Skip to main content

New Collection in DRI: A Bird in the House, God Bless Her

The Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) is pleased to announce that a new collection – A Bird in the House, God Bless Her – has been published in the Repository through is a living online archive that centres on the practice of artist and folklorist Michael Fortune. Collecting oral history and place-based recordings, Michael has dedicated the past 25 years of his life to this work – and in most cases he has produced and archived materials under his own steam without any agency support. His collections include over three-hundred individual films and hundreds of hours of content, as well as exhibitions, books, and wall-calendars depicting a variety of facets of Irish folklore life. In addition to these achievements, Michael has also amassed over 85,000 followers on his Facebook page.

In 2023, the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) was delighted to announce that was selected as the winner of our annual Community Archive Scheme. Established as a pathway to amplifying community archives and empowering visibility to the stories and histories of specific cultures and communities that are often underrepresented in national or regional archives, the Community Archive Scheme provides the opportunity for the ingestion of collections into the Repository.

As the winner of the Community Archive Scheme, we are delighted to announce the publication of A Bird in the House, God Bless Her – which also marks the first collection in the Repository that specifically focuses on the culture and experiences of the Traveller (Mincéirí) community.

Photo of two young women being interviewed for A Bird in the House, God Bless Her
Photo of two young women being interviewed for A Bird in the House, God Bless Her

A Bird in the House, God Bless Her is a collection of folklore that was recorded and produced between September 2017 and March 2018 with members of the Traveller community in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. The recordings document rare Easter and May Day customs, include personal stories involving fairies, the banshee and shape-shifting hares. They also shed light on contemporary folklore customs such as acronyms used in Facebook communications. Many of these stories, customs and beliefs have been resigned to past memory. Yet here on the outskirts of Dublin City, everyday lives and experiences continue to be interwoven with these stories and beliefs.

Featured in A Bird in the House, God Bless Her are: Nan Connors, Bridget O’Brien, Alice Berry, Margaret Connors, Louise McDonagh, Ann Marie Connors, Bridget O’Brien, Nelly O’Brien, Kitty McAleer, John Connors and Kathleen Doran. The collection features fourteen individual films which were edited due to topic and subject matter. These ranged in duration and they include:

1. Superstitions, Customs and Facebook (3mins 56secs)

2. St. Philomenas Cord (4mins 34secs)

3. The Fairies (5mins 58secs)

4. Differences – Old and New Customs (3mins 58secs)

5. Blessings and Overlooking (5mins 48secs)

6. Remembering the Dead (4mins 03secs)

7. Making Bread (3mins 43secs)

8. Personal Beliefs and Rituals (8mins 18secs)

9. Naming Traditions Old and New (4mins 46secs)

10. The May Bush and May Eve Mass (3mins 43secs)

11. Easter Tradition from Wexford (3mins 00secs)

12. The Banshee (2mins 42secs)

13. The Hare (4mins 18secs)

14. Accents, Bras and Handbags (4mins 03secs)

15. Launch Compilation (50 minutes)

Through his engagement with the Traveller community, Michael attempted to capture these accounts in as true a voice as possible. His aim was to create a living resource which could be shared and enjoyed in particular by the Traveller community. The rich descriptive metadata and captions accompanying objects in this collection not only illustrate Michael’s commitment to conveying accurate and comprehensive data – but also showcasing the humour and intimacies that arose in conversation.

Of ‘The Banshee’ recording, Michael wrote:

Here are some fantastic accounts of seeing and hearing the banshee as told to me by two traveller women, Nan Connors and Katheen Doran back in 2017 – brilliant descriptive accounts and told with such conviction.

Nan tells a great story from Enniscorthy of a boy who lost his comb and the banshee came to his window and dropped back the comb. Normally this story is that someone finds a comb and the banshee comes looking for it back but in this case it is the opposite and the story does have the same warning element.

Aside from that, Nan then tells the story of her uncle seeing the banshee through the shafts of a caravan and she had long blonde hair but he died three months later. Kathleen then tells us that she was supposed to live with fairies and if a person was dying she’d come “to guide their soul into heaven”. Nan says she’d “bow all night”.

In Wexford the banshee is known as “The Bow”.

The ingest of this collection means that these folklore stories are now safely preserved for the long term, with open-access. This important milestone illustrates the scope and capacity of the DRI Community Archive Scheme and we hope to continue our collaboration with into the future in order to assist with the preservation and protection of these valuable materials.

DRI Director Dr. Lisa Griffith said:

“The ingest of A Bird in the House, God Bless Her is a cause for celebration as it marks the first collection in the Repository that is specifically concerned with the lives, experiences and folklore of the Traveller community.

It is our privilege to safeguard and steward this collection, ensuring long-term preservation and open access to these materials for all to view and enjoy. We would like to thank Mick Fortune for working with us so that we can share and preserve this collection. He is committed to ensuring the long-term preservation of the collections he has gathered. We are delighted to work with him and learn from him.

The Digital Repository of Ireland is committed to achieving goals of openness, equity, inclusivity, accessibility and transparency as outlined in our Equality Diversity and Inclusion policy. We are excited to be working towards these goals and hope for onward collaboration with both and other Traveller groups in the future.

A Bird in the House, God Bless Her was produced as part of a project called Exit 15, which was a partnership between Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Voluntary Arts Ireland. The programme was funded under the Arts Council’s Invitation to Collaboration Scheme 2017. All the material was recorded, edited and produced by Michael.

All recordings from A Bird in the House, God Bless Her can now be viewed in full in the Repository.

DRI are delighted to include this valuable collection from in the Repository. Other similar collections in the Repository include: the Clare Memories: Women’s Stories collection, the Irish Women at Work collection and the Life Histories and Social Change collections. You can keep up to date with all of our collections by signing up to our newsletter.