I reached out to Shane Broderick of Ireland’s Folklore and Traditions to talk about his wonderful blog ‘Ireland’s Folklore and Traditions’ as well as gain some insight into his background and inspiration. His blog and facebook page are fantastic resources, are rich in knowledge and particularly for anyone wanting to read or learn more authentic Irish folk sources and information.
What is your background?
As a child I was lucky enough to have been sent to an Irish language primary school (Gaelscoil) and then on to Irish language secondary school (Gaelcholáiste). Unfortunately I didn’t see the importance to the language then, although it has definitely been a great benefit to me. I am now thankful of having that background and familiarity with our native language, especially when it comes to getting a deeper understanding of our lore and culture. It was at school too that I was introduced to our mythological stories. That coupled with the stories of my grandfather (such as his encounter with the Banshee) that sowed the seeds for what would later come.
My interest in history only really grew in my 20’s when I took up photography and started investigating the specific folklore attached to the sites I visited, in the hopes of sharing the lesser known information attached to them. In 2014, I took a course in tourism which lead me to pursue a degree in Folklore at University College Cork. My focus initially was to focus entirely on the folklore, but having been introduced to the amazing scholars of the Celtic Studies Department I decided to do a joint subject degree, splitting in half folklore/celtic studies. The focus on the manuscript tradition (stories, mythology Annals etc) paired well with the more modern folklore and allowed me to chart the evolution of our beliefs and practices up to the folk traditions of more recent times. I graduated with honours in 2018 and the following year I got certified as a National Tour Guide. Of course, the chance to actually guide was scuppered by Covid hitting just as I secured a job but I was lucky enough though to get asked to present classes online through the Irish Pagan School, with my biggest so far (6 week intro to Irish Folklore) starting on the 20th March 2021.
My facebook pages can be found here:
My blog here:
My Irish Pagan School classes:
What is your favourite mythological tale and character and why?
Eachtra Nera is probably my favourite mythological tale. The Eachtra or adventure tales tend to be more pagan focused (as opposed to the more ostensibly Christian otherworld tales, the immrama) and involve trips to the otherworld.
This specific tale is set at Samhain (the festival that roughly coincides with modern Halloween) at the royal site at Rath Cruachan. The titular Nera is tasked by King Ailill and Queen Medb to go outside and place a withy on the foot of the body of executed criminal. Everyone else is too afraid as there are many “horrors” outside (due to the otherworldly creatures and entities being free to roam our world at Samhain). To Nera’s surprise, the body reanimates and tasks Nera with carrying him on his back to nearby houses. What happens next is one of the reasons this is my favourite tale. The corpse is unable to enter 2 of the three houses because in one the fire has been “banked down” and in the second the dirty water has been removed from the house (this causes a magical barrier around the hut). Considering this tale is almost a thousand years old at the least, it fascinates me that it shows something that was a very strong belief until very recent times where there were strict rules involved with preparing the fire before bed and around not leaving dirty water in the house (for fear of otherworldly influence).
Following this, Nera witnesses the destruction of Cruachan and follows an otherworldly troop into the sídhe (otherworldly mound) and enters into the otherworld himself. In the course of this we see a number of things synonymous with the otherworld including a different passage of time. We also see that the the otherworld is at the opposite time of year to us, as when Nera returns at Samhain, he brings “the fruits of summer” with him as proof of his adventure”. I won’t ruin the rest of the story for anyone who wants to read it. A copy is available online here : https://sulis.ucc.ie/cdi/wp-content/uploads/textarchive/EchtraNerai_KMeyer.pdf or in “The Celtic Heroic Age”
Which folk practices would you most like to see invigorated or maintained in Ireland?
One of the traditions I would love to see revived properly is the wake. The Irish have a fantastic connection to death and a very cathartic way of dealing with someone’s passing. The wake was a community undertaking where everyone came together in grief to ease the family’s hardship. People were assigned with specific jobs like getting the coffin, the food, drink, tobacco and snuff for the people who would be attending. The bean bhán would come to clean the corpse and over three days the corpse was layed out at the home in the “corpse room” and people would call to say their goodbyes. A far more intimate setting than the commercially focused undertakers. Semi-professional mourners or “keeners” (Bean Chaointe) would also visit the house to lament the dead. Storytelling and all manner of games to pass the time were also part and parcel of the wake (many of these are certainly not what you would expect, many more would not be considered acceptable in today’s society. Séan Ó Súilleabháin’s Irish Wake Amusements is a fascinating book on this subject). It is the coming together and celebrating the life of the person that is what brought the community together. I feel that people today are separated and disconnected from death, something that has a detrimental effect on peoples coping mechanisms, in my opinion.
I would have to give an honourable mention to “bonfire night” or “Saint John ’s Eve”. Even though it hasn’t died out completely (the hills surrounding the city I live in are still filled with plumes of smoke on the night). Health and safety issues have more or less put a stop to it, but most people will have great memories of collecting material for the weeks leading up to it and having to protect it from neighbouring estates (who would attempt to steal your gathered material or prematurely set fire to it), each of which would try to build the largest bonfire.
What are the biggest challenges or obstacles to rejuvenating or maintaining Irish tradition practices and crafts today?
I think one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to rejuvenating or maintaining traditions is the mind-set that we have moved passed these traditions and that they are “of the past” or that they are simply piseogs (superstitions). Some traditions, like the sacrificing of animals on St Martin’s night obviously have ethical issue tied up in them, so the issue of rejuvenation is a problematic one.
I feel, with most traditions though that if the respect of them and the practice of carrying them out is instilled at a young age that it might counter the notion that they are of a time long gone.
In terms of traditional crafts the biggest issue facing much of it is our need for cheap convenient alternatives. Most people will not fork out for an artisan to make them a woven basket when they can get a plastic alternative for a fraction of the cost. That being said however, there are no shortage of people willing to take up traditional crafts as hobbies or even for displaying and selling at craft fairs. Weekend classes to learn crafts like these are usually fairly popular.
How can Gaeilge best be kept alive?
There is an Irish proverb or seanfhocail that says: ‘Beatha Teanga í a labhairt’… The life of a language is in speaking it. And that is exactly what we need to do. We just need to use it. We need to shake off the post-colonial trauma and self-loathing and take ownership of our native tongue, along with putting to bed the notion that it is a dead language or that it is useless. Gaeilge is a beautifully descriptive language and is a tremendous key to unlocking our countries history and culture and who we are as a people. You need look no further than the meanings of Irish Place names in their original Irish form to see the amount of encoded information contained within the native language.
There is a lingering embarrassment among many people to use the language in public, which is a shame. This, of course, is not a new phenomenon. Douglas Hyde (Dubhghlas de hÍde) ,who would later become our first president, lamented the same thing in his speech The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland in 1892 that “young men and women blush when overheard speaking their own language”. And this is something that many people need to move on from. Naturally, it isn’t as cut and dry as that because the entire teaching method in schools needs to be reformed and focus needs to be placed on the conversational aspect of it, not just learning things off by heart to pass an exam.
On the plus side, the internet and technology such as zoom and apps like duolingo have seen a rise in people showing interest in the language. The last few years has also seen a rise in weekly/monthly meet-ups such “pop-up Gaeltacht” or “sos lóin” in pubs where people of a wide age range and ability level meet up to speak in Irish. Through the latter I personally have a small group of acquaintances that I have barely ever spoken a word of English to. Hopefully this is something that will continue to snowball and we can get the language thriving again.
What would you consider the most important book(s) of traditional Irish folk practices and information?
Not a book, but I would always point people in the direction of duchas.ie. This fantastic resource is the digitisation of the National Folklore collection, one of the largest ethnographic archives in Europe.
At present it is mostly made up of the Schools collection which was collected in the 1937/38 school year as a homework assignment by school children throughout the republic (26 counties) where they collected all manner of folklore from the older family members and neighbours. It is searchable by topic and you can even see the scans of the original notebooks it was written in. Transcription is an ongoing crowdsourced effort.
The main manuscript collection, the larger of the two (the product of full time and part time collectors travelling around the country) is still a work in progress on the site, although there is no shortage of material to wade through, even though it isn’t as organised yet.
As well as this it has over 10,000 photographs and a new function that allows you to search for folktales according to motif.
With all the dodgy sources out there choosing fakelore over folklore, it is great to have a resource with so much genuine lore, from the mouths of people!
If there were critical steps for a more authentic Irish or Celtic pagan path, what would you suggest they be to a newcomer?
I think THE most critical step is familiarity with the source material. Unfortunately we don’t have a guide book for this sort of thing, so it requires a bit of leg work on the part of the reader. Luckily there are some great resources out there with things like the Irish Pagan School.
Unfortunately there are a lot of dodgy sources out there too and there is no end to the amount of authors willing to misinterpret or flat out make stuff up when it comes to folklore, mythology and the pagan path. Many false things that are taken as fact (8 fold wheel of the year, ogham calendars etc) and this is why it is important to be discerning in your sources. I would always suggest checking for a bibliography at the very least, preferably with in text citation so you can follow the crumbs and investigate for yourself.
What are the biggest misconceptions about Irish culture you’d like to clear up with the diaspora?
There are a few stereotypes that are still attached to us that are well overdue coming to an end.
The drunken fighting Irish thing is still way more prevalent than it should be. This is something that needs to stop. We all aren’t swilling pints of Guinness morning, noon and night.
It isn’t like the set of the ‘Quiet Man’ here. We aren’t all sat around the hearth in a thatched house in flat caps and Aran sweaters saying “begorrah” and “top o’ the morning”. We aren’t as stuck in the past as some people seem to believe.
Ireland is small, but we don’t all know each other! (With the caveat that there aren’t many degrees of separation between us, but still).
Our folklore consists of more than just Leprechauns (side-eye at you Walt Disney and Lucky Charms). And you DO NOT want to come here looking for fairies! What you think you are looking for (as in tinker-belle like, minuscule creatures) , is not what you will find and you will be all the worse for it!