A very recent recovery operation shines a light on some Irish legends, which were at risk of being forgotten forever. The portrait is a magnetic Ireland that makes you tremble with mystery.
From banshee to loving mermaids: Irish legends, which were on the verge of being lost forever, have been saved by a hair’s breadth. And if you think you knew everything about Ireland you were utterly mistaken. The most common Irish legends and myths have always been in books we usually read, the films we watch and the songs we sing. Nonetheless, there is another Ireland that it is worth discovering.
Some years ago, the idea was to create a worldwide crowdsourcing movement in order to shine light on the deepest fairy’s secrets and the most obscure myths in Ireland.
Something extraordinary indeed because it is an on-line voluntary group who has been working on 700.000 pages transcription of folklore in Ireland between 1937 and 1939.
The way to do it? Easy and direct: inviting over 10.000 children to look for the eldest person in their communities and let them tell it secrets, local customs, beliefs, traditions and obscure Irish legends.
Their “interviews” have been recorded in 1.128 volumes with the title Schools Manuscripts Collection.
It is incredible that before the crowdsourcing, all this material were unavailable.
Right now, half billion pages have been digitalized by the National Folklore Collection and more than 100.000 pages have been transcribed by volunteers of this project.
Thanks to them, we found out that almost every city and town (from Kilkenny, to Galway and Cork) has its fairy and leprechauns’ family. In Ireland, people hand down stories about characters who have attempted to steal gold to leprechauns or have met mermaids. And that’s more: there some materials about local cure, sacred wells, funny animals, travellers and ghosts.
Unknown Irish legends: a strange relationship between witches and hares
Obviously, witches cannot be missed. Among 141 recorded stories about witches, in 40 of them the protagonists turn into hares in order to run away from farmers, who have catch them sucking milk from their cows’ udders.
Alongside the witches, also leprechauns dwell in legends, stories and myths that are told from generation to another.
It is amazing how much information is available: there are more than 1.000 stories about leprechauns. In one of them, Nell Morley di Beacán – Co Mayo describes the leprechaun of his place as “a little man wearing a green coat and a red hat, who mends shoes under a hawthorn bush”.
Morley changed the popular belief about the myth of leprechaun. In fact, the “famous leprechaun is barely seen around here”.
How about mermaids? The obscure Irish legends are full, really full of mermaids. About 311 testimonies describe of unfortunate meetings with these aquatic creatures, who reveal themselves as vengeful and intrusive or innocent victims of nasty and dishonest human beings, ready to give them outrageous violence.
Dark side of Ireland: mysterious presences and pseudo-medical practise from Galway to Cork
The best merit of this crowdsourcing project is that every piece of information is transcribed in detailed stories.
The lady Paddy Brady of Kilteane – Co Cavan, for instance, tells us to know “a woman who turns into a hare. Her name was Mrs Hutchington, a protestant lady who used to live in Ryeforth town, in Cavan county. She went to my grandad Bennie Goldrik and sucked milk from his cow’s udder. My grandad saw her, grabbed his gun and shot at the hare’s head. She run off but he run after her to the back of his house, where he found the woman lying down with her head bleeding. Then he made her promise not to do it again”.
Precisely, in this legend is added that her grandad had used a 3 or 6 penny coin, because only with a silver bullet he could have killed a hare-witch.
Among the stories, banshee could not be missed, the so called “women of fairy”, typical characters in Irish and Sottish myths and legends. But in some stories, they are not so fairy.
There are 367 testimonies about banshee with detailed information, such as where they stop to drink in the night and by which family they are prone to appear.
It is Teresa Dolan, from Enniscoe in Mayo, to tell it. Teresa describes the banshee who used to appear to her mother as “a little woman dressed up with straw and a shawl on her head”.
Moreover, William Jackson in Newtownwhite describes a banshee who every night used to whinge at his great grandad’s place, after he have stolen her shawl. And when he wanted to give it back, by hanging it on a fork outside the window, she grasped, leaving some traces on fork tines.
This story collection describes not only supernatural presence and horror legends.
In fact, there are over 3.300 stories about butter and butter churns, lots of statements on crafts, instruments and traditional abilities, a wide range of ethnomedical and ethnobotanical cures and practise, most of them are being now transcribed for the first time.
Even pharmaceutical companies have requested to access to these documents, looking for medical properties that might be forgotten in nettles, dock, brooms, ivy, common comfrey, celery, Carrageenan musk.
Not only beer and clover
Who chooses Ireland as a destination Country for study and work ends up seeing it as a peaceful and quiet place but with a mysterious underbrush of stories, which are about to be narrated.
In order to get to know the deepest spirit of Ireland, it is necessary to listen carefully and catch the ancestral voices.
Not only clover and Guinness pints, the crowdsourcing has been a remarkable chance for us, since with our agency based in Cork, we open the doors to young people who choose Ireland for their academic path.
Living in Cork, Galway and Dublin without knowing the national awareness is a wasted chance. Thus, Irish legends- even the darkest ones- allow us to peek in a past where ambiguity used to play a key role in ordinary life and the dimensional passage with old pagan cultures were wide open.