Illustrating Tradition: Maps from the Schools’ Collection

Users of the 1937-1939 Schools’ Collection often comment on the beautiful handwriting of the contributing students. Indeed, it was often the student with the neatest handwriting who copied the chosen material from the smaller copybooks to the larger, final manuscripts now bound into the Schools’ Collection and available online on dúchas.ie. The careful handwriting is not the only artistic element to some of the entries in the Schools’ Collection, however, as sketches, drawings and maps of various kinds are also to be found within the 740,000 pages of Bailiúchán na Scol. 

Many of these illustrations do not name a collector and it is difficult to identify the artist in most cases. Some schools have multiple drawings or artistic elements included throughout their material, such as the illustrations made by Lahinch School, Co. Clare, and the decorative titles of Scoil Éadain Anfaidh, Co. Donegal. Other schools include technical diagrams of tools and objects, meticulously labelled to provide a better idea of their size, shape and use.

To help students and teachers with the collection of material, two booklets full of questions and prompts were distributed to schools taking part in the scheme: Irish Folklore and Tradition to English-speaking areas and Béaloideas Éireann to schools in Irish-speaking areas. There are many sections within these booklets that prompt for information about the surrounding area, such as ‘My Home District’, ‘Old Roads’, ‘Local Place Names’ and ‘Our Holy Wells’. Other sections could also prompt for details about the local landscape in an indirect fashion, such as ‘Fairy Forts’ and ‘Famine Times’. The collectors were asked to provide details for the exact locations of each place mentioned, but there are no direct prompts asking the collectors to map their local area. Despite this, a number of schools included hand-drawn maps with their material.

Some are included towards the beginning of the material submitted by the school, giving an overview of the local area, while others are included with a particular account, in order to further illustrate the information given. A map of Lough Gur is included in the beginning of the material submitted by Grange School, Co. Limerick, and marks several topographical features with letters. Places mentioned on map also are written about in further details:

Carrigeen Hill is situated at the foot of Knockfennell Hill. It is situated on the north-eastern shores of Lough Gur. The hill is said to be hollow. The stream flowing from the lake disappears into Carrigeen Hill and is therefore known locally as ‘The Lost Stream.’ Some of the local inhabitants maintain that ‘The Lost Stream’ is the stream appearing near Grange School; while others believe it rises in a well in Mr. John Dooley’s field, not far from Grange School.’

Masshill, Co, Sligo. CBÉS 171: 265.

Another map from Masshill, Co. Sligo is included at the end of a manuscript full of accounts about the locality and its landscape, including an account about ‘The Last Highway Man of Masshill’, which names a cave beneath Carraig Ard in the Ox Mountains as a hideout of Captain Gallagher, the Irish rapparee. 

A detailed map from Co. Kerry provides a sketch of Paróiste Bhaile Mhic Eileagóid/The Parish of Ballymacelligot, acting as a useful accompaniment to the account An Dúthaigh thart timpeall na Scoile, which outlines the area around the school and provides explanations for some of the place names marked on the map.

Paróiste Bhaile Mhic Eileagóid. CBÉS 444: 299.

Among some local features most commonly mapped are old roads, holy wells and place names, but other features in the landscape also appear in maps, including forts and schools. A map from Palmerstown, Co. Dublin illustrates the area where four mills used to sit, explaining:

‘There were several mills in the Mill Lane at one time. The situation was suitable as the Liffey supplied the power to work the machinery. The place had another advantage, its proximity to the city and Port of Dublin. There was a Scutch Mill, and Iron Mill, a mill for spinning cotton, and a Logwood Mill, and a mustard mill there long ago. There was a Chair Mill there about forty or perhaps fifty years ago.’ 

A map drawn by Thomas Doyle, from Scoil na mBráthar, Co.Wexford, shows the location of St. Eusebius’ Well, and gives an account telling us that the well can cure bad eyesight, and explains the steps one must take to gain this cure:

‘There is an overflow pond or small well just alongside it and in this small well the blind bathe their eyes. If you hope to get cured you visit the well nine times and each time you must leave something like a piece of cloth or a medal. There is a pathway round the holy well and its length is about forty to fifty yards. You have to go around it on your bare knees seven times in succession and each time say the prayer – ‘St Eusebius pray to God to give me the power of seeing’.

The accounts describing the Dublin coastline given by Donabate School are illustrated several times, and we are given explanations for such features as the Chapel Bank, the Mermaid’s Churn, the Smuggling Caves and the Chink Well:

‘Along the coast at Portrane there are many interesting caves, and inlets, but one of great interest is the cave where the Chink well is. This well is a scooped hole in a rock, which always supplies fresh spring water. It is said that this well got its name through its water being a cure for the Chink cough, more commonly known as whooping cough in this district.’

While they are only included sporadically throughout the abundance of material in the Schools’ Collection, the maps and drawings add much to the local knowledge collected by the schoolchildren and provide a visual element often missing in the recording of oral material.

This post was researched and written by Ailbe Van Der Heide, National Folklore Collection.

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