Mrs. Bríd Costello

Kilbaha, Co. Clare

When Tadhg Ó Murchú, a fulltime collector for the Irish Folklore Commission working principally in the Iveragh Peninsula, Co. Kerry, visited southwest Clare in 1942 to collect folklore from the remaining Irish-language tradition-bearers of the area, he was advised to call on Mrs. Costello, Kilbaha, a recently-widowed, seventy-year-old woman. She was also blind, smoked a clay pipe (on medical advice for severe headaches, she asserted), had an excellent command of Irish, spoke English almost as well, and could read Braille in English. She lived in a thatched house, easily recognisable with its aerial wire – signalling the presence of a radio in the house.

Mrs. Costello was sitting in the corner by the fire when Tadhg first saw her in 1942. He described her as a tall, thin, self-possessed woman, with long features, a high forehead, dark eyes, dark brows, and very long black hair. She was wearing a black dress and a grey wrap around her shoulders. She turned out to be an excellent storyteller even though she no longer told tales for family or community entertainment. On that occasion, and during two further trips to the area (1943, 1950), Tadhg collected a substantial amount of traditional lore from her, including several international folktales and legends. [1]

Here is how he described a recording visit to her in the company of Caoimhín Ó Danachair of the Irish Folklore Commission, in 1950 (translation):

… we headed westwards for Kilbaha to seek Mrs. Costello – that blind woman from whom I got all the stories and the legends. She is still very much alive and well, the poor woman. We reached her – she was alone in the house. I went into her first – she herself opened the door for me… I thought it was how she had got younger since I last saw her. My heart opened when I saw her before me. I told her who I was and I shook her hand, and I am not ashamed to say that I kissed it… I myself lit the little lamp for her.[2]

Mrs. Costello had lost none of her verve and vigour as a storyteller in the intervening years since his last visit. She told ‘story on story’ for a large part of the night. When the time came to leave Mrs. Costello and her family, Tadhg described his sadness at parting from her, knowing that he was unlikely ever to visit her again.

'We said goodbye to them then – we all had a great night, and I myself was lonesome when the time came to say goodbye to the elderly woman – this cheerful woman who had none of the wealth or luxury of this world, not even a glimmer of sight, the creature. But she had one thing which the gold of the world would not buy – she had a mild disposition and the grace of patience and a light heart, for was it not always said that God apportions the blessings [as required], may He be praised a hundredfold for ever. It is unlikely that I will ever see her again, this noble elderly woman who accurately inherited the ancestral knowledge of her kin – the stories and the old-world knowledge which she heard from the old people by the fireside when she was a young girl. There will never again be her likes in Loop Head – this Oisín after the Fianna.'[3]

[1] See, Lysaght, Patricia, ‘From the Kingdom to the Banner: Tadhg Ó Murchú as a Folklore Collector in Southwest County Clare in 1942’, in Anne Clune (ed.), Dear Far-Voiced Veteran. Essays in Honour of Tom Munnelly, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, 125-8; Lysaght, Patricia, ‘Folklore Collecting in County Clare : Tadhg Ó Murchú’s Second Visit (1943)’, Béaloideas 75 (2007), 119-125; Lysaght, Patricia, ‘Folkore Collecting in County Clare : Tadhg Ó Murchú’s Third Visit (1950)’, Béaloideas 76 (2008), 155-158, 164-166.

[2] Lysaght 2008, 155-156.

[3] Ibid., 166.

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