic material culture; provision of fuel,the manufacture and use of furniture,small furnishings and various domestic implements.

While the strength of oral tradition has declined in recent years,an appreciable fund of stories and,in particular, song remains. Some seven hours of recordings have been made on 1/4'' tape, and substantial handwritten notes of interviews made.





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