Island Voices: Oral Lore Humanising the History of the Famine

Cathal Póirtéir

Folklore and oral history offer us an opportunity to access a valuable perspective on historical events, including the Great Famine of the 1840s in Ireland. The Irish Folklore Commission made a sustained effort 100 years after the famine to collect local accounts of what happened during that period all over Ireland and the National Folklore Archive holds thousands of accounts of the period. These descriptions from ordinary people of what happened in their locality give us a grass-roots level account of the events, often striking in their stark simplicity. These voices help remind us that this was a human tragedy that left its mark on local communities for generations afterwards. The speaker will present excerpts from these accounts and reflect on the importance of oral history and what it can add to our understanding of the events and legacy of the Great Famine.

Cathal Póirtéir is a writer and broadcaster. He has written and edited a number of books on the Great Famine including two compendia of the folklore material: Famine Echoes, with material collected in English and Glórtha ón Ghorta, drawing on the lore collected in the Irish language. He was also contributing editor of the best-selling The Great Irish Famine – Thomas Davis Lectures and has lectured on the folklore of the famine in Ireland and abroad. He worked as a radio producer and presenter in RTÉ and is now writing a book on landlord tenant relations in Gaoth Dobhair in the nineteenth century.