Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Independent Folklorist Morgan Daimler on Irish folklore, translation and the Irish language

Based in the United States, Morgan Daimler’s grandfather was from Cork and Morgan grew up in the Irish-American diaspora. “My best friend when I was younger was born in Connemara,” they tell me.

“I think for me it [Ireland] was always an interest that grew into a focus on the language, specifically Sengoidelc, and the folk beliefs. I’ve visited and ultimately would like to relocate.”

Though Morgan’s degree is in psychology, they have been working with folklore for years and believe that it’s very important to record and preserve folk beliefs.

“I try to be active in academia related to folklore and have presented at various university conferences as well as for the Folklore Society,” they tell me.

Morgan Daimler’s main focus is Irish folklore, specifically around beliefs in Na Daoine Maithe, and secondarily Scottish folk beliefs, although their academic work often tends to end up looking at the intersection of modern pop culture with older fairy beliefs.

“For example, I have a chapter in a forthcoming text through Peter Lang that looks at the way the Irish sidhe have been incorporated into popular culture in both respectful and appropriative ways,” they explain. “So I’m an independent folklorist in the sense that I don’t have any university affiliation.”

Morgan’s greatest challenge with studying folklore comes down to location.

“I need, ideally, to be in Ireland to research as there isn’t a great deal of this material available in either books or online, compared to what exists of it,” they explain. “I do the best to work with what I have to work with and to travel to Ireland whenever possible.”

“With my writing, more generally time is certainly the wider issue. I am a single parent and so it’s a matter of juggling responsibilities with time to write. I find a way to do it but it’s not easy.”

For someone pursuing folklore as an interest or as a career, Morgan Daimler recommends one book Folklore 101 by Dr. Jeana Jorgensen in particular.

“It explains all the basics and offers a grounding in the concepts,” Morgan says.

“Folklore, as a discipline, is often a subset of English studies or similar so if you want a degree in it those are the programs you have to look at. I will say though that University College Cork has a great folklore MA through the Department of Early and Medieval Irish and the Folklore & Ethnology departments. I’m very hopeful that I’ll be able to attend that at some point and I have several friends who have gone through it or are going through it.”

Morgan has a particular interest in Old / Middle Irish, something that they tell me that they learned “out of spite”.

“It’s true!” they muse. “I was reading through a translation of the Cath Maige Tuired by Whitley Stokes which was a side-by-side Irish/English version and it became obvious that Stokes was including material not in the original. And I was really upset about that to be honest because I had naively assumed that a translation would try to convey the original text as it was not add in opinions or flourishes from the translator.”

The Book of Kells an image sent in by Morgan Daimler from their trip to Ireland

Morgan also quickly realized that most of the translations available were quite old and that many of them omitted or added material because of the time periods they were done in.

And so they decided that they would need to read the material for themself so that they could understand the stories as they had been not as someone else was telling them.

Morgan Daimler enjoys working on translations, particularly older myths

“I’ve done everything from the story of how the Tuatha De Danann arrived in Ireland to medieval Christian poetry to law tracts,” they tell me.

When it comes to challenges Morgan has faced with the Irish language, they tell me that the biggest one for them is pronunciation.

“I don’t have many opportunities to speak with other people,” they say. “I’m also dyslexic which makes learning languages a bit harder – ironically I think old/middle Irish is a bit easier for me because the spelling is nonstandard and I’m mostly focused on reading and writing it not speaking it.”

Morgan’s approach to Irish language resources is very open.

“I think almost anything has some value and more is always better,” they say. “But I say that as someone who doesn’t have access to in-person classes, so I don’t feel that I can be overly picky about the things I can get access to.”

For modern Irish, Morgan uses Rosetta Stone and Duolingo as well as a variety of books, Dublin City University’s Future Learn Irish courses, DIY Gaeilge, the Bitesize Irish site and YouTube.

“I also follow several people on Tiktok who offer Irish language tips or lessons,” they say.

“Admittedly this approach means my accent is weird(er) and it’s a mashup of dialects but I think using various types of media has helped me.”

For Old/Middle Irish Morgan says that there’s a surprising amount of resources available, including online and they do have a variety of books on the subject as well.

“I think working to translate different stories has been the most useful thing there for helping me learn that language, as it can be very different from modern Irish.”

Morgan Daimler is planning to start a translation of the Táin Bó Cúailnge fairly soon, as they’ve already done some of the Ulster Cycle material, and would like to plunge into that wider story.

Even though I’m only an amateur translator I am really passionate about what I do, and I love getting to see the way the stories are in the original forms which can be very different from modern storytelling styles, for example, there tends to be a lot more repetition in the older stories which provides emphasis for points and also creates a different rhythm to the words, and I enjoy that.

Morgan Daimler

Morgan’s favourite story is probably the Echtra Condla (“The adventure of Connla”) which is about a woman of the sidhe who comes to Ireland to woo the son of a king. She successfully convinces him to go with her, after attempts by both his father and his father’s druid to stop her, and the two leave together.

It’s the oldest Irish language story about the Aos Sidhe, and Morgan likes the wider themes in it and the warning of the way that the people of the sidhe will lure humans away.

Morgan says, “I am a big believer in the importance of keeping those folk beliefs alive and preserving them for future generations.”

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I'm a freelance content creator, author, and journalist who has a strong desire to share interesting content about Irish people and things about Ireland at home and abroad. I am constantly curious.

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