University of Notre Dame

Believe it or Not; the Folklore of the Irish

Course Number: IRLL 13186-2
Instructor: Diarmuid O’Giollain

‘Irish Folk Custom and Belief’ is both the title of a popular work from 1967 by Seán Ó Súilleabháin (1903-1996), archivist of the Irish Folklore Commission, and an approach to the study of rural Irish popular religion. That approach was long dominant among Irish folklorists. It tended to frame rural popular religion ahistorically and to fudge the issue of its relationship to specific social groups. At the same time it led to the recording of extraordinarily rich data, mostly from the Irish-speaking population of the West. Concentrating on the work of 19th century antiquarians and 20th century folklorists and anthropologists, the course will examine the study of rural popular religion in Ireland. It will contextualise it both in terms of historical, sociological and anthropological knowledge of Irish rural society and specifically of Irish peasant society, and in terms of the scientific study of religion. Specific topics often identified under the headings of ‘folk custom and belief’ will be discussed, in particular ritual, festival, magic, supernatural beings, sacred places and the oral narratives that deal with them. Specific scholarly texts, including texts by leading contemporary scholars of Irish rural popular religion, will be discussed as well as ethnographic texts recorded by the Irish Folklore Commission.