Clara Patterson’s photograph of children playing a game in Ballymiscaw, County Down, c.1894. Patterson was encouraged by Alfred Cort Haddon to document folk customs in Ireland.

Folklore, Nationalism, Home Rule, and Brexit

Ciarán Walsh will be taking part in a conference on the relation between folklore and nationalism. Folklore and the Nation is timed to coincide with the exit of the UK from the EU. It’s being organised by the Folklore Society (FLS) and hosted by the University of Derby. It kicks off on the afternoon of Friday 29 March 2019.

His paper deals with ethnicity, nationalism and folklore, drawing on a forgotten anti-imperial movement in British folklore. It begins with an anti-colonial speech delivered by Alfred Haddon in Ipswich in 1895. Haddon was aligned with the volkskunde wing of the folklore movement in Ireland and opened his speech by acknowledging nationalist efforts to disengage from political and economic union with Britain.

A family of politicians gathered around the coffin of the Home Rule Bill; a presentation cartoon from the ‘St Stephens’ Review’, 12 June 1886. Colour lithograph
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Haddon entered anthropology through folklore, equating the destruction of native customs in subjugated territories with the loss of personal identity, ethnicity, and, ultimately, nationhood. Haddon spoke to Patrick Geddes and Havelock Ellis about reconstituting anthropology as a vehicle for radical anti-colonial activism.

They were inspired by the anarchist geography of Kropotkin, the radical ethnology of Reclus, and the “Zeitgeist” of Gomme (FLS). This conference looks like the place  to remember an engagement between Irish nationalists, English folklorists and stateless anarchists /ethnologists on the brink of Ireland’s exit from Britain.