Scéim Na Scol

Séamus ÓCathain

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The Schools's Scheme, from which stems the Schools' Manuscripts Collection, was organised under the auspices of the former Irish Folklore Commission (now the Department of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin). It began on 1 July 1937 and ran for the duration of the entire school year of 1937-1938, following which it was extended for a further period until the end of the calendar year 1938. For the entire length of its existence (1935-1971), the Honorary Director of the Irish Folklore Commission, and, therefore the person in charge of the Schools' Scheme, was James Hamilton Delargy (Seamus Ó Duilearga), Lecturer and later Professor in Irish Folklore (1947-1971) at University College Dublin.

From the time of its establishment in April 1935, the programme of collecting work undertaken by the Commission through its panel of full- and part-time collectors, and its network of questionnaire correspondents in every corner of Ireland, was designed to document as thoroughly as possible Irish Folklore throughout this Island. The fruit of this activity can be found in the form of sound recordings, films, photographs, drawings, sketches, paintings and manuscripts. The latter element makes up what is known as the Main Manuscript Collection which runs to 2,246 volumes of approximately 500 pages each, all paginated and handsomely bound in a numbered series.

Roughly three-quarters of the Main Manuscripts Collection was assembled by the Commission. The remainder has been collected by the Department of Irish Folklore, since it came into being in 1971. In the same period, the audio and photographic collections as well as the library holdings inherited by the Department from the Commission have each almost doubled in size and a substantial number of video-recordings has also been made.

In all likelihood, Delargy's ambition to recruit the schools and the schoolteachers to the cause of collecting the folklore of Ireland was inspired by some of his experience in northern Europe to which he had paid an extended visit in the period April to October 1928. There, he had come across a number of folklore collecting schemes involving schools and, inter alios, had met with Professor Walter Anderson, Head of the Estonian Folklore Archive (Tartu) who had been responsible for organising a highly successful folklore scheme among schoolchildren in San Marino.(1)

The Schools' Manuscripts Collection presents a different profile to that of the Main Manuscripts Collection. The former is a sixty-year old corpus of manuscript material which is static and unchanging and thus distinguished from the rest of the national folklore collection whose constituent parts are dynamic and developing. It is tempting to think of it as a snapshot of the state of Irish tradition across the greater part of Ireland, a long exposure, as it were, taken over a period of eighteen months.

(1) This was averted to in the following terms in The Irish Times report of 1 February 1939, detailing the sucess of the Schools' Scheme. 'Except for a remote and similar example in the little Italian republic of San Marino, the scheme has no parallel in European education'.

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