Recommended Sources in Local History
In the early-modern Irish book ‘Cambrensis Eversus’ (1662), Fr John Lynch refuted many of Gerald de Barry's anti-Irish tirades from centuries before. In his masterpiece, Lynch included a story about abuses in the Catholic Church in modern Kilconierin as follows:
"In the village of Clanrickard commonly called Tuluban, a certain peasant resolved to bury his poor wife by night, lest a sum beyond his means be extorted from him. As soon as night fell, he placed the corpse in a basket and carried it on his back to the churchyard. While he was digging the grave, a servant of Kedach O'Hein, who rented the land from the earl of Clanrickard, happened to pass by, who, laying down from his shoulders a basket in which he had a crock of butter, willingly helped the poor peasant to dig the grave, and as soon as it was large enough, they took the basket in which they thought the corpse was lying, but by mistake they put down the butter basket in its stead. The servant, after this act of kindness, raised the basket on his shoulders, imagining that he was carrying home the butter to his master. When he arrived, the night was far advanced, and as the butter was not required for immediate use, the servant maid was ordered to lay it in the pantry. But when she removed the covering and saw the corpse, she fainted and fell down on the ground, the other servants ran to her assistance; and when the messenger told the whole story, the error was discovered and the extortion of the ministers exposed. The corpse was then carried back to the grave, and the butter dug up and brought home”.
Given the strength of the source, context, and detail, one would likely acknowledge this as a factual event. However, what if this story had been told as part of folklore? Perhaps it would be considered an unlikely scenario. In fact, the story, as told by Joe Flannery from Ballykeeran (a townland alongside Tooloobaun) in Lickerrig, does appear in the Folklore Commission’s collection. Therein, both the servant and peasant are actually named, as Thomas Higginston and Sean Ó hÉilidhe (Healy) respectively, with the added intrigue that the latter had killed the woman. What is most surprising is the consistency between both stories which match almost perfectly; with the only evolutions being in the ‘device’ - as in the later version it was 'Firkins' (barrels) of butter that were mixed-up, and that the woman was the peasant’s mother. This example highlights both the strength of folklore, as well as some of its limitations.
When it comes to the understanding of folklore, one must attempt to appreciate its value in context, its internal rules, and its consistency. One can then see how same can contribute with most value to our understanding of our local his-tory - in this example, abuses in the church. While the Folklore Commission’s catalogue also includes recordings and photographs, this article is focusing on the written material. For Kilconierin, same comprises of the schools’ folklore for Lickerrig and Ganty National Schools (NS) and the ‘adult’ returns of Pat Finn and Padraig O’Diomasaig - all held in the National Folklore Collection in UCD (and on microfilm at Mary-Immaculate College in Limerick).
Heroes & Villains
In the early twentieth century, it appears clear that Parishioners in Kilconierin with talents or strength when it came to agricultural tasks were held in high regard, especially by the young. This mirrors the case elsewhere and indeed the central role of agriculture is pervasive right across the folklore archive. In Kilconierin specifically, these ‘local heroes’ included Thomas Hession (from Clostoken) who is said to have carried a plough and harrow two miles to a tillage field, and Patrick Dolan (from Doogarraun) who carried 28 stone of corn to Loughrea as he had no cart.
This truly was a different age. The opening sentence of the ‘farm animals’ section in the school’s collection states ‘two horses are kept by most farmers in the locality… all the work on the farm is done by the horses’. This speaks volumes in terms of the central role of horses and agriculture in the lives of people; perhaps more that reams of statis-tics ever could. The dependency on and ‘marriage to’ the land is also pervasive across the collection. Separately, in his independent submission, Pat Finn from Boherduff in the south of the parish has contributed hugely to providing an understanding of daily life in the first half of the century with his description of farming tasks and methods.
In terms of athletes in organised sport in the parish, some weight-lifters, runners, and jumpers are mentioned in the school’s return, but there is no mention of gaelic games at a time when the GAA was at a low ebb in Kilconierin - their three county hurling titles were by then two decades past. In contrast, in neighbouring Bullaun - one of the smallest geographic areas ever to win a club hurling All-Ireland title, it is perhaps fitting that the children there wrote about fairy hurling matches in their ‘lore’. As most SEGAHS readers will know, the sport remains a near-obsession in that area to this day. There are even references to cricket further east in Ahascragh and Kilgerrill.
A topic which does demonstrate frustration from a social and religious perspective is the famine. For many historians, the famine is a difficult subject to grapple with at a human level as the published sources are often secondary ones, or those of the ruling classes. Perhaps nowhere better than folklore do we hear the voices of the ‘labouring class’. Here, as elsewhere in the south and east Galway, stories were detailed of women being found with babies still suckling in their arms, and of entire families being wiped out. Particular criticism was often reserved for the landlords, namely James Daly of Dunsandle and Burton Persse of Moyode in the case of Kilconierin-Lickerrig-Kilconickny.
Not all the monuments mentioned in the folklore survive. This is a great loss but the references to them point to their existence, and sometimes their unique history. Ringforts for example often have unique stories attached to them e.g. buried treasure like that at Lissalondoon townland as mentioned in the Ganty NS folklore. Another belief was that some ringforts had secret passages leading to nearby tower-houses e.g. at Garracloon ringfort at an area called ‘baile na glaorac’ where a passage leading to Caherkinmonwee castle was suggested by the schoolchildren. While most un-likely as this is a common misunderstanding of souterrains, this cannot be discounted without excavation.
Souterrains also provide a rich source of folklore and one notable local story refers to a ‘cave’ in Carrowmore town-land as being home to a witch, the ‘Lám Amháin Dubh’. The story is set in the eighteenth century during the occupa-tion of the parish by a contingent of English soldiers who were stationed at Raruddy tower-house. The story is cen-tred on a particular officer who almost paid the ultimate price for his questioning the witches existence, before his cowardly retreat from the area. Today, little remains of that particular souterrain as it has been filled in.
Regrettably, the inhibition imposed by ancestral beliefs has not always been replaced by a respect for local heritage, and in the last half-century much damage has been done to the other monuments referenced. In his poem ‘Advent’, Patrick Kavanagh said ‘Through a chink too wide, comes in no wonder’ and he may easily have been to referring to the change in attitude and outlook of Irish people when it comes to their own heritage. The holy wells in the region for example are all but abandoned, whilst the folklore holds same in great reverence. There is surely a lesson in this.
The world has become a smaller place but the Folklore Commission's role is more important than ever, highlighting as it does the value of local stories. This is critically important (i) in examining the prevailing culture at various times, (ii) in retracing and perhaps rebuilding a place-specific history, and (iii) at the very least in providing food for thought for this generation in interpreting the tangible landscape and intangible culture built around it.
For assistance or advice in finding your local school or that of an Ancestor in the collection, feel free to contact us.
- Lynch, John Cambrensis Eversus, ed. and trans. Rev. Matthew Kelly (3 vols., Dublin, 1851)
- National Folklore Collection of Ireland, UCD: microfilm, Mary-Immaculate, Limerick.
- O’Diomasaig, Padraig, 5 Aug. (Lunasa) 1945, (National Folklore Collection, UCD: microfilm, Mary-Immaculate)
- ó Suilleabhain, Sean, Handbook of Irish Folklore (Dublin, 1942).
- School’s Collection (www.duchas.ie/en/cbes) (2 Oct. 2015).
This Chronicle was created using information originally published in the South East Galway Archaeological and Historical Society Newsletter No. 20