EUGENE DALY continues his series on various aspects of Irish folklore and customs
The world is a much changed place to what it was in my youth in the 1950s.
Extensive changes in technology and communication have ended a traditional way of life that had been static for many generations. Without leaving our homes, now we can see and hear about events as they happen in almost every part of our planet.
New machines and gadgets have brought us more leisure, more ‘free’ time and all this has happened in one short generation.
However, despite the ease and pleasure provided for us by these changes, they have destroyed many of the old customs of Irish life, particularly Irish rural life.
The art of conversation within the home and among neighbours around the fire at night is practically gone.
Places where people met to do business and talked and chatted have practically all disappeared.
The small shop in the countryside and in the villages and towns has almost disappeared. Most of the rural pubs have closed; the small creameries, the forges, the post offices, the open-air dancing platforms – all have gone. These were the central pillars upon which the survival of rural culture was based. Rural Ireland, for the most part, is a much lonelier place. Many of the young have gone to the cities or emigrated to England, the U.S.A., Australia and elsewhere. For centuries the traditions, customs, stories and beliefs were kept alive by being told over and over again. For example, the poems of Seán Ó Coileáin and other West Cork poets were kept alive orally for generations.
They were written down in this area by men like Peadar Ó hAnnracháin and Micheal Ó Cuileannáin in the Skibbereen area. The Irish Folklore Commission did much to collect the lore from the old people.
In the 1930s they had a scheme whereby the teachers and pupils collected a vast amount of folklore – stories, poems, songs, customs, folk cures, weather lore, spirits and fairies, etc. For centuries the people had been deeply religious, cherishing a simple ‘black and white’ faith. Just as their way of life was an endless struggle to survive, the spiritual life was also seen as a struggle of good versus evil, with all good things – good luck – coming from God and misfortune – bad luck – coming from the forces of evil.