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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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Mungret: The small Irish town that went through revolutionary change

A talk on the parish will take place tomorrow night on Culture Night.

Mungret Girls' School in the 1930s.
Mungret Girls' School in the 1930s.
Image: Nessan O'Donoghue

IN 1937, THE Department of Education and the National Teachers’ Organisation teamed up with the Folklore Commission to do something special.

Over the course of 18 months, around 100,000 children in 5,000 primary schools across the Free State collected and recorded folklore material from their local area. The collection is available online. Tomorrow, on Culture Night, a talk by Mungret Heritage at Mungret College in Co Limerick will look at what life was like for these children and how Mungret has changed over these years. The classroom of 1937 will be recreated in the college, as explained by Geraldine Byrne and Margaret Moore below.

In the 1930s the Folklore Commission recognised the importance of recording oral history before it was lost, due to a changing Ireland.

Like the rest of Ireland, Mungret was becoming more industrialised and moving away from the rustic lifestyle.

In Mungret the pupils were enriched with stories of the Wise Woman of Mungret and Viking raids on the famous local monastery, along with accounts of their surrounding countryside.

All these stories were passed on orally from generation to generation unlike the skills of thatching, grinding corn, weaving, coffin and basket making, and unfortunately these skills have died in our community.

Reimagining the classroom

As part of our culture night we are attempting to re-imagine a classroom setting around 1937 – wooden floors, desks with ink wells, a black board at the top of classroom, slates and chalk for pupils, pens and nibs and counters were some of the limited educational aids available.

At this time the educational system was based around the 3rs: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. So this project from the pupils’ point of view was exciting, a distraction from the daily routine along with the fact that new copybooks were purchased to record the stories.

As we try to visualise the children collecting stories at night around the fire at home from their parents, grandparents or neighbours, we can’t help think how different their lives were to us today.

Old cures

On Culture Night we will explore old cures and remedies and how the cures were passed on from one generation to the next, like a sting of a nettle was eased by applying a plant leaf, “dock leaves are said to soothe the sting of a nettle“.

If you have a cold, “boil a half pint of milk and put butter and pepper into it, then drink it”.

Similarly you have the obscure remedies as Patrick Hartigan recorded to cure whooping cough, “Go three times out under a grey mare’s belly” or to cure thrush “bring in the gander and make him breathe three times into the sore child’s mouth“.

Mungret in the 1930’s was a rural community, most families were in some way connected to the land, doctors were not readily available and families depended on being able to handle a minor ailment or an emergency. The community had knowledge of using weeds and herbs for health benefits.

Watching the weather

The rural background required the use of telling the weather by different signs such as “when the distant hills look near” or “when the swallows fly low we shall have rain” – both are still used today.

Similar to this was the telling of riddles and proverbs which acted as an educational aid by puzzling things out and also encouraging humour. As we digest this encounter with a different way of living and simplicity we will ponder on lost vocabulary such as “piggin” which was a vessel of wood or “skee”, a type of plate.

Children’s lunchboxes

Opening the 1930’s lunch box brings us to the traditional breads like soda bread and brown wholemeal bread with home churned butter along with a glass bottle of milk.

If the cork was missing a makeshift cork was used which comprised of folded paper pushed into the top of the bottle.

Stampy bread was another favourite made from “raw potatoes peeled and grated with an equal quantity of flour and boiled mashed potatoes. Mix all of them together and wet with buttermilk. Bake on a grill until both sides brown, taken up and buttered, and had to be eaten hot”. This bread was eaten on Shrove Tuesday and November eve.

Through the lens of the 21st century it is hard to re-imagine totally the feelings and thoughts of the pupils, how they felt cold with no central heating no indoor toilets or having to walk long distances to attend school.

Their generation and those before were more in tune with their natural environment. The teachers lived locally and were involved with the community’s rural ways in simpler times. Both Mungret National schools were stone buildings each with a small hall on the way in which opened into a large room. An open fire was the only heating these classrooms had. Each building had an outside toilet. Entering a classroom of that era would be an assault on the senses.

Recording a dying tradition such as oral stories, weather forecast riddles and proverbs was a wonderful foresight on the part of the Folklore Commission. If this project had not been undertaken by the Folklore Commission a lot of traditions would have been lost forever.

A talk by Mungret Heritage will take place from 7 – 9pm at Mungret College in Mungret, Co Limerick, tomorrow night. For more information, read the Culture Night website.

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Read: Free Culture Night buses around Dublin city won’t run because of strike action>

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