Routledge Taylor Francis has just published Folklore and Nation in Britain and Ireland, edited by Carina Hart and Matthew Cheeseman. It’s a multidisciplinary study of the idea of folklore and its relationship to the idea of nationhood, especially in the form of nationalist ideologies. The project developed out a lively conference organised by the Folklore Society and Derby University to coincide with the planned departure of Britain from the EU in March 2019.

Ciarán Walsh takes David Michôd’s 2019 reworking of Sheakespeare’s Henry V as an example of the mobilisation of an imagined nation at a time of crisis and links this idea to the emergence of the English-England movement that led to BREXIT. This becomes the starting point for a radically new look at the the history of folklore collection in Ireland in the 1890s, when Irish nationalists and their anti-imperial allies intensified their efforts to break the union between Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Top: Clara Patterson, 1893, Children playing “Green Gravel” in Ballymiscaw, Co Down, Ireland (© Ulster Folk and Transport Museum).

Bottom Haddon, 1898, A still form the dance of the Malu Zogo-Le on the island of Mer, Torres Strait (© National Film and Sound Archive of Australia).

Walsh revisits Haddon’s attempt to mobilise an anti-colonial, Anglo-Irish folklore movement in the 1890s as part of a ‘savage-lives-matter’ campaign that was influenced by utopian, anarchist, and anti-colonial ideas. The centre piece of this argument is Haddon’s photographic collaboration with Clara Patterson, which was part of a wider investigation of dance as a marker of the essential unity of humankind.

Walsh proposes that Haddon’s film represents a singular modernist achievement in the history of folklore/anthropology and wonders why the folklore movement he started – with its commitment to racial and gender equality – has long been eclipsed by Douglas Hyde and his followers who prioritised collection and restoration over critique and revolution?