Seán Ó Súilleabháin


1903-? [anglice O’Sullivan]; b. Tuosist, Co. Kerry; native speaker of Irish; national school teacher; joined Irish Folklore Commission in 1935; Archivist of the Irish Folklore Commission; Diarmuid na Bolgaighe agus a Chómhursain (1937), study of a local poet of Tuosist; Scéalta Cráibhtheacha (1952), religious legends; Handbook of Irish Folklore (1942), first issued in Irish as in Láimh-leabhar Béaloideasa 1937;
ed., with the Reidar Th. Christiansen, Types of the Irish Folktale (1963); Caitheamh Aimsire ar Thórraimh (1961 [1964]), trans. as Irish Wake Amusements (1967); Folktales of Ireland (1966); Religious Folktales (1967); contrib. on folklore to Encyclopaedia of Ireland (1968); also provided translations for William Trevor, Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories (1989). DIW

[ top ]

  • Láimh-leabhar Béaloideasa, Seán Ó Suilleabháin do chuir le cheile (Dublin: Folklore of Ireland Society 1937);
  • A Handbook of Irish Folklore, with an introductory note by introductory note by Séamus Ó Duilearga (Dublin: Educational Company of Ireland for Folklore of Ireland Society 1942), xxxi, 699pp.; Do. [rep.] (Hatboro: Folklore Associates; London: Herbert Jenkins, 1963), xxi, 699pp. ; and Do. [rep.] (Detroit: Singing Tree Press 1970), xxxi, 699pp., il. [port.; see contents]
  • Folktales of Ireland (Chicago UP 1966), and xliv, 321pp., and Do. [2nd imp.] (London: Routledge Kegan & Paul 1966 ) [see extract];
  • Irish Wake Amusements (Cork: Mercier Press 1967, 1969, 1976, 1979, 1997), 188pp. [trans. by author from Caitheamh aimsire ar Thórraimh, 1961 [see contents];
  • Irish Folk Custom and Belief [Nó sanna agus piseoga na ngael] [Irish Life & Culture Ser., 15] (Dublin: The Three Candles Press [for the Cultural Relations Committee of Ireland] 1967, 2nd edn. 1977), 93pp. [and Do., rep. 1977];
  • Legends from Ireland (London: B. T. Batsford Ltd. 1977, 2nd edn. 1981), 176pp. [see contents].
Articles [sel.]
  • ‘Béaloideas mar Ábhar Litríochta’, in Studia Hibernica 2 (1962), pp.222-28;
  • ‘Irish Oral Tradition’, in A View of the Irish Language, ed. Brian Ó Cuiv (Dublin: Stationery Office 1969), pp.47-56;
  • ‘Litríocht Chorca Dhuibhne Agus An Béaloideas’, in Éire-Ireland, 6, 2 (Summer 1971), pp.66-75.
—Publications attributed variously to Seán Ó Suilleabháin or Sean O’Sullivan acc. to language.

[ top ]

Bibliographical details
Irish Wake Amusements (1967): 1. The Cottoning of the Frieze; 2. The Marriage Act; 3. The Servants serving their Lord at Table; 4. The Fulling of the Cloth; 5. Sir Sop or the Knight of Straw; 6. Hot Loof; 7. Sitting Brogue; 8 Standing Brogue; 9. Frimsey Framsay; 10. Marrying; 11. The White Cockade; 12. Weds and Forfeits; 13. The Priest of the Parish; 14. Horns, or the Painter; 15. The silly Ould Man; 16. The Building of the Ship; 17. The Building of the Fort; 18. The Two Judges; 19. Hold the Light; 20. Bout; 21. The Cow and the Bull; 22. Turning on the Spit; 23. Selling the Pig; 24. The Game of Rope; 25. The Horse fair; 26. Jenny, Will you Bake a bit?; 27. Marrying the Couples; 28 Deideadh Gawa; 29. The Bees Gathering the Honey; 30.All Round your Daddy; 31. Farathy Barathy [Fear a’ Tighe etc]; 32. Fair Judge and Foul Judge; 33. Catching the Herrings; 34. Spoil the Market; 35. Fool in the Middle; 36. The Standing Tailors; 37. Building the Ship; 38. More Sacks on the Mill; 39. Cooling the Barn; 40. Gadaidhe Ruadh na gCapall [The Red Thief of the Horses]; 41. An Chailleach ‘s a’ Giostaire [The Hag and the Old Man]; 42. Ceannach an Choirce [Buying the Oats]; 43. Na sean-Bhroga [The Old Boots]; 44. An Deideadh Dhoga [The burning Toothache, cf. 28, supra]; 45. Ri na mBreag [The King of Lies]; 46. An Sean-Dochtuir [The Old Doctor]; 47. Ag Gabhail na Scadan [Catching the Herrings]; 48. Ag cur a’ Choillaigh sa Chro [Putting the Boar into the Sty]; 49. Na Beacha ag Cruinniu Meala [The Bees gathering Honey]; 50. My Man Jack; 51 The Crooked Crabtree; 52 Here’s the Button; 53. All Birds fly; 54. The House that Jack Built; 55. Cruiscin [The Little Bottle]; 56. Fromsa Framsa; 57. Bosuigheacht [Palming- Hitting on the Palm]; 58. An Liathroid [The Ball]; 59. An Crios [The Belt]; 60. An Naipcin [The Napkin]; 61. An Gabhar [The Goat]; 62. Hurry the Brogue About, Thart an Bhrog. Sally Thart or Cruiti]; 63. Mending the Old Coat; 64 Weighing the Oats; 65. Hingera Hira Puck; 66. Kissing the Goat; 67 Forfeits; 68 Jack in the Dark; 69 Spinning the Top; 70. Poor Pusheen; 71. The Ould Cailleach; 72. The Spy; 73. Slopping; 74. Thatching the Stack; 75. Dealan De [with smouldering stick or straw]; 76. Clioboga; 77. Posadh Gasta; 78. Scaoil thart an Chearc Ghearr; 79. An Stail Bhreac; 80. An Mac Soipin; 81. Nuala agus Daibhi; 82. Hide the Singer; 83. Capall an tSusa; 84. The Old Hen; 85. Birin Beo agus Birin Marbh; 86. Mise Sean Dearg o Charraig an Aonaigh; 87 The Nine Daughters [a matchmaking game]; 88. Sewing the Big Coat; 89. Slap and Guess [cf. 32, supra]; 90. The Wrong Sow by the ‘Lug’ cf. 32, supra; 91. Toes tied; 92. Mock Court; 93. Playboys; 94. Bualadh Bos; 95. Togail ar Ghreim Ioscaidi [‘Lifting by the Houghs’]; 96 Tarraingt Maide; 97. Twelve Tinkers; 98. An Posaidh; 99. Roinn na Riabhaighe; 100. Domhnall Gorm; 101. ‘Bhfuil tu Sasta no Leath-shasta?’; 102. ‘Cleas an Lair Bhan’; 103. Riding Father Doud; 104. Kicking the Brogue; 105. Scuddicloof; 106. ‘Na Tairbh’ or ‘Na Ballain’; 107. Piosam Posam; 108. Drawing the Ship out of the Mud; 109. Ta Damhnai ‘na Chodladh; 110. An Ganndal Ban, or The Stanning Robber; 111. Box the Tailor; 112. Oats in the Market; 113. Oul’ Downes and his Six Sons; 114 The French Doctor; 115. Drawing the Wethers; 116. Watch and Candle; 117. Mohair; 118. One Bean and a Bag; 119. The Rules of Contrariness; 120. The Blind Piper; 121 Reaping the Harvest; 122. The Judge and Jury; 123. Shaving the Friar; 124. The Considering Cap; 125. Pepper Ginger and Paycock; 126. Fickem Puff; 127. Boxing the Connachtman; 128. Will You Marry a Slater, Love, Love, Love?; 129. The Wee Jellory [or Poloney] man; 130. Selling the Bull. [End; supplied on Irish List (Virginia) by Ross Chambers; 14 March; 1997.] Bibliography, pp.175-81.

A Handbook of Irish Folklore, with an introductory note by introductory note by Séamus Ó Duilearga (Dublin: Educational Company of Ireland for Folklore of Ireland Society 1942), xxxi, 699pp.; contains sections: Settlement and Dwelling; Livelihood and Household Support; Communications and Trade; The Community; Human Life; Nature; Folk-Medicine; Time; Principles and Rules of Popular Belief and Practice; Mythological Tradition; Historical Tradition; Religious Tradition; Popular Oral Literature; Sports and Pastimes. [Cited in Francis Shaw, S.J., ‘The Irish Folklore Commission’, in Studies (March 1944), pp.30-36.]

Legends from Ireland [gen. ed. Venetia Newall] (London: B. T. Batsford Ltd. 1977), 176pp., ill. [drawings by John Skelton], CONTENTS [as infra].

Table of Contents  
Map of Ireland
Foreword by Venetia Newall

I Fate
II The Devil
III Origins
IV The Supernatural
V Special Powers
VI Religious Legends
VII Individual Persons
VIII Robbers and Pirates
IX Places

Select Bibliography
Motif Index*
General Index


*Stith Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk Literature (1966).

[For extracts from the Introduction and a sample story, see under Quotations, infra.]

[ top ]


See Francis Shaw, ‘The Irish Folklore Commission’, in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, 33, 129 (March 1944), pp.30-36 [review of Ó Suilleabháin, Handbook of Irish Folklore; Jeremiah Curtin, Irish Folk-tales, and Béaloideas, ed. Séamus Ó Duilearga (Vol XII) - available at JSTOR online; or see copy attached.]

Cheryl Temple Herr, ‘The Silence of the Hares: Peripherality in Ireland and in Joyce’, in Vincent J. Cheng, et al., eds., Joycean Cultures/Culturing Joyces (1998): ‘The great folklorist Seán Ó Súilleabháin discusses the ancient belief that fairies lived in and around spaces variously called by the name of “court, castle, palace, fort, rath, dun,” and the like. That fairy houses could appear and then disappear points to this dimension’s tenuous hold on them. Sometimes fairies were said to live underground in chambers, and it is not repugnant to good sense to connect those subterranean spaces to the other-reality spaces such as fairy rings, where anything could happen. All fairy spaces operate as thresholds to a different reality that is nonetheless continuous with our own. Transactions between human beings and fairies, many of which take place in these liminal spaces, are highly charged and often unlucky for the human being involved. Seán Ó Súilleabháin explains that in Irish tradition, unusually rich with fairy lore and belief, there is no clear distinction between the fairy world and the world of the dead (A Handbook of IrisH Folklore, [1942], rep. Penn.: Folklore Assocs. 1963, p.450). In fact, fairies can make a path through a house and the inhabitants will pine away; that is, they can bring abjection, a mobilized death drive, in the wake of their passage, creating a corpse-threshold after the fact. And many authorities aver that “if one knows where to look, one can still find and talk to seers and visionaries” who emphasize the continuity between Otherworld and this one.’ (p.233.)

Note: In her essay Herr compares contemporary artists such as Dermot Seymour and James Scanlon with Joyce - and in particular with Finnegans Wake - in their perception of the ‘subworlds’, undergrounds, and elsewheres that make up the disrupted space of Irish historical experience, and relates Joyce’s last work to his interest in the underworld in the last story of Dubliners.

[ top ]

Folktales of Ireland
(1966): ‘Various writers on Irish country scenes and characters dipped in the flowing wells of storylore. Samuel Lover, William Carleton and Gerald Griffin coqueted (their tales) with Paddy, the lovable Irish scalawag who talked in a rich and circumlocutious brogue, relished his pipe and poteen, and engaged in amusing low-class capers. Once in a while a folktale creeps into their script, supplying the skeleton for a droll sketch. Yeats who would levy upon these authors in compiling selections of Irish folktales, recognised a prototype of the stage Irishman in a garrulous coachman, fisherman or servant, who was overdrawn but existed.’ (p.vii; quoted in Gaïd Girard, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Une écriture fantastique, Honoré Champion 2005, p.55, n.; see also under Patrick Kennedy, supra.)

[ top ]

The Folklore of Ireland (1974): O’Sullivan held that the Irish were ‘close enough [to continental Europe] to borrow lore and ideas from their European neighbours [but] they were enabled at the same time to preserve a fairly accurate picture of what belonged to themselves traditionally.’ (p.12; quoted in Ann Cahill, ‘Irish Folktales and Supernatural Literature: Patrick Kennedy and Sheridan Le Fanu’, in Bruce Stewart, ed., That Other World: The Supernatural and the Fantastic in Irish Literature [Transactions of Princess Grace Irish Library Conference; Monaco, Whitsun 1998], Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1998.)

[ top ]

Legends from Ireland (1977), Introduction: ‘[…] In recent years some academics have concentrated on legendry, rather than on folktales, as a subject for serious study. They have found, however, that it is much easier to describe the basic characteristics of a legend than to define what it really is. It is localised; it is factual and often has some historic validity; it is told in ordinary speech, unlike some folktales which have long repetitive ‘runs’ or rhetorics; it is a straightforward art form and is extremely variable; though usually short, it may, on the lips of an expert narrator, especially when he is telling of a personal experience, reach the length of even a folktale and comprise more than one episode; it describes events which the ordinary man has to face passively; it is credible, so far as the audience is concerned, especially when told in a convincing manner and referring to local persons, places and dates; it does not require a special setting or audience for its narration, as a folktale does, but can be introduced into normal conversation when the topic is relevant; and finally, a legend can have a moral or didactive force when it implies or lays down proper rules of behaviour. / Since legends are based on popular belief, in its many ramifications, it is not surprising that they are to be met with in an astonishing variety in Irish oral tradition. The variants already indexed in Ireland run to hundreds of thousands. Most of them have only a local distribution, but some (like the first legend in the present collection) are to be found in other countries also. These have been named Migratory Legends, some of which have been listed for Norway in a monograph by Professor Reidar Th. Christiansen of Oslo (see Bibliography). Often, however, each legend belongs to the area in which it originated and retains its individuality by its association with particular persons, places and dates.’ [See longer extract, attached.]

[ top ]

Traduire/traducere: ‘[...] an English translation of tales told by such expert storytellers as, for example, Éamonn a Búrc, Peig Sayers, Muiris (Sheáin) Connor, and Jimmy Cheallaigh – to name but a few – gives but a pale shadow of the original Irish narration. The voices, with their many modulations, are silent on the printed page; the audience is absent; only the pattern of narrative and the procession of motifs remain.’ (Quoted in William Trevor, Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories, 1989, Introduction [‘Sean O’Sullivan observes ..., &c.’] Note that O’Sullivan authored translations of Irish folk-tales and legends in the anthology).

[ top ]

COPAC lists under Seán Ó Suilleabháin / Sean O’Sullivan: Láimh-leabhar Be´aloideasa (Folklore of Ireland Society 1937); A handbook of Irish folklore, intro. by Se´amus Ó Duilearga (1963, 1942, 1970); ed., with Reidar Th. Christiansen, The types of the Irish folktale (1963); Irish folk custom and belief [No´sanna agus piseoga na ngael] (1967, 2nd edn. 1977); ed. & trans., Folktales of Ireland, foreword by Richard N. Dorsen (1968, 1969); Storytelling in Irish tradition [1st edn.] (1973); The folklore of Ireland (1974), ill. [drawings by John Skelton]; Legends from Ireland, [with] drawings by John Skelton. 1977, 1981 [2nd imp.]; The South West: Kerry, West Cork (1978, 1995, 1997 [3rd edn.], 1991).

See also namesake titles in COPAC (unattributed here):

Ceannaidhe Cille hÓige [le Edmund Downey], Seán Ó Suilleabháin d'aistrigh ón mBeárla (1939); Sceálta cra´ibhtheacha [with summaries in English]; do thoigh as lss Choimisiúin Béaloideasa Éireann agus do chuir i n-eagar. 1952; Ceart na sua [le] Liam Ó Cathain (1964, 1968); Díoltas i nDroch-bhirt: finnsceálta ar phianóis [le] Seán Ó Súilleabháin (1975); Diarmuid na Bolgaighe agus a cho´mhursain [Saothar Dhiarmuda na Bolgaighe / Saothar na bhrilí eile] Seán Ó Súilleabháin do chnuasuigh a gcuid filidheachta (1937); An Duinníneach: an tAthair Pádraig Ó Duinín, a shaol, a shaothar agus an réinar mhair sé/ [le] Proinsias Ó Conluain agus Donncha Ó Ceileachair (1976); Sceálta cráibhtheacha [with summaries in English] Seán Ó Súilleabháin do chnuasuigh a gcuid filidheachta (1937); Seán Ó Súilleabháin do thoig as lss Choimisiuín [Léirmheasanna (2)] / le Mícheál Ó Duígnanáin le Seán Ó Súilleabháin. (1939); The Highlands / [by] Calum I. Maclean; with a memoir by Seán Ó Súilleabháin, and three poems by John Maclean, Sorley Maclean & John MacLeod (1975).

[ top ]

Namesakes: Note various titles by namesakes Seán Ó Suilleabháin, a poet, and Seán S. Ó Suilleabháin, a local and G.A.A. historian associated with Leitrim, and Seán O’Sullivan [var. Seán Ó Suilleabháin], the artist and illustrator of Flann O’Brien’s An Béal Bocht.

[ top ]