The Irish Folklore Commission was established in 1935 to collect and preserve folklore traditions from all over the 26 counties. As part of its work the Commission collected folklore from National school children during 1937/1939 and the material collected was gathered in manuscript volumes which are today held in the Department of Folklore, University College Dublin. Last week the Minister for State at the Department of Arts and Heritage announced that the National School folklore material from County Kildare was being made available online.
The entire National School folklore collection consists of over half a million pages of material recorded by young pupils throughout the 26 counties. Folklore material forming part of that collection was first put online two years ago covering counties Dublin, Mayo, Donegal, Waterford, Galway and Leitrim and more counties will be added to the list before the end of next year.
About 60 National schools in County Kildare took part in the folklore scheme 76 years ago and these included schools in Athy, Skerries and Kilberry. Laurence Blanchfield, a young pupil from Youngstown under the guidance of his teacher Eugene Tansey, wrote of the turf wall in Skerries school.
‘In 1930 alterations were made in Skerries N.S. Athy. There was a wall removed. When the men were taking it down they found it was a turf wall. There were timber uprights and timber cross bars. The men thought the wall was made of plaster and laths, but there were no laths. The turf held on the plaster. The school was built in 1871 and from that time until 1930 there was a turf wall in Skerries School. The master got up a card game to pay the men for knocking down the wall.’
On the other side of Athy, 14 year old William Pender of Derryoughter, a pupil of Kilberry National School, where his teacher was Sara Rowan, contributed a story which he heard from his father Edward Pender five years previously. His story titled ‘Hidden Treasure’ was dated 20th October 1937 and read:-
‘Three men named William Lalor, James Lalor and Thomas Kelly dreamt there was treasure in a certain ditch near the Bishop’s Island.
They were to go together at midnight to get the gold. They were to plait three sally rods together to place under the iron box in which they would find the gold. They were told in the dream to carry out these instructions or if not they would not get the treasure.
Instead of the three sally rods they brought three cartropes. They lost the treasure and went home broken-hearted.
Bishop’s Island is situated in the middle of the River Barrow about five miles South of Monasterevan. To approach the island a boat must be procured as the water is fairly deep at this particular spot. A boat is usually left at the east bank of the river for this purpose. The island has no grass or bushes growing on it. It is devoid of any growth save three old sally trees.
Probably the men were to have made the three gads from the three sally trees perhaps a gad from each tree.
The spot on the bank where the boat lies is approached by a path a quarter of a mile or so in length. This path leads from a lane way which is a continuation of a road that branches westwards from the main road from Athy to Monasterevan and about five miles from the latter town.’
William Pender, a bachelor, died approximately 15 years ago. His father Edward had served in World War I during the course of which he suffered a shoulder injury and the loss of a thumb following a bomb explosion on 17th February 1917. William’s brother Joe Pender, now aged 85 years, lives in Greenhills. Like his brother, Joe was a pupil in Kilberry National School during the Folklore Survey of 1937/39 but would have been too young to have made a contribution.
A total of 43 young boys and girls from National schools in Athy, Churchtown, Kilberry, Levitstown and Skerries took part in the folklore project with Skerries National School having no less than 15 participating pupils. Little did they realise that their stories would prove so important three quarters of a century later to students of traditional life of previous generations.
Mary Orford from Kilcullen in conjunction with Kildare Library Services held a series of lectures last year to publicise the Folklore Commission’s work with Kildare’s National schools. Her contribution led to a wider understanding and appreciation of the folklore tradition in the county and in turn prompted the Department of Arts and Culture to prioritise the digitisation of the County Kildare school children’s contribution. Their work can be accessed on the website www.duchas.ie.
On Tuesday, 5th May at 7.30 p.m. in the Heritage Centre Athy Seamus Cullen, author of ‘The Emmet Rising in Kildare’ and the noted North Kildare historian, will give a talk on ‘Easter Week in County Kildare – The Participation of a Quiet County in the 1916 Rising’. Admission is free.