Research for the chapter I am currently working on has taken me into the National Folklore Collection housed in University College Dublin. The collection began in the 1930’s and is still very much alive and strong today and can be accessed by the public free of charge Tuesday-Friday between the hours of 14:30-17:30. All you need to do is register some basic details and know the Barony of the area you are interested in to begin with and you are away.
I am particularly interested in life and events in the Blackstairs during the 19th Century and the Collection so far hasn’t failed to disappoint. Most of the information I have come across was gathered in the late 1930’s/early 1940’s from people who were in the 60’s- 90’s at that stage and some of those stated that they got their information from their grandparents who themselves were of the same age when they passed their knowledge on. This provides us today with a direct link to at least the mid-late 19th Century. The details of the collection ranges from major events such as the Tithe War and The Great Famine right down to the mundane day to day life cycle such as how they cured the sick or gathered heather to make sweeping brushes for the home!
Being a folklore collection, some of the contents are purely fantasy, myth and legend. My favourite of these to date has been the story of the “Duke of Leinster” which describes how a poor native rose up to be the son-in-law of the King of England. It is important to remember that these stories and tales were the social media/ television/ radio of their day as local and travelling Seanchaí (story-tellers) visited the homes of the area to entertain the residents and their neighbours. So why not switch off the television, throw another stick on the fire and sit back and relax. You might think the Dukes of Leinster resided at Leinster House in Dublin but the locals in the Blackstairs (and apparently the King of England) thought otherwise! The following story was recorded by Cáit Ní Bolgúir of Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford aged 60 on the 02/09/1942 (Manuscript Collection 890 p. 505-510). The “castle” referred to is Mount Leinster Lodge in Raheenkyle.
“The Duke of Leinster”
“There is a beautiful castle on the slopes of Mount Leinster and the locals tell the following story of its origins.
Years ago there was an old man living in a thatched house near the spot where the castle is now situated. He was a nice grand old man and on that account he was nicknamed ‘The Duke of Leinster’. He had an only son and this boy went off to England in search of work. He called at the King’s Palace at Buckingham and got employment. He was very handsome and the King’s daughter fell in love with him. She asked him who he was and where he came from. He answered; ‘I am the son of the Duke of Leinster and I come here from Ireland in search of work’. She informed the King of what he told her and said he should send over two men to Ireland to see his castle. The princess then got information from the boy that his castle was on Mount Leinster. She told the two men this and also to have very good news for the King when they got back. The promised they would.
They came along to Mount Leinster but could see no castle, only the little thatched house. There was no other house in view. They entered and found the old man sitting near the fire boiling a pot of potatoes for his dinner. They asked; ‘Is there a gentleman here called “The Duke of Leinster”’? The old man answered; ‘I am the Duke of Leinster’. He asked them two sit down and rest. There were two pigs grunting at the door and six goats standing outside the window. When the potatoes were boiled the old man strained them outside the door. He then got a bag and placed it on his knees. He peeled the potatoes on the bag with the nails of his thumbs and fingers When finished he wiped his hands with some ferns which he had inside and threw them into the fire. The two men took notice of all this and after a time they thanked the old man for having a nice rest. They then returned to England.
When they reached Buckingham Palace, the King asked them what news they had and if they had met the Duke of Leinster. Their reply was; ‘We met the Duke of Leinster. His castle is situated on Mount Leinster and your palace is nothing in comparison to it. He invited us in. There were six stalworth men standing in the hall. The Duke was at dinner and there were two Highland pipers playing at the door while he was eating. The table he had could not be bought for money and the knives and forks he used could not be bought for money. When he washed his hands he wiped them with a towel and then threw it in the fire as he would not use it the second time’.
The King was very pleased with this information and said the Duke’s son should marry the Princess. They then came to Mount Leinster and she got this beautiful castle built and both lived happily together.
The castle is inhabited at present by the Newton Family”.