Ghostly fetches and dialect features

November 7, 2013

This should have gone out at Halloween, but anyway. Based on my regard for Daniel Woodrell I was given a copy of The Cove by Ron Rash, and the recommendation was fully justified: the story is engrossing and poetic, lingering in memory. Set in rural North Carolina, it’s also rich in local dialect, and contains an unusual sense of the word fetch:

There were stories of hunters who’d come into the cove and never been seen again, a place where ghosts and fetches wandered.

I had to look it up to remember it. The American Heritage Dictionary says it’s a ghost, apparition, or doppelgänger, calling it chiefly British, while the OED defines it more narrowly as “the apparition, double, or wraith of a living person”. Its etymology is uncertain, though it may derive from the older compound fetch-life, which referred to a messenger that came to fetch a dying person’s soul.

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Folktale diffusion and ethnolinguistic variation

February 6, 2013

I’ve been stop-starting my way happily through Celtic Fairy Tales and More Celtic Fairy Tales, two late-19thC collections by the great Australian folklorist Joseph Jacobs, combined in a plump Senate paperback and handsomely illustrated by John D. Batten:

Celtic Fairy Tales, ed. by Joseph Jacobs, illustrated by John D Batten

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The Banshee Lives in the Handball Alley

December 29, 2010

The Banshee Lives in the Handball Alley is a collection of stories, superstitions and folklore (traditional and contemporary) told by children from three primary schools in Limerick city, Ireland. The stories were recorded and produced by Irish artists Michael Fortune and Aileen Lambert in 2004 and 2005.

The Banshee… has been described as “a celebration of the storyteller”, and – children being the best storytellers – it’s a lot of fun to watch or listen to. It was first screened in the infamous handball alley itself; you can see photos, along with more information about the project, at Fortune’s Folklore Collections website and at

The video below is an excerpt from the film. I can’t pick a favourite moment, but I do love the debate about whether stepping on a crack will break your mother’s back, and the description of how the headless horseman (who apparently lived in Moyross) might have become headless: “he probably lost his head off a branch or something”.



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