CAIN: Stories, In search of stories, jokes and rhymes

CAIN Web Service

In Search of Stories, Jokes and Rhymes

[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]

Text: Fionnuala Williams

In search of stories, jokes and rhymes

AS Aliza Shenhar, one-time Professor of Folklore at the University of Haifa, has pointed out in her book, Jewish and Israeli Folklore, areas of conflict tend to generate stories based on the various events and figures connected with them. Such stories have important and complex functions, and are often used to help people to come to terms with tragedy. While there was, over 10 years ago, some collection and analysis of similar stories here, much more remains to be done. It is hoped that such research will throw some light on society's reactions and attitudes.

After almost three decades of violence and attempts at peacemaking, which people and events are reflected in the lore? Ultimately, such stories, which are transmitted orally, will constitute a view of this period which will be absorbed and inherited by succeeding generations.

Stories about the 'Troubles' turn up in a range of guises, from jokes and anecdotes about places like Drumcree and politicians such as Gerry Fitt and Ian Paisley - not to mention Secretaries of State - to ghost legends like the one commemorating the mass death of 18 soldiers near Warrenpoint in 1979. Accounts of this latter example describe motorists being stopped at a checkpoint on that stretch of road, looking down to get a driving licence or open the boot and then, seconds later, realising that the patrol has vanished into thin air.

Other violent incidents, for example in Armagh and Belfast, are recalled aurally, rather than visually, when people describe hearing rather than seeing Troubles-related phenomena such as tanks. Even children's rhymes are affected by the 'Troubles' - the names of politicians and other aspects being incorporated into traditional lore.

Over the next few months I hope to collect as much material as possible about this period of our history. Any information, no matter how slight or familiar it may seem to you, would be of the utmost interest and importance in helping to construct a picture of people's hopes and fears.

If you have any jokes, rhymes or stories, please contact me at:

The Institute of Irish Studies,
8 Fitzwilliam Street,

or telephone me on

01232 245133

All information will be treated with confidentiality.

Fionnuala Williams

[The above first appeared in Causeway Winter 1997 p7]

CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

go to the top of this page go to the top of this page
Last modified :