Folklore Field School in Ireland

Folklore Field School in Ireland

Mason folklore studies students spent their winter break documenting stories, music, and dance traditions on Achill Island in Ireland as part of a folklore field school.

Folklore studies professor Debra Lattanzi Shutika encouraged students to take a hands-on approach to cultural documentation, even if it meant participating in a chilly New Year’s Day swim tradition in Dugort on Ireland’s western coast. Lattanzi Shutika noted one of the benefits of doing fieldwork in Ireland is, “everyone ‘gets’ folklore. Achill residents understand why it’s important to their past and future.”

Over the course of two-weeks, students conducted oral history interviews, learned phrases in the Gaeilge language, and took Irish dance lessons. Students participated in a harp workshop with renowned harpist Louise Kelly and explored the coastline with a group of locals to learn about the island’s thirteen villages. The group toured the Achill Heritage Center, founded in 2016, with the mission of “documenting, preserving and promoting Achill folklore and heritage.”

Students noted how socializing with local communities was key in transforming Ireland from a tourist destination into a living and vibrant classroom. Pubs and music halls became a place to not only gather and chat, but to learn as well.

MAIS student Sarah Birns was impressed by Irish hospitality. “Everyone we met, both formally, as informants for our project, and informally, such as at pubs, were truly among the friendliest people I have ever encountered,” she said. “People shared their narratives, songs, and craftsmanship with us and embraced us, wanting to ensure we had a rich and full experience.”