Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I mBeal na Farraige

In 1939 a young German folklorist, Heinrich Becker, came to Galway to research stories associated with the sea. Beginning first with the fishermen of the Claddagh, and later moving out to the shores of Galway Bay and the Aran Islands, he created a wealth of audio-tapes, photographs, transcripts of stories and associated material, and took a keen interest in what was happening around him. In 1955, having returned to Germany three years previously, he staged an photographic exhibition in the town of Duren based on his time in Galway.

The first photograph, taken in the 1940s, shows a barrel being unloaded off the Dun Aengus ferry onto a currach. The ferry was the lifeline to the Islands, bringing supplies and people over and back.
The second features a currach in the foreground, with a Galway hooker in the background under sail off the Galway coast. These boats were the workhorses of Galway bay and feature strongly in many aspects of the lives of the people as told through the stories gathered by Dr. Becker.
The third photograph in today's blog dates from 1939, and shows Dr. Becker recording the King of the Claddagh on an ediphone wax cylinder recording. He had acquired the machine from Seamus Delarga of the Irish Folklore Commission, and recorded many stories from the Claddagh, including chasing the sunfish.
The fourth photograph features Paitin Mhaitiu and Peadar Liogeach on board the Dun Aengus steamer, again from the 1940s. Having grown up on a river boat on the Elbe, Dr. Becker had a fascination with boats and the people using them, and this comes across in his interest in all aspects of sea transport on Galway Bay during his time here.
The fifth photograph is of Seosamh O Flaithearta (Joe Mhairtin an tSagairt) from Inis Oir, born in 1879 he provided Heinrich with many stories from the island, which he had received from his father Mairtin an tSagairt.

For an outline of the life and work of Heinrich Becker see most recently Brian O Cathain, 'Heinrich Becker: Bealoideasoir Gearmanach i mBun Oibre in Eireann' Leachtai Cholm Cille 43 (2013), 262-293. The material in the Heinrich Becker collection relating to Ireland is currently being listed, and will be available for consultation in the Special Collections Reading Room of the James Hardiman Library from Autumn.

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