Roinn Bhéaloideas Éireann agus a Cartlann
Department of Irish Folklore and its Archive
The holdings of the Department of Irish Folklore include two manuscript series: the Main Manuscripts which amounts to more than 2400 bound volumes and the Schools' Collection, which runs to 1128 bound volumes and also incorporates 1124 boxes of unbound material.
The Audio & Video Collection features some 12,000 hours of audio recordings, including a large collection of early audio formats such as wax cylinders, acetate disks, wire-tape and magnetic-tape recordings. The interviews recorded cover many aspects of Irish folklore, folk music, ethnology and oral history, and were collected, for the most part, by professional fieldworkers. Approximately three quarters of the manuscripts and sound holdings of the Department are in the Irish language, most of the remainder being in English. These collections also contain material in Scottish Gaelic and in the Manx and Breton languages.
There is also a collection of photographs, a number of films and video tapes as well as a variety of plans, sketches, diagrams and other pictorial representations of the visible aspects of tradition. The Department also houses a specialist library of some 45,000 printed books, pamphlets and periodicals pertaining to Irish and comparative folklore ad related fields.
The contents of the manuscripts are covered by four card indices:
Collectors' index covering some 2,000 individuals including reference to the volumes and the pages on which the material taken down by them can be found.
Informants index listing some 40,000 individuals with references in each case to the pages of particular volumes containing material taken down from them.
Provenance index containing c.10,000 entries giving reference to material arranged y province, county, barony and parish or district.
Subject index containing c.300,000 cards arranged according to the main headings of Sean Ó Suilleabhain's 'Handbook of Irish Folklore'. These headings are as follows:
Settlement and Dwelling
Livelihood and Household Support
Communications and Trade
Principles and Rules of Popular Belief and Practice
Popular 'Oral Literature'
Sports and Pastimes.
'The Types of the Irish Folktale', Sean Ó Suilleabhain and R. Th. Christiansen serves as a guide to the bulk of the Department's folktale headings. A computerised index of the Department's collection of negatives and slides, as well as indices covering sound recordings on disc and tape are also available.
For some of its collecting work the Department uses a 'questionnaire system' which involves sending a questionnaire on a particular folklore topic to a number of voluntary questionnaire correspondents throughout Ireland. The replies are returned to the Department where they form part of the Main Manuscripts Collection. Questionnaires are sent out at a rate approximately one each year and, to date, about one-hundred have been circulated. The subjects covered by the questionnaires include such topics as 'Hallowe'en', 'Landlords' and 'Seasonal Migration'. The following questionnaire is an example of a subject which may have particular relevance to women's history. The replies to the questions listed in them are indicative of the type of material contained in the manuscript collections of the Department.
Example questionnaire 'Unbaptised Children':
What special precautions were taken with regard to a child as yet unbaptised in the home?
Was Lay Baptism given to children who died before baptism or who were stillborn? If so, how and by whom was this usually ministered?
Where, according to traditional belief, did the souls of unbaptised children, stillborn, aborted, abandoned, unburied or murdered children go after death?
What was thought to be the fate of (a) unbaptised, stillborn children, (b) children who died having received Lay Baptism only, and (c) children who died immediately after baptism, in the next life?
Was a wake held at the death of an unbaptised child? If so, describe such a wake.
Were funerals held in the normal way for such a dead children? If so describe them. Who was present? The mother or the father of the child? Was the child buried in a coffin, in a box, or simply wrapped in a cloth? When were these funerals held - at night-time or during the day? What way was the child placed in the coffin?
Where were such infants buried? In graveyards, or in special corners or sections of graveyards? Where there any special arrangements for the disposal of the afterbirth? Were there special children's burial grounds? What were such burial grounds called locally? Were there other places, e.g. fields, beneath boundary walls, marsh ditches, at crossroads or at the seashore, used? Did it happen that such children were not buries in any special plot in the locality?
Was it ever said that where an unbaptised child was buried there was 'hunger grass', a 'stray sod' or any other unusual feature nearby?
Was it ever said that the hand, or any other part of the body, of an unbaptised child was used to cast spells or in any other kind of evil magic?
Was it believed that the spirits of such children might reappear after death? In what form? Were they ever heard crying? Stories about this would be appreciated. Was there any name given to such spirits?
Were there any stories about the spirit of a mother who had killed her unbaptised child? Would she be saved?
Was it believed that at the End of the World, unbaptised children would finally enter Paradise?