Every culture has its own legends, folklore and tales; stories that our parents told us, that we will share with our children. They are a constant reminder of who we are and where we come from. Folklore was described by William Thoms as "the manners, customs, observances, superstitions, ballads, proverbs of the olden time". Ireland has one of the richest folklore traditions in the world, it’s infused in the very soul of the country.
Many years ago, traditional Irish storytellers called seanchaí would recite ancient lore and wisdom. The definition of seanchaí is a custodian of tradition. While storytelling has largely been replaced in Ireland with TV and film, it's still a highly respected ability to have crowds hanging on your every word.
Before Freud, folklorists mined our subconscious and gently tugged on the spool of thoughts, hopes, dreams and desires that was buried deep inside. Psychiatry and psychology intercepted this in the 20th century however today the hold of folklore still remains strong in some remote, unscathed parts of Ireland.
Now in 2020, old Irish folklore literature is still widespread, with heroic and tragic sagas such as Cú Chulainn, Children of Lir and Finn MacCool treated as treasures to be passed down. Tales of banshees (bean sídhe), known culturally as the “women of death” tell that if you hear them shrieking you should prepare for the death of someone you know. Stories of pig faced, sharp toothed, cold water mermaids have been handed down through the generations after a mermaid was said to be formed when a woman was drowned in the creation of Lough Neagh. Folklore is part of the national identity and its meanings have evolved over time from person to person, capturing our imaginations and oftentimes instilling in us clear ideas of good and evil.
Some of the symbolism that was first found in Celtic literature and art is still used today. For example, fish or salmon often represent knowledge, boars show courage or strength and dragons mean trouble. For these snippets to be passed down through generations for thousands of years demonstrates the passion of the Irish for their past and traditions.
The answer to the question of relevance today is clear. If you are Irish, folklore will have touched your life in some way and helped to craft you culturally. Areas of Irish art, music, theatre and literature were moulded by the hands of folklorists and so for this, we recognise the relevance of it.