A Beginner’s Guide to Free Folklore Resources – all available online!
One of the best things about researching folklore is just how easy it is to get started. There are a TON of free resources, books, how-to-guides and articles available – you can learn everything you would ever want to know about pretty much any myth or legend, and all without leaving your house or spending a cent.
It’s really just a matter of knowing where to look! So that’s where I come in. Below, I have put together a list of free resources that are perfect for beginning your folklore journey – and if you can recommend any others, please do get in touch. Happy browsing!
Books on Irish Mythology and Folklore
Due to the intense interest in folklore-collecting in the 19th Century, there is simply no end to the books and manuscripts available for free online! Project Gutenberg and Archive.org are fantastic for finding ebooks of these incredible texts. You can learn about Irish mythology directly from the people who first began preserving it, and it’s all completely free.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Gods and Fighting Men by Lady Augusta Gregory – One of the most famous collections of Irish mythology, Lady Gregory’s book tells of the Tuatha Dé Danann (the tribe of the Gods) and the Fianna (the ‘fighting men’ of Fionn Mac Cumhaill), based on both oral sources and early manuscripts.
- Ancient Legends and Superstitions of Ireland by Lady Jane Wilde – As well as some fantastic stories, this book is full of old charms and superstitions that make for a fascinating read.
- The High Deeds of Finn and Other Bardic Romances by T. W. Rolleston – Beautifully re-told legends from Irish manuscripts.
- Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker – Quite an early collection of Irish stories (though possibly not all entirely from folklore), with some great tales of fairies and mermaids.
If you want to delve a little further, The Celtic Literature Collective at ancienttexts.org has stories taken directly from original Irish manuscripts, for an even more authentic story.
Fairy tale Databases
You may also wish to take a look at classic collections of fairy tales from around the world. You’re probably familiar with The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, but it can be hard to know where to start when looking beyond these! Luckily, the sites below offer really thorough introductions to folk and fairy tales across almost every culture.
- SurLaLune Fairy Tales: This site features annotated versions of some of the world’s best loved fairytales – it’s a splendid introduction to the history of the stories, similar tales across cultures, and the ways we interpret them in modern times.
- Folktexts: An enormous collection of the different international versions of folk and fairytales – it’s fascinating to see how the stories we know so well were shaped by tellers all around the world. But be warned, you can spend hours browsing here!
- The Aarne-Thompson-Uther Motif Index: This index reduces stories to their most basic elements. Folktales often contain similar ‘motifs’ – characters, items and plot points that find their way into stories across the world. This is an incredible catalogue of these motifs and the places where they have occurred, for an in-depth look at how our stories are tied across cultures.
Transcribe Folklore on Dúchas.ie
Back in 1938, the Irish Folklore Commission asked schoolchildren throughout Ireland to write down stories, local tradition and folklore from their grandparents and neighbours. Almost 740,000 pages of folklore from all around the country have now been scanned and are collected on the Dúchas.ie website. It’s an absolutely incredible resource for learning about the folklore of particular places in Ireland – and you can help to improve the site by transcribing pages to make them easier to search! There are still almost 125,000 English handwritten pages left to transcribe, so there is still plenty of help needed.
As well as helping with transcription, it’s worth just having a browse through the collections on the site – you can try looking up your own town or parish’s notebook, or search for folklore you are interested in – here are some interesting ones: Old Cures, Hidden Treasure, Giants, Wrens. . .
Folklore Sharing On Social Media
#FolkloreThursday: Every Thursday on Twitter is a fantastic opportunity to learn about folklore, myths and legends from all over the world, through this wonderful hashtag. Their website is a brilliant resource of articles from modern-day folklorists also!
Old Ireland In Colour: Sometimes it helps to really see people from the past. Old Ireland in Colour has been doing an incredible job at “de-oldifying” black and white Irish photos. Looking at their photos, you can see the subjects as people, rather than pieces of history, and that’s a really important step to understanding how they lived and the stories they told. Have a browse on their twitter and instagram pages, and see if it helps you to better understand the people behind the folklore you are learning about.
Ask Your Family / Community
Why not ask your family or community members if they have any stories to tell? One of the most rewarding ways to discover folklore that is truly personal is through getting an oral history from the people close to you. It’s a great way to get know your loved ones better, and to learn more about your own history and the history of your community.
If you need some inspiration, take a look at this questionnaire sheet for some ideas of what questions to ask in your interview – but don’t be afraid to think of your own too!