Friday 21 July 2017

Celebrating the Irish tradition of storytelling

Once upon a time... Storyteller Batt Burns reads to his granddaughters Aisling and Laoise. Dominick Walsh
Once upon a time... Storyteller Batt Burns reads to his granddaughters Aisling and Laoise. Dominick Walsh

By Sophie Gorman, Arts Editor

'I don't think you need to have been born into storytelling or need to be a natural actor. I think most people can learn how to tell a good story," so says Batt Burns, eminent seanchai and chairman of the Sneem Storytelling Festival, which takes place in the south Kerry town this weekend.

Sneem has a rich storytelling heritage. For much of his childhood, Batt Burns lived a few miles outside Sneem with his grandfather in a "rambling house where every Sunday night local musicians, yarnspinners, singers and dancers would be invited to come along for an evening of fun and entertainment".

"My grandfather was a traditional farmer, but he had the gift of storytelling. He was a product of the old seanchai tradition of the Iveragh peninsula here in Kerry, and growing up with him sparked an interest in it myself."

"There was quite the community of storytellers when I was growing up. The art was alive, more so in the pubs, short humorous tales told over a pint. My dad was the village butcher and he had a man who would come in to help him out with work who was one of the best story tellers that I had ever known, even better than my grandfather. The gift that he had was that he wasn't regurgitating old stories, he was able to compose on the spot, a tremendous gift for a man who wasn't able to read or write."

Batt's own storytelling happened almost by accident. In his teens, he would go to parties but didn't sing or dance or play the spoons. So he began telling traditional stories. And Batt has a softly lilting Kerry brogue that seems made for stories.

"I remember a piece by Brendan Kennelly comparing storytelling to a blackbird singing his song in springtime. He, the blackbird, puts so much effort into his song that he ends up becoming the song, and the storyteller puts everything into the story that they and the whole room disappear into the story."

Formore information on the events this weekend, go to sneemstorytellingfestival.com

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment