Sunday 22 January 2017

The story so far... breathing new life into the art of yarnspinning

Jane O'Faherty

Published 25/12/2015 | 00:30

Batt Burns, founder of the Sneem Storytelling Festival, became a professional storyteller 25 years ago and brought his craft to America.
Batt Burns, founder of the Sneem Storytelling Festival, became a professional storyteller 25 years ago and brought his craft to America.
Clare Muireann Murphy started telling tales professionally after years of writing her own stories.

Whether it's gossip with a good friend, a fireside epic or a simple bedtime story, swapping stories may not seem like a recipe for a sell-out event.

  • Go To

However, a well-told myth or legend has been elevated to an art form, with several performers now packing out theatres and venues across Ireland and further afield as they share their treasure trove of anecdotes.

No longer the preserve of seanchaí, storytelling has experienced a renaissance as all generations continue to yearn for a yarn.

Clare Muireann Murphy, an Irish-born storyteller based in London, turned to telling tales professionally after years of writing her own stories.

She has since regaled audiences in destinations as far-flung as Brazil, Oslo, London and Tenerife.

"I tell a wide variety of tales, from Samarian myths right up to historical stories from World War II," she said.

"I tell some original stories, but I love the old stories that have survived."

Clare's performances have won her praise from the critics. And she has helped to bring the art to a new generation, with most of her audience aged between 20 and 35 years.

However, the Dublin native credits an international group of taletellers who have emerged in the last few years with the renewed interest in storytelling.

"People don't seem to see it as an art form, but what's happened in the past 20 years is that storytellers are playing to 20,000 people and playing huge theatres and venues," she told the Irish Independent.

"[Storytelling] is the currency of human contact," she added.

"The best stand-up comedians are the ones who are storytellers, like Tommy Tiernan and Billy Connolly."

Clare also pointed out that in cultures across the world "all education was done through storytelling".

Batt Burns, founder of the Sneem Storytelling Festival, says the November event has been gaining momentum since its inception.

"This was the first year that the local hotel has been booked out for the weekend," he said.

Batt was a teacher in Kerry for many years, but became a professional storyteller 25 years ago and brought his craft to America.

Batt told the Irish Independent that Sneem's festival "began with the fact that we had lost a great tradition in Ireland".

But Jack Lynch, chair of the Storytellers of Ireland, believes that the age-old entertainment never really went away.

"I couldn't really say it was a revival, because storytelling never really died in Ireland the way it did in places like Poland or Germany," he said.

Jack founded the popular group Dublin Yarnspinners, which has spawned an increased demand for storytelling sessions across the capital.

"If you try to explain storytelling evenings to someone, they might not understand it," he added. "When they come to a storytelling session, it's obvious.

"It's conversational. It's universal. It's not a text - it's not learned off."

While adult audiences are rediscovering stories, many still believe that stories will continue be embraced by children.

Elaina Ryan, director of Children's Books Ireland, has been working to promote storytelling among young Irish students through the 'Once Upon A Place' project.

Alongside bestselling author and Ireland's Laureate na nÓg, Eoin Colfer, Children's Book Ireland has organised numerous events across the country to promote storytelling among children.

The events brought busloads of writers to lighthouses, castles and schools across the country, where they told stories to schoolchildren from all over Ireland.

"At some of the events, there were 30 kids. Then we had 300 kids on a steam train through Dublin," Elaina said, adding that the children would often tell their own stories to the writers.

"The oral tradition has been so strong in Ireland," she said. "As Irish people, it's something we do every day. We love a good story, but children don't always connect with them."

The initiative, which involves outreach projects and community groups, is set to continue into 2016, with events in Cork, Sligo and Belfast in the spring.

Irish Independent

Read More

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News