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Posted: 20 February 2008

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Séamus Ó Duilearga - Formation of a folklorist

James Hamilton Delargy (Séamus Ó Duilearga), who was Professor of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin from 1946-1971, is arguably one of the best known Irish scholars abroad.

He was a founding member of the Folklore of Ireland Society (1926), the Irish Folklore Institute (1930-1934) and the Irish Folklore Commission (1935-1970). Today, the work of these bodies continues under the auspices of the National Folklore Collection in the UCD Delargy Centre for Irish Folklore at University College Dublin.

The collection houses some three million manuscript pages, thousands of hours of audio recordings (including early wax cylinders), approximately 70,000 photographs and drawings, and a collection of paintings. Its specialist library has some 50,000 printed books, periodicals and off-prints relating to Irish and comparative folklore, ethnology and related fields.

But just how did James Hamilton Delargy, whose initial training was in the field of celtic studies rather than folklore, become a luminary who masterminded the creation of one of the world’s best folklore collections?

This is explained in a new book, Formation of a Folklorist, by Séamas ÓCatháin, former Professor of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin. In the book, ÓCatháin presents Delargy’s diary, his personal notes, and his correspondence with leading experts in the field and other close advisors in Ireland and abroad, to explain Delargy’s trajectory in his own words.

“It was at a lecture by the Norwegian folklorist Reidar Christiansen in 1927, that Delargy was introduced to Carl Wilhelm von Sydow, a Swedish folklorist who was in Ireland to learn Irish. The following year Delargy left Ireland for Sweden to learn more about the study of folklore,” said ÓCatháin. “This is how Delargy began his journey into the study of folklore and met with the major international folklorists who would influence his work.”

Published by the Folklore Council of Ireland, Formation of a Folklorist - The visit of James Hamilton Delargy to Scandinavia, Finland, Estonia and Germany – was officially launched by Dr TK Whitaker in Newman House, Dublin.

“He was a remarkable man who had the vision, training, the warm humanity, the unflagging zeal and the organisational capacity to collect and safeguard the dying heritage of Ireland’s oral tradition before it was too late,” Dr DK Whitaker said of Delargy whom he knew in his later years.


The Folklore Council of Ireland

The Folklore of Ireland Council (Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann) was instituted in 1972. It is made up of ten members appointed by the President of University College Dublin, four of whom are nominated by the Minister for Education and Science. The functions of the council are: to arrange for the cataloguing, editing and publication of material from the National Folklore Collection at University College Dublin; to arrange for appropriate access to and use of the material; and to administer the funds made available towards the cost of cataloguing, editing and publishing Irish folklore and studies relating thereto.


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Séamus Ó Duilearga - Formation of a folklorist