What is folklore? There are many definitions of folklore out there and finding one, all-encompassing definition is a difficult task. The American Folklore Society defines it as:
“The traditional art, literature, knowledge, and practice that is disseminated largely through oral communication and behavioral example.”
Why folklore? As a geologist, I am fascinated by the history of the earth and what natural processes created rocks, structures, and landscapes. I spend a lot of time thinking about what happened millions of years ago to make the earth look the way it does today.
I’m certainly not the first to wonder how a mysterious structure came to be. The Irish hills, valleys, rocks, and rivers have stirred curiosity in townsfolk and scholars alike for hundreds of years, perhaps as long as the island was inhabited by humans. Stories, myths, and legends were passed down through families and communities to explain how or why the geology existed in its present state in the absence of scientific explanations. Folklore is our window to the past; it tells us how older communities regarded geologic phenomenon before science could explain it.
Why Ireland? There are two main reasons I choose Ireland for this study. The first is that it has a diverse landscape and is largely undeveloped which provides excellent access to the geology. The second is that the preservation of folklore and folk-life is an important value to the Irish and consequently a large body of information exists on this subject.
A Handbook of Irish Folklore, by Sean O’Suilleabhain, is known in the folklore community as the “bible” of Irish Folklore. It’s a guide for folklore collectors and lists questions and examples of the type of material that is known to exist in the country. I’m using this as my starting point to determine how and where geology surfaces in Irish folklore. A chapter on nature and natural features will serve as my source of topics.