During the 1970s and 1980s Dublin underwent an intense period of economic and physical upheaval; traditional industries were in rapid decline, emigration reached levels unseen for a generation, while the inner city was popularly perceived to be a no-go territory, ravaged by epidemics of crime and drugs. In this period folklore scholars from University College Dublin turned their attention towards the city, to record the perceived absences in the folkloric collections of the university. A team of researchers, hired as part of a government employment scheme, were equipped with cameras and audio devises and sent into Dublin’s inner city. Over two years they conducted over a thousand hours of interviews, questioning older residents on a series of distinct, yet entwined topics: ghost stories, folk beliefs, and popular customs.
This paper examines how Dublin’s declining landscape was conceived in the oral histories and photographs of the Urban Folklore Project. Cleared of tenements and industrial buildings, much of the landscape of the inner city stood derelict and vacant. I explore how these interstitial landscapes played an important role in the reproduction of folk believe in the city: in the stories of the city’s residents these shadowy spaces were transformed into places of enchantment, inhabited both by the apparitions of rural superstition and of the disappeared heroes who had once challenged British rule. However, they were also sites where people were mugged, where addicts congregated, and where derelict factories and warehouses revealed the failed promise of modernization. I argue that the city’s derelict spaces became a key part of structuring understanding the failings of independence in the late 1970s and 1980s. The city’s empty sites elided distinct arenas of desire for the historical past: for the structures of rural belonging, the ideals of revolution, the community of the tenements, and for a city where the docks still functioned.
– Dr Erika Hanna
Chair: Sarah Miller Davenport
Jessop West Exhibition Space