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Ár Scéal Féin

Brian Earls
Print and Popular Culture in Ireland 1750-1850, by Niall Ó Ciosáin, Lilliput, 265 pp. €15. ISBN: 978-1843510727

Early in the twentieth century, in a series of reflections which concluded an intense, decade-long engagement with the folklore of Sligo and Galway, WB Yeats presented the situation of the Irish poet in terms of the rival possibilities of speech and print. This opposition was, in turn, seen as part of a fundamental contrast between Ireland and England. “Irish poetry and Irish stories were made to be spoken,” Yeats wrote, “while English literature, alone of great literatures, because the newest of them all, has all but completely shaped itself in the printing press. In Ireland today the old world that sang and listened is, it may be for the last time in Europe, face to face with the world that reads and writes, and their antagonism is always present under some name or other in Irish imagination and intellect.” Looking from Slieve Echtge across the Galway plains, on a landscape dense with place names and memories of narratives and songs, Yeats affirmed that there was “upon these great level plains a people, a community bound together by imaginative possessions, by stories and poems which have grown out of its own life”. Although, to all appearances, the oral world was everywhere in retreat, he found it possible to believe, if only momentarily, that the victory of the printing press might not be total. In this mood he dreamed of a different kind of poetry, arising out of the interaction of the poet – conceived of in his archaic role as bard and conserver of lore – and the “great river” of the people. “One could still,’ he wrote, “if one had the genius, and had been born to Irish, write for these people plays and poems like those of Greece. Does not the greatest poetry always require a people to listen to it?” 1

Yeats’s dialogue with Irish folklore in the decade leading to The Wind Among the Reeds was marked by an extraordinary intensity and a corresponding narrowness of focus. His insights were startling as, eighty years before reflections on orality and literacy became commonplace, he was seized of the difference between the epic singer, or narrator, performing to an audience and literary production shaped by the typographically based conventions of the Victorian era. While his engagement with the oral tradition was remarkable for the richness of its insights, it had as its corollary an indifference to those hybrid elements in the Anglophone culture of late nineteenth century Ireland which fused the popular with the commercial. In Literature and the Living Voice Yeats registered his sense of the tradition and its potential, but also of those forces which he saw as inimical to that potential. These found their embodiment in two contrasting encounters, one with the living voice of the tradition and the second with an exemplification of the alienated and inauthentic. The first of Yeats’s meetings was with “the shawled and frieze-coated people” of Killeenan, who were familiar with the poems of Raftery (Antoine Ó Raifteirí) and included among their number an old man who had carried a candle at the poet’s funeral; the second was with a group of young men he saw shortly after in Galway, “marching down the middle of the street singing an already outworn London music hall song, that filled the memory … with a rhythm as pronounced and impersonal as the noise of a machine”. From the young men and their song, Yeats turned to the print-filled shop windows of the Galway newsagents, where he found “the signs of a life unlike that I had seen at Killeenan: halfpenny comic papers and story papers, sixpenny reprints of popular novels, and, with the with the exception of a dusty Dumas or Scott strayed thither, one knew not how, and one or two little books of Irish ballads, nothing that one calls literature …” 2

Although there is likely to be a temptation to accuse Yeats of overstating his case, the contrasts to which he pointed were sufficiently real to have struck numerous observers during the course of the nineteenth century. What can be claimed is that, for the purpose of generating insights, he eliminated shading, as the slow process whereby one economy of language replaced another was encapsulated in dramatically contrasting images. Although still in touch with a rich and predominantly orally transmitted Gaelic heritage, like their fellow countrymen in other parts of Ireland the people of Killeenan and the parishes around the Slieve Echtge hills had for generations been receiving emigrants’ letters, hearing their leaders’ speeches read out to them from nationalist newspapers, instructed via the catechisms and devotional materials of the English-speaking church, and entertained by the printed ballads and chapbooks that were carried by ballad singers and pedlars into every corner of the country.

Over recent years, together with a growing interest in the history and significance of literacy, historians have focused on chapbooks, ballads and other forms of cheap printed material as a possible point of entry in trying to understand the interests, values, preferences and outlook of the otherwise largely inarticulate – or at least unrecorded – common people in the early modern period. Where Ireland is concerned, Niall Ó Ciosáin’s groundbreaking Print and Popular Culture in Ireland 1750-1850, which has now appeared in a welcome second edition, provides an indispensable overview of the field. It is a work which is notable for its intellectual rigour, alertness to problems of interpretation, and – at times to an uncomfortable degree – suspicion of received ideas. The approach adopted is interdisciplinary so that, in addition to its primary focus on the history of popular culture, it raises issues of concern to folklorists, students of literature, religion and the Irish language. The author’s strategy is to use print to illuminate the beliefs, attitudes and practices found among a majority of the population in eighteenth and nineteenth century Ireland. Although there are themes – such as the influence of newspapers, which began to make itself felt towards the end of his period – which are only touched on lightly, Ó Ciosáin’s reconstruction of the world of the chapbook pedlars and their competitors and readers amounts to a substantial introduction to the history of popular reading in Ireland.

The chapbooks, which are the focus of Ó Ciosáin’s study, were generally short, cheaply produced, entertaining books, which circulated widely among the lower classes in Western Europe in the early modern period. They are usually associated with the early stages of the transition from an oral culture to literacy. During the nineteenth century they frequently drew the attention of commentators concerned with popular reading matter. Among those who noticed them was Thomas Davis who, in his otherwise indulgent essay “The Library of Ireland”, described the chapbooks as “the classics of tipsy Ireland”, characterised by “stupid indecency and ruffianism”. 3 Niall Ó Ciosáin’s study of this body of material covers an impressive range of texts including chivalric romances, biographies of famous rogues and rapparees, histories of Ireland from the perspective of those on the losing side in the great wars of the seventeenth century, rhyming plays based on the battles of William and James, the immensely popular Pious Miscellany of Tadhg Gaelach Ó Súilleabháin ( one of the few works in Irish to get into print during the period), the prophecies of Pastorini which, in spite of their elite provenance, proved inflammatory in the circumstances of early nineteenth century Ireland, and the myriad of improving tracts which, at their most radical, aspired to transform not only the economic and cultural practices but also the religion and language of the rural lower classes. Ó Ciosáin’s reflections on the reception afforded to this wonderfully varied assortment raise a number of central questions regarding the relationship between print and the oral culture into which it made its way.

The aim of Print and Popular Culture in Ireland is, in its author’s words, “to reconstruct the dynamics of popular print literacy as a guide to the wider cultures of the time … cheap print gives an initial hold during a period of transition from a predominantly oral culture to a predominantly literate one”. As we now appreciate, the growth of literacy and penetration of print into milieus in which books had previously been scarce affected people’s lives along a range extending from the way they gained knowledge to the kinds of stories they preferred and the way they handled them. Although Ó Ciosáin covers solidly empirical territory in his account of issues such as the demand for education, growth of literacy, and the production and distribution of the chapbooks, he is also prepared to speculate regarding the cultural meaning of the texts which the pedlars carried in their packs. Among a number of intriguing readings he is particularly suggestive regarding the Pious Miscellany of Tadhg Gaelach Ó Súilleabháin (1715-95), which achieved unprecedented popularity among Irish-speakers in the first half of the nineteenth century. In his view this collection of poems on sin, repentance and death represented a possible compromise between clerically enforced Tridentine “reform” and older, more traditional forms of Gaelic piety. Having as its implied aim the purification and incorporation of “popular practice within newer forms of religion, rather than condemning or suppressing it”; in Ó Ciosáin’s reading Tadhg Gaelach’s book represented a potential alternative strategy to the clerical suppression of popular religious practice, which became so widespread in the nineteenth century.

Ó Ciosáin’s assessment of the impact of print is notable for his awareness of the English and European background and for his familiarity with debates among continental historians regarding the function and significance of the French language chapbooks known as the Bibliothèque Bleue. He thus brings an illuminating comparative perspective to bear on the local material he discusses. This is particularly evident in his analysis of the situation regarding printed matter in the Irish language, which he compares with the far larger amounts of material which were printed in Welsh and Breton. Very broadly his account is of how, for reasons that are still not completely clear, Irish failed to make the transition from manuscript-based literary production to print. What appeared in print in Irish was, in his characterisation, little and late. This failure, at a time when there was an explosive growth in the demand for literacy, and when the contemporary world was reaching into the most remote communities, meant that Irish missed a key transition to modernity and continued to be associated with the backward-looking and archaic. Print, in this reading, made its way into people’s lives at a time when the Irish language was in retreat and may have accelerated that process. Although this is not quite how Ó Ciosáin puts matters, it is difficult to see that future discussions of the decline of Irish can fail to be informed by his account of the role of print.

It seems unlikely that the chapbooks were subject to private readings by solitary individuals who reflected on their contents and made them their own, if only because such practices emerged slowly and the space and silence necessary for them were unlikely to be found in Irish cottages or even small farmhouses. They seem much more likely to have been read aloud. One of the key questions regarding chapbooks and related forms of print is therefore how they interacted with existing habits and narratives – with the hero-tales, fairy-tales, local and historical legends, prophetic speculation, songs, jokes and anecdotes which were narrated orally around countless firesides until the nineteenth century and beyond. The appearance of print must also have had implications for the practice, well attested in the households of prosperous Munster farmers, of reading aloud in the evening of prose romances from Irish language manuscripts. A starting point in trying to address these questions is whether the chapbooks and other forms of print were found in the same contexts as oral storytelling. Ó Ciosáin approaches this issue by way of a dispute among French historians as to whether the Bibliothèque Bleue was read aloud at “the peasant veillée, a regular village gathering during winter nights for work and storytelling”. As we learn, opinion is divided as to whether such reading actually took place or whether it is a romantic motif; where Ireland is concerned Ó Ciosáin is tentative, concluding that “there seems no reason to suppose” that such reading would not have taken place at gatherings at night for storytelling, or that storytellers would not have taken printed material “for recitation at such gatherings”.

There are some indications in early nineteenth century writing of the presence of print at storytelling sessions, or associated with individuals who, if not quite storytellers, were high profile public performers. In his poem of 1833, The Fireside: A sketch of a scene which every house in the country displays in winter, Matthew Moore Graham recalled an evening in Co Louth at which recital of legends, heroic narratives and poetry were supplemented by “classic lore”, “literature” and – suggesting familiarity with newspapers – “affairs of state”. 4 Four years earlier, in The Doom of Derenzie, Thomas Furlong portrayed an evening legend exchange in Co Wexford, at which a familiar array of supernatural narratives was supplemented by,
… stories of the days long gone;
With talk of them whose names are known,
Wherever schoolboy’s book is shewn;
Of the Seven Masters, famed of old,
And the nine worthies, brave and bold;
Of Orson, and of Valentine,
And others of a humbler line:
Of Warwick’s Earl, and Joan of France,
Who graced the times of grim romance:
Of wandering Crusoe’s lonely isle …5

Lady Morgan’s The O’Briens and the O’Flahertys of 1827 contains a portrait of a Galway poet, refracted through the disapproving and eccentric gaze of the novel’s author. This “scandalous chronicler”, who goes by the name Corny the cadger, boasts that he can repeat fianaíocht – Irish language epic concerning Fionn and his warrior band – “upon my fingers’ inds” and also deals out “eulogies or vituperations upon the neighbouring gentry, according as they had administered to his wants or vanities”. Corny, whose medium is poetry, on meeting the novel’s hero, addresses him in verse. Following this opening he moves on to a rhymed, laudatory history of the library, made up of chapbooks and poetry, which he carries with him. In addition to an assortment of poetry, described with slapdash enthusiasm, and such well known chapbooks as Don Belianis of Greece, The Seven Wise Masters of Rome and Moll Flanders, this contains Irish Rogues and Rapparees.

…here’s the finest of stories,
’Tis of Redmond O’Hanlon, the chief of all Tories.
Here’s the feast of O’Rourke, the fight of O’Maras,
And the battle of Aughrim, and the fall of O’Haras.
Here’s Cahier na Gapul, and Manus M’Connell,
With his merry man Andrew, and Randall O’Donnell,
With other great tories, Irish rogues, rapparees,
Once plenty in Ireland, as laves on the trees. 6

At around the same time as Corny praised his books, another schoolmaster, the Kerry poet Tomás Ruadh Ó Súilleabháin, lamented the loss of his library in an accident at sea while it was being transported by boat from Derrynane to Portmagee. He did so in Amhrán na Leabhar (The Song of the Books), a poem of a hundred and seventy-six lines which described the disaster and enumerated the works lost. The list of books, which, apart from a small number of school textbooks, consists almost entirely of literary, historical and devotional manuscript works in Irish, provides a glimpse of the mental world of poet-schoolteacher and indeed of the Iveragh community in which he was such a prominent figure. The only chapbook mentioned, one of the few works in English, is Cath Eachdroma (The Battle of Aughrim). This occurs as part of a list of battles-related works, concerning the siege of Troy; battles from the end of the first millennium, and a series of battles from the Fenian cycle as well as the stories of the old Irish kings. In the vision of the poem historical events, including the late seventeenth century Battle of Aughrim, would appear to be of the same order as the deeply fictional and mythological. Amhrán na Leabhar proved to be the most popular of Tomás’s songs and could be heard, sung to a haunting slow air, in fairs in the Iveragh district as late as the First World War. It is recorded in the lore of the area that the poet never travelled without a book in his pocket and entertained members of the households he visited by reading aloud tales, songs and poetic narratives such as Cath Chnoic an Áir (The Battle of the Hill of Slaughter). Tomás’s visits were thus performance occasions, in which the poet acted as storyteller, with The Battle of Aughrim taking its place alongside tales of Fionn, Osgar, Oisín and Cormac Mac Airt. 7

In trying to understand how works like Don Belianis of Greece or Irish Rogues and Rapparees were received in communities whose verbal habits and aesthetic expectations had been shaped by oral storytelling, it may be useful to look briefly outside Ireland. In the 1930s the American classicist Milman Parry attempted to arrive at an understanding of epic composition by observing a living tradition of oral recital. For this purpose he chose the performances of Yugoslav singers of tales, who provided entertainment for audiences in village coffee houses by chanting epics of many thousands of lines. Following his early death Parry’s project was carried to completion by his student Albert Lord, who in The Singer of Tales undertook “to comprehend the manner in which [the singers] compose, learn, and transmit their epics” and “see how the form of their songs hangs on their having to learn and practice their art without reading or writing”. The resultant analysis was notable for its subtle, empirically based description of the nature of oral performance. Lord called into question the concept of controlling text or of a single correct version of a particular song – such ideas, he argued, derive from literacy and are unknown to the singers – and instead focused attention on the figure of the singer at the moment of performance. It is in performance that the life of the tradition resides, as the singer shapes his verbal and thematic material to create something that is at once unique and yet familiar. Lord’s central insight lay in the realisation of the simultaneity of composition and performance, as on each particular performance occasion the singer builds his song out of his individual repertoire of formulae and themes. Oral poetry, in Lord’s account is “characterised by the fact that composition takes place during performances resulting in a particular and distinctive process in which oral learning, oral composition, and oral transmission almost merge; they seem to be different facets of the same process”. For our purposes Lord’s observation that, when epic singers encountered printed narratives they did not privilege them, but regarded them as simply another story, and like other stories subject to recasting and variation, seems particularly suggestive. 8

In a 1945 lecture, the director of the Irish Folklore Commission, James Delargy, reflecting on the extraordinary range of West European tradition known to the elderly country people whom he recorded, conceived of oral performance as a form of reading aloud from a concealed, imaginary book. “The repertoire of many storytellers whom I have known,” he declared, “reminds one of the omnibus collections in the Irish vellum tradition. These old tradition bearers, like the old manuscripts, are libraries in themselves. Questioning them, we can turn over page after page in their capacious memories …” 9 One effect of the work of Parry and Lord was to displace the idea – implicit in Professor Delargy’s vellum image – of the storyteller or singer as one endowed with a prodigious memory, whose performance involved the repetition of a pre-existent, verbally stable text. In common with other significant conceptual shifts, Parry and Lord’s conclusions could be seen as a formalising of insights which others before them had arrived at in partial and perhaps intuitive ways. Among a handful of nineteenth century Irish observers who anticipated elements of Parry-Lord, one of the most impressive was John O’Donovan, whose travels throughout Ireland on behalf of the Ordnance Survey in the 1830s could be seen as an intensive immersion in the oral tradition, as he tested the historical legends and place-name lore which met him at every turn against older written Irish sources. O’Donovan, whose cast of mind was empirical and analytic, was exasperated by what he perceived as the prodigal inventiveness of the tradition bearers, while regarding their unending variations as an obstacle to knowledge. Reporting to colleagues in Dublin, he argued that even printed works which fell into the hands of the storytellers were subject to these processes. In his view, “no two persons will tell the same story alike. Its parts are omitted, distorted, ornamented according to the creative powers of the fancy of the narrator; and the fact is that he remembers a few prominent features in each story and fills up the vacancies according to his own idea of things. But when the shanachy happens to be at all acquainted with Robinson Crusoe or Gulliver’s Travels the whole story receives a new form and feature and interpolations are inserted to no end.” 10

Scanning the pre-famine scene, it seems possible to discern some of the processes described by John O’Donovan and Albert Lord. They are to be found in Michael Banim’s account, in his novel Crohoore of the Billhook, of a fair day in Kilkenny. In his description Banim evoked a world of audience-directed sound, with the bocchochs, who “sung and bawled their miseries at every turn”, their rivals the ballad-singers, and “the reciters of prose effusions, who, in the blotted rather than printed slips of tea paper in their hands, found not a word of the wonderful or facetious rigmarole that issued from their mouths, and yet that gulled, over and over the gaping or grinning rustic”. 11 The reciters, who are selling single page prose broadsheets – perhaps a speech from the gallows or account of the wonderful adventures of Mr O’Flynn in search of Old Mother Clifton – gull their listeners because, while professing to read, their instincts are those of performers and they regard the occasion as an opportunity for improvisation. A similar relationship between text and performance, recast in a vein of parody, can be seen in William Carleton’s account of the pilgrim Darby More in his story The Midnight Mass. Darby, who sells Christmas carols at a halfpenny apiece, not only sings one of these to the Mass-goers but, during pauses in the melody, provides an “account” of its contents of such eccentricity as to stand in a very doubtful of relationships to its printed source. 12

A comparable dynamic can be observed in the case of the blind rhymer and reciter Zozimus (Michael Moran), who was a familiar figure on the Dublin streets of the 1820s. Although his biographer claimed that Zozimus learned his poems, ballads, essays and polemical tracts “by heart”, through the device of having them read to him, this seems an unnecessary hypothesis. A surer sense of what was involved is suggested by a contemporary who described him haranguing the Dublin crowd “with a homely but forcible eloquence, and spouted doggerel verse, on every possible subject, with the skill and readiness of an Italian improvisatore”. Like Darby More, Zozimus sold printed copies of his recitations, the most renowned of which, including Zozimus’s Great Recitation: The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt, were his own compositions. This transaction was accompanied by a patter which suggests that any work so introduced would possess only a limited textual authority:

I will not sell my book, I cannot sell my book; I dare not sell my book, but I will sell my straw, and make a present of my book, and the price of my straw is one penny; it is not wheaten-straw, nor an oat-straw, nor a barley-straw, nor a rye-straw, but it is the rale Repeal of the Union Straw. 13

If we turn from Zozimus to more familiar forms of narrative, the pattern of transforming print into recital persists. Traditionally-minded people who encountered prose fiction seem initially to have made no distinction between this novelty and the folktales with which they were familiar. For the young Patrick Kennedy, who arrived in Dublin as a student teacher in the early 1820s, as for his fellow students, one of the discoveries associated with the city was the novels of Walter Scott. These “were still an untasted feast to those of us whose lot was cast in retired country villages. It would be vain to strive to convey to the imagination of sated novel-readers the intensity of our enjoyment. One or another would subscribe to the little library in Patrick Street and read out [one of Scott’s novels] to his entranced audience.” When Kennedy returned to his native Wexford and told his neighbours about the Patrick Street library, they conceived of unrestricted access to printed stories as an unspeakable delight, while interpreting the unfamiliar institution of the circulating library in familiar folktale categories. “Larry picked up his ears when I mentioned the circulating library, and vowed he thought it must be next to the enjoyment of enchanted palaces in fairytales, to be able to sit all day in a library, with nothing to do but read The Seven Champions, The Persian Tales, The Arabian Nights etc.14 Kennedy’s neighbour can scarcely have realised that familiarity with the contents of the circulating libraries, and thus with the conventions of printed fiction, brought with it narrative possibilities of a different order to those of fairytales. Before that happened, however, there was a period when the movement was in the opposite direction, as printed fictions, recycled orally, were pulled within the orbit of the folktale.

There seems to have been something intrinsically simplifying, or at least a privileging of narrative above other elements, in the process of reading aloud. This can be observed even in settings remote from traditional storytelling, such as the merchant household of the Allingham family in Ballyshannon of the 1820s. Looking back on his childhood, William Allingham recalled his aunt, "a voracious novel-reader", reading aloud from the Waverly novels of Walter Scott: "At any thrilling crisis ejaculations of interest or excitement were heard, and at the end of a chapter often gave rise to comments, always on the incidents and characters, just as though they were real, never on the literary merits of the work or the abilities of the author." (15) The interests and priorities suggested by Allingham were even more clearly marked when stories read aloud were later retold orally. Although the evidence is uneven, this seems to have been the fate of a number of nineteenth century and early twentieth century Irish writers, from William Carleton and Gerald Griffin to Canon Sheehan. Printed works which were sufficiently attractive to their auditors to be retold as folktales were subject to radical re-editing, as literary elaboration was stripped away and the stories brought into conformity with traditional assumptions regarding form, content and style. The essentials of the process were summarised in 1860 by the Scottish folklorist JF Campbell, who noted that "old men and women are still found who have hardly stirred from their native islands, who speak only Gaelic, and cannot read or write, and yet their minds are filled with a mass of popular lore … If such as these get hold of the contents of a story book, they seem unconsciously to extract the incidents, and reject the rest, – to select the true wood, and throw away the foreign ornament, just as they chip off the paint of a stranded mast, or scrape the sea-weed off a log when they build it into a roof."(16)

The accuracy of Campbell’s account becomes evident if the retelling of William Carleton’s Condy Cullen; or the Exciseman Defeated as An Garsún agus an Géijéir, by the renowned Munster storyteller Amhlaoibh Ó Luínse, is compared with its source.(17) This is even more marked if a comparison is made between Carleton stories such as The Three Tasks and The Three Wishes and redactions of the same stories collected in the twentieth century from narrators as far apart as Cork and Donegal. The transformation wrought at the hands of the storytellers related to both style and content, as Carleton’s baroque prose yielded to the elegantly transparent language of oral narrative, while incident and form were reordered to bring them into line with the austere constructional norms of the fairytale. This does not mean that if a storyteller retold a literary work all trace of the original were effaced; indeed if this had taken place we would not be in a position to identify the transcribed oral text as a derivative. Redactions are thus likely to contain some marker which points to their literary origins.

The possible range between fidelity and transformation may be suggested by the case of The Royal Hibernian Tales. This was one of a number of chapbooks used as textbooks in early nineteenth century hedge schools. The collection, which itself was made up of fairytales, had a discernible impact on Irish storytelling. One of those whose repertoires included items from the chapbook was the bilingual Tyrone storyteller Owen Bradley. The story entitled Manus O’Mallaghan and the Fairies, which was collected from him in the early twentieth century, not only follows the motifs of the tale by the same name in Royal Hibernian Tales but, in spite of certain verbal differences, continuously echoes the phrasing of its source, with which it can be matched sentence for sentence. Owen Bradley’s story Robin the Blacksmith on the other hand, while deriving from the story entitled The Blacksmith in Royal Hibernian Tales, which it follows at the level of motif and narrative detail, is verbally independent of its source. (18) The degree of fidelity, or otherwise, to a source seems to relate to how long a work has been circulating orally. It is likely that Robin the Blacksmith was a story which was told often, and thus modified as a result of retelling, while Owen Bradley read or heard Manus O’Mallaghan and the Fairies shortly before it was collected from him. A high degree of fidelity to print is exceptional and, to the degree that a story enters the tradition, it is subject to a pressure bending it towards oral norms.

As Niall Ó Ciosáin demonstrates, chapbooks were popular and widely distributed. One way of exploring the oral/literary relationship, apparently not yet attempted on a significant scale, would be to compare the chapbook texts with stories deriving from them collected by the Irish Folklore Commission during the twentieth century. It may be, however, that this will bring only limited clarification. Chapbooks were short, frequently episodic, narrative-focused texts, which did not afford much room for literary elaboration. Thus, to choose one of the best known of them, the lives of the protagonists of Irish Rogues and Rapparees were written in an economical prose which rarely extended beyond a couple of pages. It may therefore be that, unlike Carleton’s elaborate dialogue-driven stories, storytellers found little to change in their borrowings from the chapbooks. This does not mean that they got them off by heart, although assertions to the contrary were regularly made.

In a letter of 1855 William Carleton commented: “A man named Cosgrave ... wrote a History of Irish Rogues and Rapparees – a book common in the hedge schools of many years ago and which I have some nearly by heart.” 19 Such feats were not confined to the classroom, nor was Carleton the only member of the community to have printed texts “by heart”. His story The Hedge School includes a disapproving listing of chapbooks studied in the schools of the author’s youth. Among these were two plays, The Siege of Londonderry and The Battle of Aughrim, set during the Williamite wars. As Carleton recalled:

A usual amusement at the time was to reproduce The Battle of Aughrim in some spacious barn, with a winnowing cloth for curtain. This play, bound up with The Siege of Londonderry, was one of the reading books in the hedge schools of the day, and circulated largely among the people of all religions: it had indeed a most extraordinary influence among the lower classes. The Battle of Aughrim, however, which was the favourite, because it was written in heroic verse, became so popular that it was rehearsed at almost every Irish hearth, both Catholic and Protestant, in the north ... To repeat it at the fireside in winter nights was nothing

This may be supplemented by a passage from Carleton’s autobiography:

In fact I had The Battle of Aughrim off by heart from beginning to ending. This came to be known, and the consequence was that, though not more than ten years of age, I became stage director and prompter both to Catholics and Protestant amateurs. In the mornings and in the evenings such of them – and there were not a few on both sides – as could not read spent hours with me attempting to make themselves perfect in their parts. It is astonishing, however, what force and impetus such an enthusiastic desire to learn and recollect bestows upon the memory. I had here an opportunity of witnessing this, for the quickness and accuracy with which they prepared themselves was astonishing. 20

In this predominantly non-literate setting literacy functions as a type of broadcasting system. Texts are not read but read aloud. In Carleton’s account their contents are recycled orally, that is to say independently of the text, once they have been learned “off by heart”.

Carleton was a literate familiar with the idea of a fixed text, with the result that his account of how chapbooks were apprehended by the non-literate reflected a text-based understanding of mental procedures. However, he was also an acute observer who reported carefully what he saw. When examined, the report emerges as inconsistent with the authorial explanation of what was taking place. The latter was unambiguous. In his view those who read or heard the texts memorised them in such a way as to be able to repeat them word for word. He himself had parts of Irish Rogues and Rapparees “nearly by heart” and The Battle of Aughrim “off by heart”. Comparable feats were attributed to non-literate tradition-bearers. The protagonist of his sketch Tom Gressiey, the Irish Senachie was “completely illiterate, yet he could repeat every word of Gallagher’s Irish Sermons, Donlevy’s Catechism, Think Well On’t, the Seven Champions of Christendom, and the substance of Pastorini’s and Kolumb Kill’s Prophecies, all by heart”. Carleton’s claims were even more emphatic with regard to his own father. James Carleton “possessed a memory not merely great or surprising, but absolutely astonishing. He would repeat nearly the whole of the Old and New Testaments by heart, and was besides a living index to almost every chapter and verse in them.” 21 Carleton’s account is essentially text-centred, in that the text is seen as primary and is given priority over performance. It is a view which, when pressed, is not without difficulties.

Carleton’s account of his own role in local productions of The Battle of Aughrim seems, at first glance, to view oral performance as verbatim repetition. In preparing this piece of folk-theatre those who could not read “spent hours with me in attempting to make themselves perfect in their parts”. As they aspired to “learn and recollect” with “quickness and accuracy”, the exercise is seen as an application of “memory”. In this process, the printed text in the hands of the literate William Carleton acts as a control for non-literates who wish to memorise it. However, while the foregoing is what Carleton implies, it is not quite what he says. We are told that he was chosen, not because he was literate and possessed a copy of the play, but because he was known to have it “off by heart”. This would appear to point to a transaction of a somewhat different kind, in which the printed text played no immediate role. By his own account Carleton had attained a local reputation as a performer capable of reciting a piece known as The Battle of Aughrim. This recital was not necessarily verbally identical to the printed text which went by the same name; the non-literates who constituted his audience were certainly in no position to verify matters for themselves. We may speculate that, while literacy may have conferred some prestige upon the young Carleton, “such ... as could not read” valued him chiefly for his ability to “repeat” the play aloud. They thus perceived him as a performer of a kind with which they were already familiar. In spite of the author’s youth, the transaction described recalls a widespread pattern in traditional societies whereby an aspirant learns from a more accomplished performer.

While the foregoing seems probable, in the nature of the evidence certainty is not obtainable. Even if we grant that on the occasion described the literate author exercised a textual control over the performance of some of his non-literate neighbours, the transaction remains problematic. Of its nature such an event could only have taken place occasionally and once the control (William Carleton with chapbook in hand) was removed The Battle of Aughrim would have ceased to be fixed. In the absence of reading skills there could be no fixed text. Where a text was available, being indecipherable, it would have possessed a purely notional authority which had no bearing upon the actual performance.

The difficulties we have noted with regard to The Battle of Aughrim are even more clearly marked in the case of James Carleton’s imputed ability to “repeat nearly the whole of the Old and New Testaments by heart”. In view of the length of the sacred texts it seems doubtful whether such an extended act of memorisation is within the capacity of the human brain. One has only to try to envisage the circumstances in which such an operation might have taken place to be struck by its sheer improbability. In view of James Carleton’s apparent illiteracy, in order to repeat the Bible in its entirety a literate must have read it aloud a sufficient number of times for him to have committed it to his memory. Such a transaction would have taken up a significant part of the adult lives of both parties and would have been without precedent in Irish peasant society.

Carleton’s comment that Tom Gressiey was “an easy and happy improviser in prose and poetry” points to an explanation which is incompatible with memorisation. This observation is placed alongside claims regarding Tom’s reputed mnemonic powers (“such a memory as the writer of this never knew any other human being to be gifted with” 22) without any apparent sense that the two were irreconcilable. The passage in question is representative, as Carleton’s account of the relationship between text and performance is marked by an unacknowledged tension between authorial interpretation and the evidence on which this is based. Indeed so badly does one match the other that an explanation that makes use of some dynamic other than memorisation seems called for.

For Albert Lord, the freeing of epic studies from pervasive, if half-acknowledged, analogies based upon writing was a necessary prelude to an account of oral composition in its own terms. As a result there has been a shift from explanations of oral art framed in terms of the performer’s memory to a realisation that their skills depended upon mastery of a compositional grammar which allows them to compose at the moment of recital and which is incompatible with attempted memorisation. Like collectors in other language areas, Lord noted that when one of the singers was asked to perform the same song twice, the transcribed text revealed verbal variation between the two recitals. He concluded that when a gifted singer repeats a song he has learned from some other singer he is able to do so not because he has memorised it, but because his mastery of the tradition enables him to recreate it. If a singer hears a written text read aloud he will learn this in the same way as he would any other song. Although the song tradition in twentieth century Yugoslavia remained overwhelmingly non-literate, as early as the eighteenth century epic songs were available in printed form. It was thus possible for Lord to observe occasional encounters between non-literate singers and printed song texts. In his view “older unlettered singers, even when they are exposed to the reading of song books to them are not greatly influenced. The learning of the songs in this way is like the learning of it from a sung performance. Their habit of oral composition is too well inculcated to be changed.” In even more emphatic terms Lord claimed that singers “in whom the feeling of the tradition is still strong, make no attempt to memorise, as we know, even when a song is read to them, but singers imbued with the idea that the written text is the proper one strive to keep it even verbally if possible. With them the tradition is dead or dying. It could be truly said, I believe, that the only way they can compensate for their lack of awareness of the tradition ... is to memorize or attempt to memorize. The true representative of the tradition has other methods of learning unfamiliar to the non-traditional.” 23

While they are not identical, the manner in which Lord’s singers approach the song books has obvious analogies with Tom Gressiey’s encounter with Dr Gallagher’s sermons, or the dealings of Carleton’s neighbours with the Battle of Aughrim. Otherwise puzzling aspects of his account become explicable on the assumption that for these unlettered Irish, as for the Serbo-Croat singers, a written text which was read aloud was experienced in much the same way as any other performance. If they attempted to reproduce what they heard, they did so in terms of the tradition and the fact that their source was textual rather than oral would appear to have been largely incidental. Although the illiterate Tom Gressiey’s reading “as he used to call it, one of Dr. Gallagher’s sermons out of the skirt of his big-coat” 24 contains elements both of homage to and parody of literacy, as the performer is operating independently of a text, in Lord’s terms the feat may be considered one of recreation rather than repetition.

EA Havelock has suggested that the “technology of memorisation” 25 in an oral culture differs from that with which literates are familiar. A number of features which mark the transformation of text into performance at the hands of Carleton’s characters recall the mental-cum-verbal “technology” proposed by Havelock. Among these are the use of rhythm and body language as aids to recital. It would appear that from the total range of texts available in an oral culture those selected for “memorisation” possess stylistic features which made them suitable for rhythmic delivery. Although The Siege of Londonderry, which was written in prose, and The Battle of Aughrim were bound in a single volume, the latter “was the favourite because it was written in heroic verse”. This bias towards the rhythmic was equally clearly marked in Tom Gressiey’s delivery of one of Dr Gallagher’s sermons. Carleton recalled how “we used to look on with awe and veneration as Tom, in a loud rapid voice, ‘rhymed it out of him’, for such was the term we gave to his recital of it”. Similar language was used for public academic performance, it being said of Carleton’s schoolmaster in full flight that “he was just in proper tune for it” and “rhymes it out of him”. Like so many others portrayed in the Traits and Stories, these textualists possessed what he described as “the free and fluent powers peculiar to the old Irish senachie”. 26

In Ireland, as elsewhere, those who encountered the tradition bearers were frequently struck by the high somatic content of their performance. Accounts of storytellers commonly stress their range of expression, repertoire of gestures and extensive use of body language. Carleton’s account of a Ribbon meeting provides an intriguing gloss on Eric Havelock’s suggestion that “bodily performance” should be seen as a mnemonic device “which assists in ‘acting out’ the recital”:

In the upper end ... sat another clique, listening to a man who was reading a treasonable ballad. Some of them, who could themselves read, stretched over their necks, in eagerness to peruse it along with him, and such as could not – indeed the greater number, gave force to its principles by very significant tones and gestures.27

When faced with a printed text, the illiterate majority fall back on familiar procedures and act out the ballad in a manner analogous to oral recital.

Among the texts discussed by Niall Ó Ciosáin is Hugh Reilly’s Impartial History of Ireland (1695), which he describes as being, within cheap print, “the principal statement of history from a Catholic point of view”. Patterns evident in relation to The Battle of Aughrim repeat in the case of other printed genres, including history. As observers noted, the nineteenth century Irish had a keen interest in the history of their country, evident in local lore, nationalist verse, productions such as the blind Antoine Ó Raifteirí’s Seanchas na Sceithe, and even attempted imitations of the fiction of Walter Scott. One of the foundation texts of the popular understanding of that history, animating elements of the folklore and Raifteirí’s poem, was Geoffrey Keating’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn. As is well known, Keating’s history did not get into print until a late stage, its principal means of transmission in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries being through manuscript copying and the practice of reading aloud. The continuation of manuscript-related habits into the world of print can occasionally be glimpsed in nineteenth century fiction and reminiscences. The description of old Mr Daly’s bookcase in Gerald Griffin’s The Collegians notes that it contained “a considerable number of works on Irish history, for which study Mr. Daly had a national predilection, a circumstance much deplored by all the impatient listeners in his neighbourhood”. 28 An indirect gloss on old Daly’s relationship with his books and with his listeners is provided by the Kerry folklore collector Tadhg Ó Murchadha’s description of his own storytelling father. The latter, as well as being a man with an immense amount of traditional lore, was an enthusiastic reader of history, who was anxious that others should share his knowledge.

B’éachtach go léir an mheabhair chínn a bhí aige; níl aon ní ’ár léigh sé riamh nár chuir sé de ghlan-mheabhair. Fuair sé leabhar muar staire ó dhriotháir do a bhí i Meiriceá – Stair na hÉireann – agus do mheabhruig sé gach aon fhocal de, agus toisc a mhinicí agus a bhíodh sé ag trácht thar na startha a bhí ’sa leabhar san, do baisteadh an “History” mar leas-ainim air . 29 [The memory he possessed was truly phenomenal; there was nothing he ever read that he didn’t learn by heart. He got a big history book from a brother he had in America – a History of Ireland – and he memorised every single word of it, and because of the frequency with which he talked about the passages in that book, he was called “History” as a nick-name.]

Two statements are made with regard to the older Ó Murchadha; the first – recalling claims made on behalf of other storytellers – is that he knew the material of his recital by heart and the second that he talked about – rather than read from – his book. Thus, if the manner in which Daly broadcasts his history is unclear, it would seem as if Tadhg Ó Murchadha’s father, who must have had some of the performance habits of a storyteller, was operating independently of a text. As a result of such operations books become, as it were, open-ended, providing the occasion for discussion, reminiscence, counter-example and legend narration, in a coming together of printed accounts of Ireland’s past with other forms of narration. What was involved can be glimpsed in Patrick Kennedy’s memories of growing up in early nineteenth century Wexford. Kennedy’s own father had been “out” in 1798 and there was evidently intense interest in the locality in the events of the insurrection. He recalled how, as a ten-year-old schoolboy, who unlike his elders was able to read, he was taken from his games to read aloud to the neighbours from Edward Hay’s History of the Insurrection of the County of Wexford. To this he added the significant coda, “after the reading, one body or another that had been out, would begin to tell his adventures”. 30

Patrick Kennedy, whose chief ideological commitment was to a coercive and intense post-Gaelic Catholicism, did not share the interest of his neighbours in 1798. Although his attitude towards Irish history was, to all appearances, unenthused, as one who had taken it on himself to reproduce the folklore of his home place, he regularly reported on the narration of history as a fireside entertainment in the farmers’ houses of his youth. Several of these occasions are marked by an interplay of oral narrative, manuscript and print, in which it is difficult to say which medium is dominant, as written and spoken converge to contribute to the evening’s entertainment.

By far the most striking of Kennedy’s commentators on Irish history was the poet and pedlar Donogha Rua. Donogha, who made his way from one strong farmer’s house to another in Wexford during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, was an accomplished figure who, in addition to being an oral performer, was also in touch with the high culture and its literature. He was chiefly remembered for composing a bleakly pessimistic poem of two hundred and ninety-eight lines in rhyming couplets on the harrying of the Catholic Irish following the defeats at the Boyne and Aughrim. Sometime around the year 1773, after “printing and publishing many ballads, he at last got his great poem in a pamphlet shape, price an English sixpence; and sold it in a heavy edition through the country”. 31 Like Aodh Mac Cruitín, whose imprisonment earlier in the century in Dublin’s Newgate was linked to the publication of his Discourse in Vindication of the Antiquities of Ireland, Donogha discovered that putting Irish history into print could be a dangerous undertaking. He was arrested in 1775 by the sheriff of the county and conveyed to Wexford Jail, where he was tried for publication of his pamphlet, before finally being freed, thanks to the intervention of some members of the local gentry with whom he had financial dealings. Decades later recital of Donogha Rua’s pamphlet continued to be a fireside entertainment in Co Wexford, although copies of the poem were hard to come by, no doubt because of its suppression by the authorities at the time of its author’s arrest. It seems likely that, in spite of its depressing portrayal of the legal and economic disabilities to which the Catholic Irish were subject, Donogha’s poem was incorporated into the folklore of early nineteenth century Wexford because its view of Irish history was consonant with that of its audience. Although manuscript copies of the poem were made, as portrayed by Kennedy recital appears to have taken place without a text.

The spirit which animated those who handled The Battle of Aughrim and the old pedlar’s poem by recycling them orally was also evident among those who had dealings with the Bible. Popular knowledge of the Bible had as its context a now forgotten type of oral performance known as arguing scripture. This could be seen as a mimicry, or at least imitation, of a high cultural form, as the great inter-confessional disputes of the post-Reformation period were replicated at village level. Among Carleton’s characters, those who specialise in this form of polemic versatility include Denis O’Shaughnessy, who is literate, and Tom Gressiey, who is not. The account of the latter may suggest something of what the activity entailed:

Many challenges of this kind passed between Tom and his polemical opponents, in most of all of which he was successful. His memory was infallible, his wit prompt and dexterous, and his humour either broad or sarcastic, as he found it convenient to apply it. In these dialectic displays he spared neither logic nor learning: where an English quotation failed, he threw in one of Irish; and where that was understood, he posed them with a Latin one, closing the quotation by desiring them to give a translation of it; if this too were accomplished, he rattled out the five or six first verses of John, in Greek, which some one had taught him; and as this was generally beyond their reading, it usually closed the discussion in his favour. Without doubt he possessed a mind of great natural versatility and power; and as these polemical exercitations were principally conducted in wake-houses, it is almost needless to say that the wake at which they expected him was uniformly a crowded one. 32

As these quotations in a range of languages on the part of the illiterate Tom Gressiey suggest, arguing scripture was a popular imitation of a learned form, possessing an oblique relationship with the world of books. Two types of printed matter may be distinguished as contributing to the polemicist’s stock. The first consisted of “weapons of controversy”, or Catholic apologetic literature of the kind listed in The Hedge School. The second source was the Bible, a work which was the focus of the evangelical religious experience and whose distribution among the Catholic poor was one of the central tactics of the New Reformation of the early nineteenth century.

The attempt to secure mass conversions to Protestantism from among the Catholic poor gave a hard edge to the practice of arguing scripture. As a later Catholic apologist, looking back in an unappeased spirit, commented, “Catholic peasants, goaded by the sneers and taunts of parsons and tramp biblicals met them in disputation, and in confirmation, exposition and refutation showed, although the quoters were sometimes quite illiterate, a most surprising knowledge of the Bible verses.” 33 By analogy with other forms of adversarial give and take, what was required for the successful arguing of scripture was not knowledge of the Bible in its entirety, but a ready command of material relevant to a particular polemical context. The skills involved did not entail depth of knowledge, but rather the ability to think on one’s feet and to cite what one knew rapidly and to good effect. This was clearly the spirit in which Tom Gressiey and Denis O’Shaughnessy operated, and recalls the procedures of tradition bearers making use of their wits in quite different situations. Such fluency was not confined to Tom and Denis: at the famous public disputes in Dublin in the 1820s between the Cavan priest Father Tom Maguire and the Church of Ireland clergyman Rev Richard Pope, it was noted that, while Maguire quoted the Bible from memory, Pope needed a text.

One of the most fascinating topics discussed by Ó Ciosáin is the cultural role of the popular literature he examines. This is an area in which French historians have returned a negative judgment on the chapbooks. Robert Mandrou was struck “by the absence of realism, whether social or scientific” in the popular corpus and concluded that “the effect was escapist and retrograde, distracting attention from social and political questions”. In an even sharper judgment, Robert Muchembled argued that the Bibliothèque Bleue amounted to “a form of ideological domination of the people by the elites, to whose advantage such escapism operated”. These are judgments from which Ó Ciosáin dissents, arguing that such neo-Marxist interpretations assume an unproblematic acceptance of the texts by their lower class readers and fail to take account of alternative modes of reception. In a counter-argument of notable subtlety he suggests that, where Ireland was concerned, far from being an instrument of elite hegemony, chivalric romances and criminal biographies were understood in terms which endorsed the values and conceptual categories of their lower class readership.

The vehemence with which chapbooks were denounced, together with the hedge school milieu in which they acted as textbooks, suggests that they were perceived as constituting an area of spiritual freedom, an autonomous discourse outside the control of Ireland’s ruling class. The concern that popular reading matter was morally deleterious, which is to be found at elite level throughout Europe, was reinforced in Ireland by a suspicion that, in addition to fostering licentiousness and crime, the books studied in the schools were disloyal. Although the urge to control and condemn was at its most explicit in relation to works dealing with religion and Irish history, it could surface in other contexts. It is evident, for example, in the grim reflections (quoted in Ó Ciosáin) of Richard Edgeworth on the prospect of the lower Irish being taught Greek and Roman history: “I have been told that in some schools the Greek and Roman histories have been forbidden: such abridgments as I have seen are certainly improper; to inculcate democracy and a foolish hankering for liberty is not necessary in Ireland.” Nineteenth century Ireland had its own vernacular classicism, in which the privileged sonorities of Latin were translated into the language and imaginings of the townlands. It was from within this tradition that, towards the end of the century, a response was issued to Edgeworth’s insolence. Writing in The Mayo News, the wonderful, if unclassifiable, James Berry maintained:

The hedge schoolmaster was not the sort of man whom Carleton and Lover have lampooned, no such thing; he was generally a well informed stranger … The school boys carried with them to these masters Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, the History of Greece and Rome, the Arabian Nights, Thomas-a-Kempis, Dr. Gallagher and Keating, the Old Testament, Sallust in English, Ovid, Ward’s Cantos, McGeoghegan’s History of Ireland, and a hundred other books. Where they all came from is one of the things that now astonishes me, for these books were in every peasant’s cottage on the little loft over the fireplace, along with the wool-cards, the balls of yarn, and the spindles; there the books rested, some without covers, and all of them stained with smoke. When a boy had his Odyssey read, he exchanged it with another chap for his Iliad, and so on. They spent seven or eight years, and got them off by heart, as we called it.
Each boy or girl had a favourite Grecian or Roman hero; some admired Socrates, some Leonidas, some Lycurgus, some Xenophon, and some Cincinnatus. The girls were taught to admire Susanna, Judith, the mother of the Macabees, Lucretia, and Virginia, while we all admired Hannibal. Often we had refined boxing matches, with each boy standing up for his favourite hero … 34

In responding to what he saw as a slur on the old hedge schools, Berry may have overstated the case. If so it was an illuminating overstatement, which underlined the aspirational quality of the classics, that striving towards inner freedom with which he associated Greek and Latin learning. Edgeworth, quite properly, objected to a pedagogy conducted in this spirit, which he rightly identified as incompatible with the interests of his class.

Other ripostes, in which tradition bearers insisted on the validity of their own forms of knowledge, were possible. One such moment occurs in John Keegan’s story The Boccough Ruadh of 1841. The setting is a fireside gathering in a cottage on a winter evening in Co Laois. During a pause in the talk, when both the narrator of fairy tales and the “old crone who had astonished us with the richness and extent of her fairy lore” have fallen silent, the author picks up the only printed book in the house, “Sir Charles Coote’s Statistical Survey of the Queen’s County, printed in Dublin by Graisberry and Campbell and published by the direction of the Dublin Society in 1801”. Although aware that this is an unpromising source of entertainment, in the absence of anything better he agrees to read. When, amid an abstracted account of the wealth of the local countryside customary to such publications, he comes to the entry, “Poor-man’s Bridge over the Nore was lately widened, and is very safe, but I cannot learn the tradition why it is so called” Keegan is interrupted by one of the older members of the company. The latter comments indignantly, “He cannot learn the tradition of Poor-man’s Bridge inagh! Faith I believe not … But had he come to me when he was traveling the country making up his statistics, I could open his eyes on that subject and many others too … Grand as he is … I could enlighten him more on the ancient history and traditions of our country than all the boddaghs of squireens whom he visited on his tour through the Queen’s county.” 35 Prompted by the company, the old man recounts a legend which accounts for the origin of the place name. It was perhaps as well that John O’Donovan, who came from a neighbouring county, was not a member of the company.

One indicator, in trying to assess whether popular reading matter was autonomous or controlled, is the degree of choice which went into forming the popular canon. While further work remains to be done, there are indications that what was read and recycled was the outcome of an informal, but discernible, set of discriminations. This is evident in both what was chosen and, perhaps of equal significance, what was – in so far as we can judge by the traces left – passed over or omitted. Ó Ciosáin is properly sceptical regarding the circulation figures claimed by the tract societies for the improving and practical literature which they circulated and which, in an attempt to influence the early nineteenth century poor, mimicked the format and style of chapbooks. Although such works were produced in huge numbers, if we are to judge by the oral tradition, where we might expect their presence to have registered, their influence appears to have been minimal.

Other omissions can be equally telling. The burning alive of the eight inhabitants of Wildgoose Lodge by a party of Ribbonmen on the night of October 29th-30th, 1816 was long remembered in the oral tradition of counties Louth and Monaghan. Some time after the killings William Carleton passed through the district and later drew upon what he witnessed in writing his powerful, atmospheric story Wildgoose Lodge. Although the Carleton story circulated widely, it had a minimal impact on how the events of 1816 were remembered and spoken of in the locality over a period of more than a century. Wildgoose Lodge is a black parable, whose roots lie in hysteria and terror; it is a work heavy with ideological intention, whose account of the killings incorporates a ruling class understanding of the nature of rural violence. Thus a story, which seemed so well placed to influence the oral tradition, was passed over because its understanding of the events it chronicled was incompatible with that which was entertained locally.

Amid the multiple acts of choice made by the Irish common reader, the selection of Sheridan Le Fanu’s poem Shamus O’Brien for inclusion in the popular repertoire has a certain revealing quaintness. Its author, who was the son of an established church clergyman and was himself an articulate defender of the Irish ancien régime, would seem an unlikely candidate for such a role. Le Fanu had, however, his ambiguities, evident in his fondness for assuming authorial personae – ranging from Catholic parish priests to illiterate peasants – remote from his own circumstances. Although his various noms de plume might appear transparent, they could be surprisingly effective, as is suggested by an episode, recorded by his brother, in which Primate Beresford gravely informed the wife of Lord Lieutenant Spencer that Sheridan’s dialect poem Phaudrig Crohoore had been “composed by a poor Irish peasant”, who “could neither read nor write, but used to recite it, with others of his songs and ballads, at fairs and markets”. It was not, however, Phaudrig Crohoore, but a companion piece, Shamus O’Brien, which caught the popular imagination and became “the pride of the Irish peasantry”. This accomplished and high-spirited dialect poem, which was based on “a legend of the troubles of ’98”, appeared in the Tory Dublin University Magazine in July 1850. The poem, whose narration extends over two hundred and ten lines, tells how young Shamus O’Brien escaped hanging during the repression which followed the defeat of the insurrection. The poem is notable for its sympathy for the defeated people, indeed it takes on their point of view as the anonymous narrator articulates what was evidently intended as a collective judgment on the aftermath of1798. It was, no doubt, these qualities which ensured that “the Irish peasantry, who never heard of Uncle Silas or The Tenants of Malory, are proud of Shamus O’Brien”. The popularity of the poem was not confined to this class, and it was recited in the Joyce household in Dublin by the old Tralee Land Leaguer John Kelly (Mr Casey in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Its emotional power was evidently still intact in the 1890s and, as Stanislaus Joyce records, it was recited “so movingly that my father would get busy with the tumblers of punch to hide his emotions”. 36 It may be added as a small footnote that around the same time as Shamus O’Brien was being disclaimed with such feeling by Mr Kelly it provided the basis for an opera by Charles Villiers Stanford.

Writing in the 1820s, Thomas Crofton Croker observed that Irish Rogues and Rapparees was “at present one of the most popular books among the peasantry, and has circulated to an extent that almost seems incredible: nor is it unusual to hear the adventures and escapes of highwaymen and outlaws recited by the lower orders with the greatest minuteness, and dwelt on with a surprising fondness”. The “fondness” which Crofton Croker noted in the dispassionate language of a pioneer folklorist was experienced in less amiable terms by those whose interest in chapbooks was inseparable from a concern over issues of popular instruction and social control. Reflecting in 1810 on “the writings commonly disseminated among the populace, and the most eligible means of counteracting their influence”, a Belfast commentator wrote of Redmond O’Hanlon, one of the leading protagonists of the collection, that he had “ got a number of his countrymen marked as criminals on the red calendar”, who otherwise would have been “good man and true”. Some decades later John Edward Walsh, the future crown prosecutor for Dublin and Conservative MP for Dublin University , denounced the malevolent pedagogy of the chapbooks, remarking of Irish Rogues and Rapparees that “the consequences said to have followed from Schiller’s Robbers on the youth of Germany, was realised among the young peasantry of Ireland”. 37

Like other commentators in the 1830s, Samuel Ferguson was conscious of the growth of popular literacy, which he saw as containing a potential for the transformation of the Irish character. He contrasted this hopeful development with earlier times, when all that was available to read were “low and improper ballads” or, if a book was required, some work such as Irish Rogues and Rapparees “of which it might be hard to say whether the mental or the mechanical execution were the most disgusting”. That, however, belonged to the past, and Ferguson now welcomed a print-driven quickening of intellectual life, as, employing the language of Victorian social engineering, he looked forward to a time when “the reproach of mental impotence will be wiped away, and the character of our countrymen be, that they are not merely acute, but informed, not merely imaginative, lively, witty, and droll, but intellectual, manly, tasteful, and refined.(38)

Criminal biographies were not the only popular print genre to arouse suspicion. The love songs, which made up such a large part of the broadside ballads, were accused of beguiling foolish young women, who, it was claimed, took the words of their amorous personae for real coin. Chivalric romances, represented among the chapbooks surveyed by Ó Ciosáin by Valentine and Orson, Don Belianis of Greece, The Seven Champions of Christendom and The Seven Wise Masters of Rome, were held capable of disordering the minds of young men. This was a concern of long standing; the hero of Simplicissimus, Johan Grimmelshausen’s tale of the Thirty Years War, reported how he passed from reading Arcadia to works of love and romances, which he collected avidly, so that instead of learning eloquence he learned lechery; while in the eighteenth century Samuel Johnson told Bishop Percy that as a boy he had been "immoderately fond of reading romances of chivalry" and attributed to "these extravagant fictions that unsettled turn of mind which prevented his ever fixing in any profession". 39

In the view of John O’Donovan, it was a combination of chivalric romances and Don Quixote, read in the most literal of manners, that unsettled the wits of the legendary sportsman and would-be aviator – his feats included attempting to fly – Hudy McGuigan. O’Donovan encountered the elderly Hudy, whom he described as "one of the most extraordinary men that Ireland has ever produced" when he visited Ballinascreen, Co Derry, in September 1834. According to O’Donovan this renowned figure, who combined elements of an Ulster Baron Munchausen with the prowess of a genuine hero, "from reading Don Quixote, The Seven Champions of Christendom, and other books treating of knight errantry, has undertaken to perform most surprising feats, and thinks he has exceeded any knight or hero that ever appeared in the world". O’Donovan added that a manuscript biography of Hudy, in the style of Don Quixote, had been written by a local classical teacher, Henry John O’Hagan. While this does not appear to have survived, O’Hagan’s wry perspective on his hero is suggested by his title – The Life and Adventures of the most renowned and illustrious chevalier, Hugo de Godwino alias Hugh Maguiggan of Ballynascreen, the most chivalrous and magnanimous Knight that the world ever had the honour of producing. 40

Although O’Donovan attributed Hudy’s extravagance to his reading, this is scarcely credible, as we know that he "never deigned to learn the ignoble art of reading or writing". 41 Moreover, it is clear from Hugh Harkin’s affectionate heroic/ mock heroic biography which appeared some years later, that Hudy’s feats and freaks were at the core of his personality, had their origins in childhood, and were too fundamental to be explained as a literary affectation. His self-presentation, during his roadside conversation with O’Donovan, combined elements loosely drawn from Don Quixote with more traditional forms of boasting and bombast ("I am the most renowned, illustrious, chivalrous and sublimely magnificent knight …. At the sound of my name monarchs tremble on their thrones, – the Turk sighs, Nicolas weeps, – the Devil roars, and Jupiter shudders.") It seems likely that Hudy, who was nothing if not mimetic, having become familiar with O’Hagan’s parody, added a Don Quixote-derived persona to his ample repertoire, but without any of the irony that informed Cervantes’s novel or the schoolmaster’s manuscript imitation.

If Hudy is not quite what he appears to be, the detonating effect of reading can be seen in the case of his south Tyrone contemporary William Carleton. In his Autobiography Carleton recorded how as a young man down on his luck – the prospect of ordination, for which he had been intended, had faded and his family were demanding that he take up the spade like a common labourer – his view of the world was transformed by an encounter with a picaresque descendant of Don Quixote. The work in question was Gil Blas, of which he got a perusal "from a peddler, who carried books around for sale, with a variety of other goods". As he recalled, "the work filled me with a charm it would be hopeless to do justice to by description. I did not even know it was a fiction, but took it for granted all the adventures were true." When, some days later, family pressure grew unbearable and he was obliged to take to the roads as a wandering schoolteacher, "I started … friendless, moneyless, and alone – but not without hope, for I had read Gil Blas." 42

Although the story-line was the element to which the traditional-minded responded most intensely in the texts they encountered, narrative is far from being the only resource of literary art. There is some evidence that, in common with more practised readers, traditional audiences were capable of appreciating the linguistic complexity, dense social notation and emotional music of the nineteenth century novel and literary tale. In Séadhna, which when published in the 1890s was the first novel to appear in the Irish language, an tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire (Father Peter O’ Leary) attempted to break the dominance of literary Irish by embodying “country imaginings” in the spoken language of West Munster. Séadhna, which caused an immediate stir, found its audience by familiar means. As one contemporary reported, “Thousands of people who do not or cannot actually read [an tAthair Peadar] themselves listen delightedly while younger folk give them the benefit of his narrative or his shrewd philosophy.” 43 One of these readers was the author, who has left a revealing account of the response of elderly native speakers to the experience of hearing the novel read to them. Writing to a correspondent, Ó Laoghaire reported: “I have been astonished at the manner in which the story penetrated their whole being, roused a host of sleeping memories, brought back to them with vividness the people and the surroundings, the scenes, the joys, the sorrows, the thoughts and the conversation of their early youth. The old people everywhere recognise at once in this story a true picture of the social surroundings of their own early youth, and their hearts are intensely moved at the recognition.” 44

For an tAthair Peadar the Irish of his native Muskerry represented a privileged well-spring of authenticity, whose idiomatic richness encoded a wealth of memory, social experience and spiritual insight. His account of reading Séadhna aloud is unusual in its focus on the subjectivity of his auditors as they responded to, and internalised, the literary art of his tale. Something of the same note can be identified several generations earlier in accounts of the reception afforded to William Carleton’s Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry in his native south Tyrone. One well-informed commentator described how, when Carleton’s fiction came to the attention of his former neighbours, “They liked his books, the stories of their own lives, of their lanes, their fields, their joys and sorrows … His books were read in every cabin, drawing tears and laughter as the various characters were ‘spotted’. The readers recognized themselves, their neighbours, their speech and customs.” 45

We have previously spoken of Carleton as one who produced stories which traditional audiences were quick to recognise and retell in part because, irrespective of embellishments, the underlying forms – fairytale, legend, jest and anecdote – were already familiar. The Traits and Stories is the most hospitable of the collection and is nothing if not receptive. It has about it something of the quality of a children’s lucky bag or a pedlar’s pack, which finds room for all kinds of imaginings from traditional tales to stories such as The Midnight Mass which were marked by an exact and luminous realism. Like an tAthair Peadar, Carleton was a native Irish speaker and there is a sense in which The Midnight Mass is a work of the same kind as Séadhna. Certain scenes, most notably the description of the Christmas Eve dance with which the story opens, are marked by a careful and loving attention to the particularities of speech and behaviour and by a sense of the everyday transformed by the passionate exactness with which it is rendered. A reader encountering the story for the first time is likely to be reminded of the genre scenes of the Dutch realist tradition. While the analogy is inevitably a loose one, in both the Dutch masters and the Irish writer one senses the surprised discovery that the commonplace and humble can yield its own sober poetry. It seems likely that it was in stories of this kind, rather than folktale redactions such as The Three Tasks or The Three Wishes, that people from the baronies of Clogher and Truagh “spotted” reflections of their own lives.

During the nineteenth century, literacy seems to have taken hold across Ireland, and among different social classes, at an uneven pace. In the case of Carleton’s former home place the pace seems to have been slow. The early nineteenth century bishop of Clogher Dr James Murphy estimated that nine-tenths of the Roman Catholic laity of his diocese were non-literate, while the census of 1841 recorded illiteracy rates of between fifty and seventy-five per cent in counties Tyrone and Monaghan. Writing from Dublin to his cousin John in Clogher in the 1840s, William Carleton regretted that they were the only two members of their family capable of conducting a written correspondence. Against this background it seems reasonable to conclude that the Clogher people who found pleasure in the Traits and Stories did so by hearing the collection read aloud to them. The oral tradition does not deal in naturalism, so that for these Clogher auditors, as for the Munster Irish speakers who listened to Séadhna, the delight they experienced was of a kind which they could not have derived from any folktale or indeed chapbook. It was a pleasure without narrative consequences, as what they heard would appear a priori incapable, or at least most unlikely, to enter the oral tradition. Although Carleton’s works had a discernible effect on storytelling in nineteenth and twentieth century Ireland none of his major naturalistic stories seem to have been retold as folktales.

The case of Séadhna is perhaps a little less clear. The novel was published when, as its author was painfully aware, the west Munster storytelling tradition, and the Irish language which was its primary medium, was, after centuries of articulacy, coming to an end. If in different circumstances Séadhna had been retold, we may be certain it would have been reduced to its bare narrative essentials and assimilated back into the folktale which was one of its sources. While some of its author’s pithier observations might have been recycled as proverbs or remembered remarks, little would have remained of the quiddity of the novel, that which gave it its distinctiveness and so moved the old people who heard it read. Access to such pleasures on a routine basis would have required a fundamental shift, as these Tyrone and Cork auditors became private readers. While this transition could no doubt have taken place within a single lifetime, it seems more likely to have extended over several generations. Although we do not have the full picture, it seems possible to glimpse moments in the journey. One such can be found in the biography of the Donegal writer Seosamh Mac Grianna, who came of age in a household in which storytelling – extending from hero-tales to local legends – flourished. In later life he recalled that he preferred reading to listening and that, although he “had heard a deteriorated version of the Táin around the fireside”, he preferred the written version as “so much richer and more complete”. 46

A number of key ideas elaborated by historians of literacy in the wake of Parry and Lord have been called into question by John Halverson. The latter’s central claim, advanced in an impressively argued and influential essay of 1992, is that the medium of communication, whether oral or written, has no intrinsic impact on the matter communicated. In his view “the only critical question is whether the particular channel of communication, that is writing, is decisive. And the answer is clearly, no. Had Don Quixote or Madam Bovary been unable to read and only heard romances and novels read to them, would the psychological effects been different? Could not Kant simply have been told about Hume’s theories and still have been awakened from his ‘dogmatic slumbers’? Did blind and Braille-less Milton have to read the Bible himself to compose and dictate Paradise Lost? The medium of communication – which is the issue here – has no intrinsic significance in the communication of ideas or the development of logical thought processes.” 47 Halverson’s essay is difficult to engage with in that it is rigorously logical while making minimal reference to, indeed to all appearances not being very interested in, the varying historical circumstances in which acts of reading, writing and recital take place. The limitations of such an approach may become apparent if we look a little more closely at the examples suggested by Halverson to support his claim. These, on examination, subvert themselves. All are instances of genres – the novel, post-scholastic philosophy, the baroque epic – dependent upon print and for which, as a device of argument, he substitutes speech as a stand-in. The examples envisaged are, as it were, ersatz forms of reading, whereas what is required for the purpose of his argument is not substitute reading but some understanding of what might have happened in settings without reading and writing or – to locate the argument in early modern times – limited familiarity with print. If my grandfather has forgotten his reading glasses I may read aloud to him from the death notices in the Clare Champion, but as we are both literate men, if I faithfully reproduce what is on the page in front of me what results will not be an oral performance but a brief substituting of my voice for print.

Leaving aside philosophy – although the mind boggles at the thought of any extended passage from Hume or Kant in oral circulation without the back-up of print – the literary instances adduced by Halverson will not bear the weight he wishes to attach to them. Milton, who attributed his blindness to excessive reading, was immersed in literacy – his sensibility had been shaped by books and remained so even when he could no longer see. (One of his critics, FR Leavis, argued that Milton’s linguistic sensibility had been blunted, and that he had lost contact with the resources of his native language, as a result of a life-long engagement with learned Latin.) The epic he dictated was not an oral product and, with its massive use of enjambment, lengthy verse sentences and complex subordinate clauses, was designed for print and reading. It is difficult to believe that, if read aloud, Paradise Lost could survive in a non-literate setting over any extended period. (By this is meant social survival – individual feats of memorisation are, of course, possible, but not culturally representative.)

The above is a hypothesis which can be subject to a measure of testing. As Patrick Kennedy recounts, the late eighteenth century poet Donogha Rua, in addition to reciting his own rhymed pamphlet, “was gifted with a surprising memory, and would recite passages from Milton and other masters in the art for hours on winter nights at his established resting-places throughout the country”. Although Kennedy never met Donogha, who was active before his lifetime, he was acquainted with members of his audience. One of these was sufficiently impressed with old pedlar’s performance to make his “literary stores” her own. Kennedy’s acquaintance was “an intelligent woman, who, despite the want of books in her neighbourhood, had amassed a considerable stock of information on the legendary history of Ireland, on sacred history, and even on the subject of heathen mythology. She had a retentive memory for poetry, and could recite many passages from the Iliad and Paradise Lost, and the greater part of The Battle of Aughrim.” 48 Transmission, having taken place between Donogha and the young woman – as she must have been at the time they met – seems to have ceased at that point. Kennedy had an intense interest in the lore of his native Wexford, which he recycled in a series of books published in the 1850s and 1860s. Although this immense, if untidy, act of mimesis, which is probably the largest transcription of local lore in nineteenth century Ireland, contains large amounts of ballad poetry, there is not a trace of the influence of Paradise Lost. While the feats of memorisation of Donogha Rua and his pupil were recalled, the poem itself seems to have been forgotten. Unlike the pedlar’s rhyming pamphlet, which was recycled because stylistically accessible and linked with the culture of its time and place in multiple ways, Paradise Lost had no purchase on either the taste or social memory of late eighteenth and nineteenth century Wexford.

The novels mentioned by Halverson are not helpful in supporting his claims. Don Quixote and Madam Bovary are works which focus poignantly on the solitary nature of reading, indeed the derangement of one protagonist and unhappiness of the other are consequent upon that solitude. It is difficult to imagine orally narrated works having comparable effects to the printed romances and novels which they favour. Unlike the silent acts of reading of the Don and Madam Bovary, oral genres are invariably communal – involving at least two persons, a reciter and listener and frequently more – and are broadly socially integrative. For Don Quixote’s oral epic, if encountered, would have differed significantly in its stylistic and aesthetic means from the folio romances with which he was so familiar. It would not simply have been the latter read aloud. We can make this assertion with some confidence, as one of the pleasures of Cervantes’s novel lies in the irritation of its hero at the verbal habits of his illiterate squire. Where narrative is concerned, the incompatibility of their expectations is delightfully in evidence when, in chapter twenty-two of the first part, Sancho attempts to tell a story. He has scarcely begun before his master, a print-man out of sympathy with the accumulatory habit of oral narrators, interrupts him. “If you tell the story that way, Sancho,” said Don Quixote, “and repeat everything you have to say twice over, you will not be done in two days. Tell it consequentially like an intelligent man, or else be quiet.” To this Sancho replies in unanswerable terms, “The way I’m telling it is the way all stories are told in my country, and I don’t know any other way of telling it. It isn’t fair for your worship to ask me to get new habits.” If, instead of reading, Don Quixote had encountered oral epic, it would have been in a largely, or at least significantly, male setting – some early seventeenth century Spanish equivalent of the coffee-houses described by Lord, or the fireside gatherings at which narrative of fiannaíocht took place in Ireland. Recital in such company would have related, in ways which a folklorist might describe, to the material and psychological concerns of men in that society. It would not have sponsored the eccentricity which is the misfortune of the solitary.

Even without extending our analysis to Madam Bovary, examination of the examples proposed by John Haverson suggests that the medium of communication is of “intrinsic significance” and thus that his conclusions are open to question. Where nineteenth century Ireland is concerned his central assumption, that a message remains unaltered when a transfer of medium has taken place, is incompatible with John O’Donovan’s observations and with the evidence of what happened to Carleton’s stories – including at least one message-laden didactic tale – in oral guise. Ireland was not the only country in which such transfers took place, so that the French and English comparisons explored by Niall Ó Ciosáin can be supplemented from other parts of the world. Stories from The Arabian Nights, Perrault’s Tales of Mother Goose and the Household Tales of the Brothers Grimm, when read aloud, proved highly congenial to traditional narrators, with the result that tales which had these as their source have been identified in oral material collected in many parts of Europe. Transfers of a less expected kind took place in the prisons of Stalin’s USSR, when members of the old Russian intelligentsia encountered representatives of Russia’s equally well-established criminal class.

Like armies and hospitals, prisons were places where in former times much storytelling took place. Stalin’s prisons and camps differed from places of imprisonment in other parts of Europe in that, because of the range of his victims, individuals from deeply literate strata of the society found themselves thrown together with people who had limited dealings with literacy. One of the underlying oppositions in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago is between members of the intelligentsia, with whom he identified, and the thieves, whom he loathed. The latter emerge from his deeply hostile portrait, as indeed they do in Soviet urban folklore, as a self-consciously separate estate, a world within a world, immersed in their own jargon, unending talk and songs relating to their profession. The thieves were also fond of stories which, in Solzhenitsyn’s account, inhabit an unfamiliar borderland between traditional narrative and commercial fiction:

It was totally out of the question to see a thief with a newspaper. The thieves held firm to their belief that politics were twaddle, without relations to real life. Neither did they read books, or at least very rarely. But they loved oral literature, and any storyteller who could endlessly string out "novels" for them after curfew would always be well fed out of their booty and held in esteem by them, as are all storytellers and singers among primitive peoples. The "novels" were a fanciful and rather monotonous amalgam of dime novels about life in high society (obligatorily high society!), peopled with titled viscounts, counts, and marquises, and with their own thieves’ legends, their own self-magnification, their own thieves’ jargon, and their thieves’ concepts of the luxurious life which the hero always had to achieve in the end: the countess would lie down on his "cot," he would smoke only the best "Kazbek," would own an "onion" – a watch" and his prokhorvá (his boots) would be shined to a high gloss. 49

Although Solzhenitsyn was not sufficiently interested in the thieves to record their narratives, the oral “novels” which they favoured seem to have represented some amalgam of underworld folklore and nineteenth century society fiction. This suspicion is reinforced by the account in Nadezhda Mandelstam’s memoirs of how, when he was dying in a camp in eastern Siberia, the writer Alexander Margulis was given food and protection by the thieves, because at night he told them yarns and stories from Dumas’s novels. The affinity between thieves and intellectuals, within the Darwinian world of the camps, was poignantly underlined when Nadezhda’s own husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam, was arrested. Towards the end of Hope Against Hope, when Osip had disappeared into the Gulag, and definite information regarding his fate was no longer available, he emerged as a legend figure, about whom numerous stories circulated in the camps. In these, like his friend Margulis, the poet was fed by the thieves in return for reading verse to them, and it was they who were in attendance at the hour of his death. 50

A less anguished variant of the Margulis/ Mandelstam strategy may be found in the reminiscences of the Polish poet Aleksander Wat. Like the Russians, Wat was an intensely literate man who became a storyteller. This occurred when, following Stalin’s invasion of eastern Poland, he fell into to the hands of the NKVD. In prison in Lwów, and later Alma-Ata, he discovered that his reading in Polish, French, German, Russian and American literature could be put to good use:

My memory was still good and I could remember a great many novels. That helped me achieve a stunning success in a unique situation in Alma-Ata, in the Third Section, with some bandits. They pleaded with me to tell them the story from some novel every day. The Red and the Black, for example, delighted them. They were intelligent bandits. But I had already begun telling the plots of novels at Zamarstynów. That was entertaining, whereas my philosophising on the baroque or Skamander was dry, no juice. Here I should like to mention that of the Polish novels I retold (not many Polish novels bear retelling – the Trilogy was not for them and, besides, I never read the whole Trilogy anyway; it always bored me), they liked The Pharaoh very much. O. Henry also had special success with them. … Those bandits in Russia were especially fond of them, but even the Poles liked them. O. Henry’s stories are perfect for prison … I told them the story of The Robbers ... 51

Accounts of oral storytellers commonly tell how before narrating they arrange the materials of their story in their minds. Like his traditional brothers, Wat in prison focused upon plot. It was his on capacity to remember this, rather than elements such as atmospherics and style which might be expected to interest him as a literary intellectual, that his ability to tell the story depended. These Polish and Russian analogues cast an oblique but revealing light on the world of chapbooks and storytelling explored by Niall Ó Ciosáin. In Print and Popular Culture in Ireland he has provided a richly textured and probing account of a period in which narrative grammars based upon speech and print encountered and came to uneasy terms. The reminiscences of Solzhenitsyn, Mandelstam and Wat raise the question of whether patterns observed in Ireland were intrinsic to the oral/ literary encounter and can be located in settings across Europe, even in places as remote as Stalin’s prisons.

In the essay above, quotations which are not footnoted are from Print and Popular Culture in Ireland 1750-1850, by Niall Ó Ciosáin

1 WB Yeats, “Literature and the Living Voice”, Explorations, (London, 1962), p. 206; WB Yeats, “The Galway Plains”, Essays and Introductions, (New York, 1972), p. 214. 213.

2 Yeats, (1962), pp. 202-3.

3 T Davis, Prose Writings: Essays on Ireland, (London, 1889), p. 223, 224.

4 M Graham, The Giantess, from the Irish of Oisin: and the War of Donomore, with other poems and translations, (Belfast, 1833), p. 140

5 T Furlong, The Doom of Derenzie, ( London, 1829), p. 92

6 Lady Morgan, The O’Briens and the O’Flahertys, (Pandora, London, 1988), pp. 383-6.

7 Amhráin Thomáis Ruadh: The Songs of Tomás Ruadh O’Sullivan, (Dublin, 1914), p.11, 42-52.

8 AB Lord, The Singer of Tales, (Harvard, 1981), Forward, p. 3, 5, 79, 105.

9 JH Delargy, The Gaelic Story-Teller, (Chicago, 1969), p.8.

10 John O’Donovan’s Letters from County Londonderry (1834), (Ballinascreen Historical Society, 1992), pp. 55-6.

11 M Banim, Crohoore of the Billhook, (Dublin, 1873), p. 72.

12 Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry, The Works of William Carleton, (New York, 1970), Vol. 2, pp. 866-7.

13 Memoir of the Great Original Zozimus (Michael Moran) the Celebrated Dublin Street Rhymer and Reciter With his Songs, Sayings, and Recitations, (Carrick Books, Dublin, 1976), p.5, 23; “Opinions of the Press, back cover; p. 25.

14 P Kennedy, Legends of Mount Leinster, (Dublin, 1855), p. 124, 246.

15 W Allingham, A Diary, 1824 -1889, (Penguin Books, 185), p. 27.

16 JF Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, (Wildwood House, Middlesex: 1983), Vol. I, xi.

17 B Earls, “A Note on Seanachas Amhlaoibh Uí Luínse”, Béaloideas The Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society, Vol. 52, (1984), pp. 9-34.

18 S Mac Airt, Tyrone Folktales, Béaloideas, Vol. 19,(1949), p.64, 67; Royal Hibernian Tales, Béaloideas, Vol. 10, (1940), p. 172, 192.

19 Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. D 856/F/59. W Carleton to J Sherman Crawford, 19 April 1855.

20 “A New Pyramus and Thisbe”, Blackwoods Magazine, (February 1906), p. 273; Autobiography, p. 35.

21 W Carleton, Tales and Sketches of the Irish Peasantry, (Dublin, 1845), p. 180; Traits and Stories, Works, (1970), Vol. 2, p. 645.

22 Carleton, (1845), p. 180, 181.

23 Lord, (1981), p. 137, 109.

24 Carleton, (1845), p. 180.

25 EA Havelock, A Preface to Plato, (Oxford, 1963), p. 146 ff.

26 W Carleton, Autobiography, (1968), p. 273; Tales and Sketches, (1845), p. 181; Traits and Stories, Works, (1970), Vol. 2, p. 819; Tales and Sketches, (1845), p.163 .

27 Havelock, (1963), p. 150; W Carleton, Fardorougha the Miser, (Dublin, 1839), p. 369.

28 G Griffin, The Collegians, (Talbot Press, Dublin, N.D.) p.20.

29 T Ó Murchadha, “Scéalaithe Dob Aithnid Dom”, Béaloideas, Vol. 18, (1948), p. 5.

30 P Kennedy, Evenings in the Duffrey, (Dublin and London, 1869) p. 313.

31 Ibid. p. 185.

32 Carleton, (1845), p. 182.

33 EJ Quigley, “The Bible in Ireland”, The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol.36, (1930), p.146.

34 James Berry, Tales of the West of Ireland, ( Dolmen Press, Dublin, 1969), p. 150

35 J Keegan, The Boccough Ruadh. A Tradition of the Poor Man’s Bridge, Irish Penny Journal, 23 January 1841, pp. 236-7.

36 WR Le Fanu, Seventy Years of Irish Life, (London, 1893), p. 103; “Shamus O’Brien – A Ballad”, Dublin University Magazine, July, 1850, p. 109; The Weekly Sun, 9 August, 1896; S Joyce, My Brother’s Keeper,(New York,1969), p.14

37 T Crofton Croker, Researches in the South of Ireland, ( Dublin, 1981), p.55; On the writings commonly disseminated among the populace, and the most eligible means of counteracting their influence, The Belfast Monthly Magazine, 31 May, 1810; J E Walsh, Ireland Ninety Years Ago, p. 97.

38 Printing and Publishing in Ireland, Dublin Penny Journal, 23 March, 1833, pp.309-11.

39 JJ Grimmelshausen, Simplicissimus, (Cambs, 1989), J Boswell, The Life of Doctor Johnson, (Everyman Library, London, 1920), pp. 20-1.

40 John O’Donovan’s Letters from County Londonderry (1834), (Ballinascreen Historical Society, 1992), pp. 94-5.

41 H Harkin, The Life and Adventures of Hudy McGuigan, (Ballinascreen Historical Society, 1993), p. 29. See also p. 129.

42 W Carleton, The Autobiography, (Belfast, 1996), p.110, 111-2.

43 WP Ryan, The Pope’s Green Island, (London, 1912), p. 96.

44 Maol Muire, An tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire agus A Shothar, (Dublin, 1939), p 58.

45 EJ Quigley, “The Prelate, the Pervert and the Professor”, The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Fifth Series, Vol. 9, (1917), p. 212.

46 Quoted in P Ó Muirí, A Flight from Shadow: The Life and Works of Seosamh Mac Grianna, (Belfast), p. 38.

47 J Halverston, Goody and the Implosion of the Literacy Thesis, Man, Vol. 27, (1992), p. 314

48 P Kennedy, Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, (London and New York, 1891), p.214.

49 A Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 2, (Fontana, 1976), p. 427.

50 N Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope, (Collins Harvill, London, 1989), p.72, 383 -5.

51 A Wat, My Century: The Odyssey of a Polish Intellectual, (New York and London, 1990), p. 14


Brian Earls is a former diplomat. His published work focuses on the relationship between oral tradition and printed literature, principally in the nineteenth century.

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