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Country Life in the Hills of Dublin

Fig 1: F:1951.137 animal brand belonging to Malachi Horan from the Irish Folklife Collection ©NMI

by Joanne Hamilton, Documentation Officer (Irish Folklife), National Museum of Ireland

Click into images at the bottom of the page​ for further information

I recently came across this object (see Fig. 1) in the stores which has a connection to two interesting characters: Malachi Horan and Dr George Little.

Malachi Horan, an urban countryman

When we think of country life in Ireland in the past, Dublin doesn’t tend to spring to mind immediately. The book Malachi Horan Remembers published in 1943 by Dr George A. Little, presents a different image.
The book recorded a series of conversations between Dr Little and Mr Horan, the latter a farmer living in the Killinarden Hill area of County Dublin (see Fig. 2). Horan was born in 1847 and died in 1945 and while his stomping ground would today be considered a suburb of Dublin city, at that time it was as rural as parts of the west of the country.

Horan describes his life through “colourful memories ….. in which he saw wakes, evictions, cockfights, famines, and Fenian activity” (Hourican, B., 2009). Ballads, poems and sayings were also recorded leading to an entertaining account that was seen as a valuable social history in later years.

Who was Dr George A. Little

Dr Little was a medical GP born in 1899 in Dublin. He was an active writer and historian. He was a member of the Royal Society of Antiquarians and a founding member and President of the Old Dublin Society. In addition to his interests in folklore and oral history, Little was also a keen collector of material culture some of which is now part of the Folklife Collection at the National Museum of Ireland.
Although the brand pictured (figure 1) was not collected directly by Dr. Little in 1951 like other objects we have in our collection, it was through the NMI’s ongoing association with Dr. Little that it was sourced.

How did the object become part of the Folklife Collection

The file for this object written by the Keeper of Folklife at the time, A.T. Lucas, outlines the circumstances in which the brand came into his possession. It states that while on fieldwork in the Killinarden area of Co. Dublin, Lucas, accompanied by Kevin Danaher of the Folklore Commission, visited the house occupied by the late Malachi Horan (June 7th 1951). The house was falling into ruin but they were able to salvage a set of 3 sheep brands one with the initials M.H. (Malachi Horan). These were brought to the house of Horan’s nephew, Patrick McNulty, where he granted permission for the object to be acquired by the Museum.

Owing to Dr Little’s ongoing relationship with the NMI, Lucas would have been well aware of the location of Malachi Horan’s homestead and his status as an “urban countryman”. Following the success of Horan’s memoir, Lucas would have known the value of having this object as part of the Folklife Collection.
Indeed Lucas says in a letter to Horan’s nephew Patrick McNulty:

“I am very glad indeed to have the sheep brands belonging to the late Malachi Horan, who was such a well known figure in the locality. Apart from the interest which they have from their association with such a prominent local figure they are very welcome too because we have surprisingly little material of any description from the county of Dublin in the Irish Folklife Collection”

This clearly outlines Lucas’s rationale for acquiring the sheep brands (see Fig. 3).

What do we know about this object

The object was used for marking farm animals, in this case sheep, for the purpose of identification. Each farmer would have had a unique brand with either a symbol or initials which was used for this purpose. Branding animals helped prevent them from being stolen or even confused with another farmer’s stock. It is likely that this object was used with some kind of coloured dye to make the mark.
The object is part of the reserve Irish Folklife Collection where it forms part of the Agriculture Collection in our stores (see Fig. 4).


Little, George A., and Malachi Horan. “Malachi Horan Remembers: Part I.” Dublin Historical Record, vol. 4, no. 3, 1942, pp. 109–20. JSTOR Accessed 20 Jul. 2022.
Hourican, B. (2009) Little, George Aloysius Dictionary of Irish Biography Available at Accessed 20 Jul.2022

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