Feature: Folklore of Ireland

Who are the folk in folklore? They are all of us, every human being who has ever lived has felt its silent hand guiding them, from the womb to the grave, all our lives are infused with folklore.

Folklore, ancient and new, is the study of tradition: how it develops, how it persists, and how it is constantly changing. Every society has a set of customs, beliefs and ideas – folklore – that make it unique. Although it is passed through tradition, folklore is always changing as people, groups, tribes and nations learn from each other.

Folklore is transmitted by word of mouth, in newspapers, books and films, on the internet, and by observation, and has a dynamic resilience that has seen it survive the rise and fall of every civilisation that has ever been.

Tradition has moulded the fabric of our lives in the same way that gravity has shaped the fabric of our universe. Traditional wisdom and culture – folklore – bends the human experience and profoundly influences the future. All human stories, all science, all wisdom, all medicine, music, annual festivals – from Christmas and Easter and Valentine’s day and New Year, to the playing of the game cead on Inis MeŠin during St Patrick's Day – are either framed by or founded in folklore. Our homes, our clothes, our weddings and funerals what we say, how we say it and when, all have the hands of history and folklore upon them.

Folklore is often wrongly assumed to be just a relic of the past: stories about CuChulainn and the Red Branch Knights , tales of fairies and banshees, folktales about Cinderella and talking animals, or maybe a little bit of gossip or “folklore” about politicians and historical events. Folklore is, and always has been, a dynamic process. It is in a swing dance with society and culture. It changes because the world changes, and it changes the world.

Author of the Folklore in Ireland Article

Peter McGuire (BA, MLitt) is a lecturer in Irish Folklore at the UCD Delargy Centre for Irish Folklore. He specialises in contemporary folklore collecting and has taught on topics such as calendar custom, folk medicine, and legend, myth and folktale. He has been published in academic journals and newsletters, including Bealoideas, Sinsear, and FOAFTale News.

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