The schools collection held in the Folklore Collection in UCD and digitised on https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes, is a collection of folklore written up by Irish pupils from 5,000 primary schools between 1937 and 1939. I have referred to it before but having just looked at it recently I feel it’s worth recommending it again as a wonderful resource. The children wrote on subjects such as local areas of interest, cures, traditions. They talked to their parents, grandparents and neighbours – so effectively we have stories from just after the Famine, and the Famine was one of the subjects the children wrote about. They also wrote about Christmas, so we learn that coming up to the 25th of December walls inside and out were whitewashed and ivy and holly used as decorations inside. On Christmas night a candle was lit and placed in the window and the door was left open. Many of the children mention the fact that people didn’t visit others on Christmas night, but stayed at home. A more unusual tradition that had appeared to die out by the 1930s but was reported by quite a few children was that on Christmas night the farm animals were fed bread or an oatmeal cake – the belief being that if the animals weren’t fed they would die the following year. One 90 year-old lady reported that she well remembered one Christmas night supper in the 1860s: ‘On this particular night we had tea. Tea of course was very scarce and dear at that time. …we got a stone of flour, and a little tea and sugar. We made the tea in a pot, as we had no teapots then. For drinking the tea, we used mugs and wooden noggins. At the supper we used the cake made from the flour, in addition to potato cake and “boxty bread”’. Another report from an elderly man which sounded more like a personal wish than a local tradition was reported as follows: ‘It is a custom to eat a mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas. This brings luck for the twelve months of the year.’!
I love that the accounts add colour and valuable details about a local area and they can be used to give insight into the lives of previous generations.
By Expert Researcher