Scéalta agus Seanchas – Béalodeas agus cuimhní cinn ó Ghaeltacht na nDéise. Potatoes, Children and Seaweed – Forgotten tales of a coastal community in the Waterford Gaeltacht.
Áine Uí Fhoghlú | Foilseacháin Scoil Scairte | 320pp | €25 hb | 9781916178809.
Review by Cathal Póirtéir
This beautiful bilingual volume is one of the most attractively packaged books that I have seen this year. The high production values are evident on every page—in the layout, the illustrations (in black and white, and colour), the artwork and the overall presentation. Áine Uí Fhoghlú has previously won prizes as a writer of both prose and poetry in Irish, and retired early from teaching to work as a full-time writer. Her achievement here as a publisher is prize-worthy too.
Scéalta agus Seanchas/Potatoes, Children and Seaweed is a collection of folklore from the Waterford Gaeltacht where Áine Uí Fhoghlú has lived since childhood. It captures the end of much of the traditional life of the small farmers and fishermen of Rinn Uí gCuanach and An Seana-Phobal in this small, isolated Gaeltacht on the south-east coast, many miles from its nearest Irish-speaking neighbours in west Cork. The world captured here in the early 1990s is not so distant from us in time but the world it recalls goes back generations before that. Rural Ireland has been transformed since then and this glimpse of a world without electricity or mass media opens a window on a way of life that had changed little for centuries but that was rapidly disappearing through the twentieth century.
This is the world of oral tradition, where a community passed on its understanding of life through stories and songs, made their own entertainment by making music and dancing, and where men and women engaged with the natural resources of the area to make as full a life as possible for themselves and their community, drawing on local tradition, knowledge and resources.
Uí Fhoghlú introduces readers to 21 local men and women, who share their experiences with her, with each given a chapter to themselves. Having trained as a folklorist in UCC and worked as a journalist with RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, the writer was perfectly placed to engage successfully with her older neighbours to uncover this treasure trove of Munster traditions. The interviewees, mostly now deceased, tell us about traditional work practices; farming and fishing traditions; superstitions; the makers and performers of local songs and poetry; wakes and weddings; prayers; stories; children’s games; local history; calendar customs; and social life. The reproduction of old black-and-white photographs of life in the area add much to the feel of the book and the more recent colour, sometimes aerial, photography highlight the natural beauty and resources of the area today.
The contributions were recorded, transcribed and edited by Áine to give a representative sample of the wider body of material she originally recorded. Each contributor is introduced and his or her interview carefully transcribed in the attractive Irish dialect of the area and followed by a translation in standard English, both illustrated by a range of excellent photographs of handcrafts, people and activities. To the wider world, the best known of the contributors is the celebrated singer Nioclás Tóibín but the twenty others are at least equally as interesting on family histories and a wide range of historic events including evictions, 1916, Cumann na mBan, and the Civil War. Accounts of fishing feature regularly, as do traditional stories and local memories of people and events, as well as the well-known Coláiste na Rinne.
All in all, this is a wonderful undertaking and a most enjoyable read, presented to the highest possible standard. I hope that the obvious investment of time, expertise and money that went into producing this beautiful book will pay off. Her local community are indebted to her for this achievement, as she is to them for passing on their wealth of tradition. Anyone with an interest in folklore, social history or the Irish language will treasure this most attractively presented book for many reasons.
It was published towards the end of 2019, so anyone looking for a copy should probably not delay much longer. Scéalta agus Seanchas/Potatoes, Children and Seaweed is available at waterfordwriter.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and An Siopa Leabhar.
Cathal Póirtéir is a writer and broadcaster who has published several books and CDs on Irish folklore, social history and literature in Irish.