National Folklore Collection (NFC) and its collections

The objectives of the National Folklore Collection (NFC) are to collect, preserve and disseminate the oral tradition of Ireland. The NFC, which is located in UCD, includes the following records:

  • c.2 million manuscript pages
  • c.500,000 index cards
  • c.12,000 hours of sound recordings
  • c.80,000 photographs
  • c.1,000 hours of video material

The original holdings of the NFC are divided into collections:

The Main Manuscript Collection

This comprises 2,400 bound volumes of material collected since 1932. Full- and part-time collectors compiled the majority of these under the auspices of the Irish Folklore Commission (1935–1971). Approximately two thirds of the material is in Irish and it includes every aspect of the Irish oral tradition.

The Schools’ Collection

Approximately 740,000 pages (288,000 pages in the pupils’ original exercise books; 451,000 pages in bound volumes) of folklore and local tradition were compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools in the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939.

This collecting scheme was initiated by the Irish Folklore Commission, under the direction of Séamus Ó Duilearga and Séan Ó Súilleabháin, Honorary Director and Registrar of the Commission respectively, and was heavily dependent on the cooperation of the Department of Education and the Irish National Teachers’ Organization. It was originally to run from 1937 to 1938 but was extended to 1939 in specific cases. For the duration of the project, more than 50,000 schoolchildren from 5,000 schools in the 26 counties of the Irish Free State were enlisted to collect folklore in their home districts. This included oral history, topographical information, folktales and legends, riddles and proverbs, games and pastimes, trades and crafts. The children recorded this material from their parents, grandparents, and neighbours.

The scheme resulted in the creation of over half a million manuscript pages, generally referred to as ‘Bailiúchán na Scol’ or ‘The Schools’ Collection’.

There are 1,128 volumes, numbered and bound, in the Collection. A title page prefaces each school, giving the name of the school, the parish, the barony, the county and the teacher. A further collection of approximately 40,000 of the children’s original copybooks are stored at the NFC.

More information is available in this article (in Irish):

Ó Cathain, Séamas (1988), ‘Súil siar ar Scéim na Scol 1937-1938’. Sinsear 5: 19-30. [pdf]

Editor’s pick:

Some of the most interesting stories are shown as ‘Editor’s pick’ on this site; you can browse through them here.

The Photographic Collection

The National Folklore Collection’s photographic collection consists of some 80,000 photographs, the majority of which were taken by members of the Irish Folklore Commission (1935-70) and its successors, including staff of the National Folklore Collection. The Commission’s ethnologist, Caoimhín Ó Danachair, who conducted field work throughout Ireland over many years, is responsible for a significant portion of the photographs presented here. Other Commission members, including its Director, Séamus Ó Duilearga, Michael J. Murphy, Leo Corduff, and many other field workers also captured important images of folklore informants and Irish folklife.

The images are preserved in a variety of film formats: positives and negatives (including some 6,000 nitrate negatives), both black & white and colour, ranging from 35mm to larger format film. The collection also contains a significant number of early glass plates and lantern slides alongside a large number of photographic prints, drawings and art works which have been photographed. The collection continues to grow through the activities of staff and supporters of the National Folklore Collection, and the contribution of valuable historic photographs by members of the public.

The process of digitizing and conserving the collection continues apace; some 10,000 images are presented here for the first time. They are arranged thematically in accordance with the subject headings in Seán Ó Súilleabháin’s A Handbook of Irish Folklore (1942). Themes include vernacular dwellings and other man-made features, livelihoods, crafts, commerce, transport, the sea, education, the practice of religion, food, dress, festivals and rites of passage, storytellers, musicians, pastimes and sport. Reference numbers of photographs are prefixed with a letter A-N indicating the general category of tradition assigned to them:

A. Settlement and Dwelling

B. Livelihood and Household Support

C. Communication and Trade

D. The Community

E. The Person/Human Life

F. Nature

G. Folk Medicine

H. Times and Feasts

I. Popular Belief and Practice

J. Mythological Tradition

K. Historical Traditions

L. Religious Tradition

M. Oral Literature

N. Sports and Pastimes

Accessibility:

Low and medium resolution images can be freely downloaded by users. Those seeking to obtain high resolution digital copies of individual images should contact the National Folklore Collection at bealoideas@ucd.ie. A handling charge of €10.00 per image is charged for such copies.

Editor’s pick:

Some of the most interesting photographs are shown as ‘Editor’s pick’ on this site; you can browse through them here.

The Audio and Video Archives

There are over 12,000 hours of audio recordings and 1,000 hours of video recordings in the archives. Most of the sound recordings are on tape but other formats are also included. These audio recordings describe all aspects of Irish folklore and tradition, and contain material from every county, in Irish or English. The earliest recordings in the archive date from 1897, recorded on wax cylinder at the Belfast Feis Ceoil. The majority of recordings date from the 1940s onwards. There is also material recorded by international folklore and language scholars such as Olaf Melberg and Heinrich Wagner.

Folk Music Archive

This collection includes 3,000 pages of music manuscripts, a specialist library, and c.2,000 hours of original field recordings. In 1974 the Folk Music Archive was placed under the direction of Breandán Breathnach. Collectors recorded many thousands of songs in English and in Irish, as well as instrumental music from most parts of Ireland.