AN incredible archive of recordings of native speakers from Londonderry, Tyrone and Donegal from the 1930s has been newly digitised and released online.
In 1926 the Irish government asked German archivist and academic Dr William Doegen to make recordings of Irish speech in the Gaeltacht and in areas of the country where Irish had suffered decline.
Dr Doegen came to Ireland with his assistant, Karl Tempel, in September 1928. After initial recordings in Cork Mr Tempel returned to Ireland in 1930 and 1931.
It was during this second trip that dozens of songs and stories from Londonderry, Tyrone and Doengal were recorded at the Queen’s University of Belfast and the Courthouse, Lettekenny.
In all, 136 speakers in 17 counties recorded 400 stories, songs, prayers, charms and parables between 1928 and 1931.
Although the shellac recordings were long known to linguists, the Royal Irish Academy Library wanted to make them freely available to all via the internet.
In 2008, with a funding grant under the Higher Education Authority, the Academy Library commenced a project to transfer the recordings to the web, together with annotated transcripts of content, speaker details derived from the survey forms, translations of the transcripts and other data.
The newly digitised archive has now been launched online and can be accessed here.
The only Londonderry recordings are of Eilis Ní Chleircín, whilst there are dozens of recordings from Tyrone and Donegal.
These include those of Aodh Ó Dubhthaigh, whose ‘Na trí naoimh ar a mbealach go Toraigh’ tells the tale of well-known local saints Colm Cille and Fíonán travelling to Tory island.
Here’s Aodh’s recording in translation: “Saint Colum Cille, Saint Fíonán and Saint Begley were on top of Crocknaneeve (‘Hill of the Saints’), outside Gortahork, on their way to Tory Island.
“They went down to the bay. They couldn’t get a boat. Saint Fíonán threw his little cross out into the sea and he said, ‘With the help of God my cross will go to Tory.’
“But it didn’t reach Tory but went instead in under Eas Fíonáin.
“Saint Begley threw his cross in then and he said, ‘My cross will go to Tory with the help of God.’
“But it didn’t go to Tory but went instead to Tullaghobegley.
“Saint Colum Cille then threw his cross into the sea and he said, ‘With the help of God my cross will go to Tory.’
“Colum Cille’s cross went to Tory. The sea opened up for the saints then as it opened for Moses at the Red Sea long ago.
“And the three saints walked in on the sea-bed to Tory Island. The people were pagans on the island in those days. And they weren’t happy to let the saints in.
“Colum Cille had a small cloak in his hand and he said, ‘Is there anyone there who will give me the width of that cloak so that we can rest?’
“There was nobody in Tory who would give that permission except one man of the Ó Dúgáins. And he said to Colum Cille, ‘I will give you permission.’
“Colum Cille set the cloak down on the island. It started spreading and spreading until it spread over all of Tory.
“It cast the rats and the wild animals which were in Tory at that time out to sea. There was a vicious hound, or an evil spirit, there.
“It left the mark of its four legs and the top of its tail on a rock when it leapt out into the sea. Colum Cille converted the people then.
“He built a big church and a monastery in Tory. And he greatly loved that little island. But when he was leaving Tory, he said, ‘My three sorrows nine times, Tory, Owey and Aran.’”
Visitors to ‘The Doegen Records Web Project’ can browse the archives by county, speaker or title or simply by clicking a county on a digital map.