Irish Folklore: Nineteenth Century Perspectives

The developments of the 1920s and 1930s were built on growing interest in Irish folklore by creative writers, antiquarians, members of the Anglo-Irish literary renaissance and the Irish language revival movement, in the nineteenth century. Novelists, such as Gerald Griffin in Tales of Munster Festivals (1827) and Tales of the Jury Room (c. 1842), William Carleton in Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry (two series, 1830, 1833), and Samuel Lover in two series of Legends and Stories of Ireland (1830, 1834), drew heavily on the oral tradition of rural Ireland.

Others, such as the antiquarian, Thomas Crofton Croker (1798-1854), were collectors of folklore whose compilations appeared in print during the nineteenth century. Born in Cork, the son of an English army major, but based in London most of his life, Croker’s Researches in the South of Ireland (1824) was followed by the substantial work, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, I-III (1825-1828), the first part of which was translated into German (Irische Elfenmärchen) by the Grimm brothers within a year of publication.

Influenced by the work of Thomas Crofton Croker in Ireland, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in Germany, Peter Chr. Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in Norway, and John Francis Campbell of Islay in Scotland, the bookseller, Patrick Kennedy (1801-1873), a native of County Wexford, retold tales and legends heard in English in his youth in his native county in a series of publications, including Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts (1866).

Jeremiah Curtin (1835?-1906), an American anthropologist and linguist from Wisconsin, broadened the geographical and linguistic focus of folklore collecting when he visited some of the Gaeltacht or Irish-speaking areas along the Atlantic seaboard counties of Ireland. Arising from a series of visits between 1887 and 1893, Curtin published – in English – three collections of tales: Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland (1889), Hero Tales of Ireland (1894), and Tales of the Fairies and the Ghost World Collected from Oral Tradition in South West Munster (1895).

William Larminie (1849-1900), encouraged by Douglas Hyde (An Craoibhín Aoibhinn), also collected tales in the Gaeltacht areas of counties Galway , Mayo and Donegal – which he translated into English for his compilation, West Irish Folktales and Romances (1893).

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