‘Folktale as reflection of life’: a sociocultural analysis of a variant of ATU 301 narrated by Mícheál Breathnach of Maum, Co. Galway

Ailbhe Nic Giolla Chomhaill

Abstract

Many variants of the folktale catalogued as ATU 301 in the international index of tale types were collected by Irish folklorists in the 20th century. ‘Seán a’ Droma’ (SD) is the title given to the version of ATU 301 which was narrated by Mícheál Breathnach of Maum, Co. Galway, to Connemara-based folklorist and district justice Seán Mac Giollarnáth in 1934. SD follows the typical pattern of a fairy tale, or märchen, as the narrative centres on the arduous journey embarked upon by the young protagonist to the supernatural, sub terrain realm of An Domhan Thíos (The Lower World). This pursuit, once successfully completed, signifies the young man’s coming of age and his ability to fulfil his obligations as a valuable member of his community. In this article, the author draws on biographical information collected from Mícheál Breathnach by Seán Mac Giollarnáth and other folklorists in order to analyse key themes and characterization in SD. Breathnach’s experience as an Irish emigrant in Sunderland in the early 20th century is regarded as a valuable lens in this regard. Whilst in Sunderland, Breathnach expanded his repertoire of folktales by learning stories from literary sources and retelling them in English and in Irish, his native language, in the unique style he had perfected over many years. Unsurprisingly, Breathnach’s reputation as a narrator was well established by the time folklore scholars began visiting him in the Maum valley in the 1930s.

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© Comhar Teoranta, 2019.
ISSN: 2009-8626