Bridie Mulloy began collecting folklore, as a school teacher but her love if it began long before, perhaps as a child. She grew up in rural Sligo. As she recalls later on in life in her 1991 book Itchy Feet & Thirsty Work: A Guide to the History & Folklore of Ballinrobe, her early images of the Seanachai James Flynn;
Everybody listened, captivated no matter how far-fetched the stories were indeed the more far-fetched the better they went down. He’d sit on his favorite kitchen chair, shoulders hunched gazing into the glowing coals as if her was drawing inspiration from them. Though he seldom raised his voice above conversation level, he spoke with the same conviction as if he was following his characters, enjoying their adventures, reveling in their feasting and fearful disasters. So night after night the stories rolled our of fairy hijacking to Greece and Turkey, changeling children and magical music which lured inspection mortals into all kinds of trouble.
These early memories perhaps left a lasting impression on Bridie Mulloy, inspiring her to search for stories herself. She not only listened to his tales but studied the storyteller himself.
He would sit at the butt of a cock of hay chewing a trawneen (piece of straw) and enjoying the heat of the sun. In this leisurely wait e studied the gap in the mountains over which the fairy horse would leap, that night in his story. The ring fort would inspire tales of abduction where mortals were forced to join the fairy revels. A stone field in the distance was the scene of mighty battles between long dead men and intruders who came to disturb their peace. He accepted help from neighbors if work got a bit behind hand, while he dreamed up his stories. He knew they liked to do so and that they’d be in at night to enjoy his flights of fancy and the currant bread and tea which his wife and family would provide.
This early brush with a man who not only spoke in narrative, but shaped his stories by the flora and fauna, the landscape and its moods, must have prompted her to search for the ‘magic’ essence that made the storyteller a master of his art. As a result Bridie made her way around the counties of Sligo, Mayo and Waterford collecting local folklore during the thirties and forties. The fruits of her labour are contained in 21 manuscripts in the Irish Folklore Department in University College, Dublin. In her pursuit of the folktales and lore of days gone by she arrived on Achill in the forties when the last of the older generation were around to pass on their knowledge to the younger woman.
Destiny played her part too because Bridie Gunning would meet her future husband Tony Mulloy and her path would cross with that of the now elderly Emily Weddall.