“Jack Wyse saw fairies dancing on the Allenwood road at 11pm one night”
Written by an Allenwood Schoolchild, 1938
We are mistakenly led to believe that a story has a beginning, middle and end. But not all tales can be recounted in this way. Instead, they can be layered, incomplete and infinite, existing and surrounding us at all moments of our lives.
In 1930s Ireland, the National Folklore Collection was established to preserve local stories in a fledging nation which was trying to forge its identity as a relatively-recent independent state. Housed in University College Dublin, today, it is one of the largest collections of oral and ethnological material in the world. During this period, stories were collected from schoolchildren countrywide. Many of these tales are now forgotten in local consciousness but the archives tell tales of rebellion, local history, folklore, fairy rings, curses, folk medicine and locals imbued with cures for illnesses.
Taking relevant 80 year old archival material from the National Folklore Collection as it starting point, the material from which this project originates is indebted to Allenwood, a village located in the Bog of Allen, which was established as a coaching post in the 19th century. The various elements of the investigations trace the evolution of the townland’s landscape, scraping away and excavating layers of history, migration, industry, personal and collective memories, local folk knowledge and superstition, which through rapid modernization, indifference and sometimes embarrassment has been lost. In the archives, names of people today only remembered as elderly, can be reencountered through their writings as schoolchildren.
Last year as part of CuratorLab, an earlier version of this project was exhibited in Stockholm, Sweden. However this iteration returns the stories to Allenwood, as local engagement is vital. In part this is to avoid “othering” the community in which these tales originate. A gallimaufry of locations in the village will be employed: the local pub, the Gaelic sports hall, the school, ruined vernacular architecture, and the 19th century canal. These locations map different time periods in Allenwood’s history. The overall project explores methods of relating the story of a micro-culture that allow for more insight than a mere recitation of historical facts. It also questions the importance of local knowledge in a wider culture that often yearns for the validation that academic empirical knowledge provides. In the exhibition component of the project, the selected artists explore themes of place, mapping, memory, landscape, and aspects of culture and heritage. A series of informal talks will contextualize and define some of the implicit themes. Through a series of workshops the children of 5th and 6th classes become junior folklorists in a digital age, negotiating paths through centuries of established tradition and recent decades of newer developments.
‘Invisible Stories’ aims to foster discussion regarding the appreciation and preservation of local history and local idiosyncrasies. Through evolution and use, new traditions and belief systems are created, entangled with the old, but adapted to cater for modern audiences. But how do newer customs sit alongside native traditions? Do cultural practices lose their purposes and through evolution does meaning shift to meaningless? With reflective aspects pushed aside for the entertainment, are rituals reduced to mere theatrical re-enactments compete with stock characters or spruced-up shallow imitations of a once meaningful tradition? As culture is constantly evolving, this project creates a snapshot of a particular culture at a particular time.