Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Western Ireland: Preserving Cultural Practices

Sarah Seaberg

Seaberg IrelandThis photo was taken during a previous visit to Inishbofin for research with Sarah's advisor. It is representative of the landscape of the region, and show the ‘pristine’ nature of the environment there.

The interactions that occur between humans and their environment are an integral aspect of the development of cultural systems in society. In the case of rural communities in Ireland, cultural development has been integrally linked to the local environment and resources that it contains. This project explores the use of traditional knowledge regarding the use of natural resources in Co. Galway, Ireland (Inishbofin, Inishturk, and Conamara). T

hrough ethnographic research in the form of individual interviews, I will analyze how natural resources have been integrated into the culture of rural life and if that culture is sustainable in contemporary livelihoods. Through the creation of a documentary, I aim to preserve forms of folk knowledge, both in terms of the practical application of natural resources, through analysis of the cultural practices that have resulted from local environmental knowledge. The prevalence of nature imagery in Irish folklore reveals an early comprehension in Irish communities of the “environmental understanding necessary for survival” that prevailed in society. The use of natural resources, whether they be floral or faunal, has been a common theme in Irish folklore; the integration of landscape into cultural myths and beliefs is a significant aspect of cultural heritage.

This project aims to thus preserve this cultural heritage through documenting individual knowledge regarding the role of nature in folklore (‘sacred plants’ in Irish folklore) and the traditional ecological practices used in their lives (medicinal uses of certain plants, creation of fishing gear using certain natural resources, etc.). Through the reconstruction of cultural knowledge, I will contribute to both my own research endeavors and the preservation of knowledge to be shared with local Irish communities.