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Reviewed by:
  • Folklore and Modern Irish Writing ed. by Anne Markey and Anne O’Connor
  • Chad Edward Buterbaugh
Folklore and Modern Irish Writing, edited by Anne Markey and Anne O’Connor, pp. 250. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2014. Distributed by International Specialized Book Services, Portland, OR. $34.95.

Folklore and Modern Irish Writing takes a contemplative look at the patterns of Irish vernacular expression appearing in print formats from the early nineteenth century to the present. Editors Anne Markey and Anne O’Connor arrange the collection of sixteen essays to track the journey of folklore from the voice of the people, to the cultural byword of the new republic, to the source material for Irish writers who are at work today.

Through its content and format, this volume emerges as a treatise for understanding folklore as a multimodal form of human communication that becomes more authoritative, for better or worse, when expressed through the printed word. The diverse case studies span several generations, political ideologies, and artistic movements, but their uniting message is that folklore cannot be contained or completely understood by studying books alone.

In the early years of the modern Irish nation, for example, folklore was the target of the many collectors sent out into Ireland’s remotest landscapes to gather the wisdom and stories of the people. Kelly Fitzgerald notes that, as a project of the emerging republic, this sort of activity was intertwined with the political project of establishing a national heritage by means of the Irish Folklore Commission—and, further, that elements of this perspective influence how folklore is understood even now. It is not enough for today’s researchers to [End Page 152] consider the archive of the National Folklore Collection; they must also account for the political climate that brought it into being.

John Dillon beckons scholars’ attention away from the page through his analysis of folkloric materials collected by Yeats from the seer Mary Battle, his uncle’s housekeeper. Dillon allows that the textual format of these collections encourages readers to view them as a form of literature, but he also frames them as products of a much more nuanced and open-ended social interaction—that of the real-life relationship between Yeats and Battle, in which folkloric utterance played a central role. Dillon’s discussion gestures toward the performance-centered approach to folklore, which has been a key orientation in North American folkloristics for several decades.

Similarly, Irene Lucchitti claims the life of Peig Sayers as just that—a life, and not a mere collection of folkloric narrations printed and distributed throughout Ireland and beyond. Lucchitti makes this point in light of Peig’s pivotal role in the curation of a distinctly Irish culture in the twentieth century. Although her memoirs established a base for the use of Irish folklore in literary contexts, the woman herself was somewhat forgotten in this process. Her emblematic identity came to subsume her true identity, even though “the sun did come up and go down on her stories, her songs and her prayers.” Lucchitti encourages contemporary readers to view Peig’s words as snapshots of a larger biography, and to view folklore as a useful tool for mortaring her story together.

Commentaries like these nudge readers to consider Ireland’s wealth of printed folklore in more fluid terms. Though the bound text includes a clear beginning and end, it also inhabits a broader, more chaotic network of expression that encompasses words that are printed, spoken, and thought, as well as the nonverbal, semiverbal, and paraverbal systems of material culture, folk custom, folk belief, and the like. In the case of Ireland, this means considering the tremendous output of the Irish Folklore Commission in light of the political circumstances that inspired many of its collectors and, by extension, its content. And in any case, this means studying printed folklore—whether in memoirs, novels, or collections—in the context of the antecedent lives and performances that originally inspired their words. To study folklore in any sort of meaningful way is to study multimedia expression.

Inevitably, this book is also an example of the very thing it studies. Several chapters devote hundreds of words each to written synopses...


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pp. 152-154
Launched on MUSE
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