Unesco recognition for Irish treasure trove of folklore and culture

A treasure trove of material on Irish folklore and culture has joined the ranks of the Magna Carta and the Bayeux Tapestry in a special United Nations archive.

Chief Whip Joe McHugh; Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh, director; John Howard UCD Librarian; and UCD President Professor Andrew Deeks. Pic Jason Clarke

The Irish Folklore Commission Collection, held at University College Dublin and regarded as one of the richest and most diverse traditional archives anywhere in the world, is being added to the Unesco Memory of the World Register.

Set up in 1935, it ran until 1970, gathering more than 10,000 hours of recordings of Irish speakers, songs and music, 90,000 photographs, film footage of the likes of Peig Sayers and thousands of manuscripts of interviews and storytelling.

After the Book of Kells the collection is only the second Irish entry into the Unesco archive. Other world-renowned entries include the Diary of Anne Frank. Joe McHugh, government chief whip and Minister for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands, said the award was due recognition, at home and abroad, of the importance of the collection.

“All of this work was carried out during a period in our history when profound language, social and cultural change was taking place. The collection therefore forms a unique record of Irish cultural life, society, the verbal arts and music,” he said.

The objective of the Dúchas.ie project is to digitise the National Folklore Collection and make it available to the public online.

Two of the most significant parts of the collections have already been digitised — ‘The Photographic Collection’ and ‘The Schools Collection’, for which more than 50,000 children from 5,000 schools in the 26 counties were enlisted to collect folklore in their home districts in the 1930s.

The children recorded this material from their parents, grandparents, and neighbours.

The archive is described as having “world significance” and “outstanding universal value to culture” and it joins 427 collections and documents from around the world on materials from stone to celluloid and from parchment to sound recordings.

As well as interviews, the material also includes hero tales and sagas, local legends, poetry, historical tradition and place-name lore, in Irish and English, and performances of folk drama such as wren boys and mummers. There are also several thousand acetate disk records of native Irish speakers in the 1940s and 50s and high-quality magnetic tape recordings.

Unesco set up the Memory of the World Programme in 1992 amid concerns of heritage being lost through war, looting, illegal trading and social upheaval.

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