Gone but not forgotten – Ireland’s Heritage and Folklore
Dúchas is the Irish word for heritage and the digitized information contained on www.duchas.ie certainly explains the rationale behind the website name. The site provides a window into the customs and folklore of Ireland, and contains 4,344 items from the Main Manuscript Collection, 250,452 stories from the Schools’ Collection (1937-38) and 11,386 images from the Photographic Collection.
The Dúchas project commenced in 2012 and has ensured that one of Ireland’s foremost collections does not lie unused and unloved. The current phase of the project is to continue the development, digitisation and editorial work, focusing on the Photographic Collection and the Main Manuscript Collection. The complete National Folklore Collection consists of approximately 2 million manuscript pages, 500,000 index cards, 12,000 hours of sound recordings, 80,000 photographs and 1,000 hours of video material or given its sheer bulk, ‘twenty-two tons of folklore’, and is held in University College Dublin. Bo Almqvist, editor of Béaloideas, the journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society, wrote in the seventies that ‘collecting is … not an end in itself. The twenty-two tons of folklore might, in the worst eventuality, be twenty-two tons of dead weight, that might lie unused and eventually rot away’.  The current digitisation project certainly addresses this situation.
Ireland’s rich folklore heritage was first recognised in 1927 with the creation of the Folklore of Ireland Society (Cumann le Béaloideas Éireann) which was setup specifically to collect and preserve the Irish oral tradition. The society spawned the Irish Folklore Institute (1930-1935) and later, the Irish Folklore Commission. In 1937, the Commission in collaboration with the Department of Education and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, encouraged schoolchildren to collect and document folklore and local history. The result was a rich collection of folklore material from approximately 100,000 children located in 5,000 primary schools across the twenty-six counties of the Irish Free State.
Over a period of eighteen months the children collected folklore material from their parents, grandparents and other older members of the local community or school district. The material covers areas such as local history and monuments, folktales and legends, riddles and proverbs, songs, customs and beliefs, games and pastimes, traditional work practices and crafts. As can be seen from the map below the Schools’ Collection is extensive, and you can search for a location or story via an interactive map at https://www.duchas.ie/en/plc.
Whilst you may not discover the beautiful handwriting of an ancestor, it is probable that your local townland or adjacent townland is covered by a folklore story or two.
Alternatively, you can conduct a search of the people associated with the materials in the Main Manuscript Collection, Schools Collection or Photographic Collection https://www.duchas.ie/en/ppl, or by topic https://www.duchas.ie/en/tpc. If you want to focus on the Schools Collection, use https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes. This page allows you to conduct your own search and filter results accordingly. For example, if you type in the word umbrella, you will get results as diverse as riddles to stories From ‘why do you carry an umbrella? It can’t walk’ to the story about the wonderful umbrella, when ‘two generations ago, umbrellas were less numerous in this parish than motor cars are at the present time.’
The Folklore Collection is a national treasure and you can get involved by signing up as a member of Meitheal Dúchas https://www.duchas.ie/en/meitheal/in/and leaving your own mark by becoming a member of the Schools Collection volunteer transcription project.