Béal Bocht an Bhéaloidis: Myles na gCopaleen’s early critique of professional folklore collection

Aisling Ní Churraighín


In 1941, Brian Ó Nualláin published An Béal Bocht under one of his many pseudonyms, Myles na gCopaleen. Although An Béal Bocht is primarily recognised as a parody of the Gaeltacht autobiographies, Ó Nualláin’s satirical critique of professional folklore collection and the field of ethnography is also of significant interest. At the time of the novel’s publication, the Irish Folklore Commission (1935–1971) was gaining momentum and the era of the Irish Folklore Institute (1930–1935) was within recent memory. This article focuses on the brief account given by the main character of the novel, Bónapart Ó Cúnasa, in which he depicts a folklore collector as he attempts to record oral material from ‘scoth an bhochtanais’ (the very best of poverty). Comprising a mere four pages within the novel, this satirical account nonetheless raises numerous questions about the dynamic between collector and ‘informant’ and indeed, about the ethics of collecting and archiving oral material.

Drawing on folkloristic and ethnographical perspectives, this article explores some of the most interesting questions that Ó Nualláin raises concerning fieldwork in An Béal Bocht. By utilizing sources from both folklore scholarship and the Gaeltacht biographies, Ó Nualláin’s critique is situated within its ideological context in terms of literature and folklore. Accounts of professional folklore collectors employed by the Irish Folklore Commission, as well as Ó Nualláin’s Irish-anguage journalism, are also drawn upon to better understand the national and international context of Ó Nualláin’s critique.

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© Comhar Teoranta, 2016.
ISSN: 2009-8626