Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

"Ta Cuid De Na Mna blasta/Some Women Are Sweet Talkers": Representations of Women in Sean O hEochaidh's Field Diaries for the Irish Folklore Commission

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

"Ta Cuid De Na Mna blasta/Some Women Are Sweet Talkers": Representations of Women in Sean O hEochaidh's Field Diaries for the Irish Folklore Commission

Article excerpt

Interest in women in folklore has increased greatly since Angela Partridge's Caoineadh na dTri Muire (1982) heralded the first major research work on a gendered topic in Irish folklore studies. The Banshee by P. Lysaght (1986) soon followed. Although not specific studies of gender, these works certainly focused attention on the folklore of women. Joan N. Radner's work concerning conflicting tellings of a folktale by Peig Sayers and her son, Maidhc (Radner, "The Woman"), and later on, about coding in women's folklore (Radner, Feminist) has been influential, as has Anne O'Connor's work on dead child traditions and on the folklore of blessed and damned women in the Petticoat Loose cycle of stories (Child; The Blessed). Eilis Ni Dhuibhne's insightful commentary on representations of women in folklore ("The Old"; "International") notes the existence of "a clash between masculine and feminine traditions" ("International" 1214), one I will amplify in this paper. Indeed, Volume IV of The Field Day Anthology, where Ni Dhuibhne highlighted the conflict was a response to the exclusion of women from the original three volumes. Volume IV contains a rich variety of texts from women storytellers and singers together with supporting critical essays to contextualise and justify the choices made.

Other recent work continues to highlight the inequality experienced by women with regard to their contribution to Irish folklore studies. Patricia Coughlan's feminist readings of Peig Sayers' autobiographical texts show new ways of interpreting that important body of writing ("An Leiriu"; "Rereading"). Michael Briody outlines the male dominated dimension of public life in the founding years of the Irish Folklore Commission (The Irish) and both Diarmuid O Giollain (Locating; An Duchas) and Stiofan O Cadhla ("Dochtuiri") have pointed out the difficulty in giving women's lore its proper due, because of male-centred bias both within and outside the academy.

Looking at the anthropology produced by Arensberg and Kimball for 1930s Co. Clare, women clearly emerge as valued but secondary members of the society, with few of the privileges or rights of men (Family). Perspectives from anthropology from figures such as Sherry Ortner ("Is Female") whose work sees the female almost universally identified with "nature", and Edwin Ardener ("Belief) are useful. For Ardener women comprised a "muted group", a useful idea reminiscent of Gramsci's and Spivak's "subaltern" (Gramsci; Louai). In recent years, however, this muting has receded, with the realisation that the inclusion of "gender" as an analytical category in folklore studies has many opportunities for rejuvenating the old field, as the studies I have already mentioned show. Other studies such as that of Angela Bourke on fairylore ("The Virtual") and especially her magisterial treatment of the tragic story of Bridget Cleary (The Burning), and Gearoid O Crualaoich's groundbreaking study, The Book of The Cailleach show clearly what potential exists for the study of lore about, by and to some extent for women. Additional research also pays increased attention to the matter of gender, including a significant discussion of masculinity in the singing of Joe Heaney (Williams and O Laoire). Coughlan's robust feminist critique ("An Leiriu"; "Rereading") is particularly helpful in destabilising a dominant masculinist gaze that seems to have led to Peig's enduring negative image among those who read her as part of their prescribed course in secondary school. Although, of course, Peig was never a compulsory text, and although it is almost twenty years since Peig was on the curriculum, the stereotypical version of Peig still carries powerful resonances. In a careful and nuanced reading of the folktale "The Woman With No Hands", Stiofan 6 Cadhla (176-198) explores the tensions he identifies in a story told by a woman of very little formal education to two men, at the time a priest and afterwards a bishop, and a doctor, belonging to a wealthier, professional echelon of society. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.