Scéim Na Scol

Séamus ÓCathain

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This is not its only hallmark for, unfortunately, the principle of seeking to document the Irish tradition on an island-of-Ireland-basis, did not prevail in the case of Schools' Scheme, and this circumstance also sets it apart. Its sphere of operation did not extend beyond the confines of this state and as a consequence, the Schools' Manuscripts Collection contains no material from schools in the six counties of Northern Ireland. Consequently, the historic province of Ulster is represented by only three of its constituent counties, namely, Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal.(2)

Like the material in the Main Manuscripts Collection, the Schools' Manuscripts Collection is bound in volumes which are paginated and numbered. These run in a series from volume 1 to volume 1226.(3) In this respect, the Schools' Manuscripts Collection differs once again from the Main Manuscripts Collection in that its contents are arranged in sequence, county by county , and province by province, beginning with Connacht (and county Galway) and ending with Ulster (and county Donegal). This circumstance makes it quite easy to isolate and examine the folklore from, say, a single county , a single barony, a single parish or even a single school, as the material is further broken down under all of these headings.

However, not every aspect of the Schools' Manuscripts Collection is so straightforward. Another of its distinguishing features creates some special problem and, for the folklore scholar, brings its own fascinating research possibilities. It is not in fact, a single unitary collection, but rather a body of material which is divided into two distinct parts -the above - mentioned bound and paginated material and a lesser. known, unbound, unpaginated and equally extensive corpus consisting of the original school copybooks in which the schoolchildren of 1937-1938 first penned their 'compositions'. Consequently, we might speak of 'The Schools' Manuscripts Collections' rather than 'The Schools' Manuscripts Collection', so radically different in some respects are these two bodies of material.

The wording of a Department of Education circular (Circular 9/37), entitled Circular to Managers and Teachers of National Schools: Scheme for the Collection and Preservation of Folklore and Oral Traditions (= CMT 9/37), provides an explanation of how this circumstance arose in the first place:

Material collected by the pupil may be entered in their school jotters and the compositions written in their copybooks from that material. These compositions, or as much of them as is not unduly repeated, together with stories, songs, proverbs and other material collected, should be transcribed by selected pupils into the official Manuscript Books which were issued to all National Schools in March, 1934. A second Manuscript Book will be supplied at an early date in cases where the Book supplied in 1934 has been completed and returned [§3]. All Manuscript Books officially supplied should be forwarded to this office at the end of the current school year - June 1938 - for immediate transmission to the Folklore Commission. The composition copybooks, or a selected number of them, should also be forwarded to this Office [§4].

(2)The late J.H Delargy assured me that the Northern Ireland authonties were approached with a view to securing participation of Northern Ireland schools, but that this was unsuccessful. For an account of the attempt to emulate the Schools' Scheme some twenty years later by the Committee on Ulster Folklife and traditions (under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Northern Ireland), see K.M. Harris, 'The Schools' Collection, Ulster Folklife 3, Part 1 (1957), 8-13.

(3)Two further volumes (1227 and 1228) which also form part of the Schools' Manuscripts Collection ontain folklore collected in counties, Cork, Kildare and Wicklow. Some of this material came into the possesssion of the Department of Irish Folklore as late as 1988.

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