Thursday 24 January 2019

Fired up storyteller

Growing up in France, Baya Salmon-Hawk was surrounded by wonderful tales. Having moved here last year, she has found a new home amid a story-loving people, writes David Looby

Baya Salmon-Hawke
Baya Salmon-Hawke

Baya Salmon-Hawk is a born storyteller who who has found peace and a renewed love of her craft in New Ross.

Originally from Marseilles she has lived in Scotland, London and across the UK where she worked in theatre for 40 years and trained to be a qualified psychotherapist.

Baya was busy doing storytelling workshops when Brexit happened.

'Suddenly I felt the need to leave the UK and it turned out that I was bloody right with what was happening over there.'

Married to an Englishwoman, Audrey Evelyn, they decided to move to New Ross where Audrey has family, settling in Weatherstown, Glenmore. 'It's strange, but I'm not actually French anymore. I felt a connection with New Ross. I tried not to be English but when you do that you end up being even more English.'

Baya was one of hundreds of thousands of immigrants to the UK in the 1970s whose paperwork was lost.

'When I was looking for a permanent residents permit the Home Office rejected my application even though I had a birth cert for my son from an English hospital. It's frightening because they are doing this to millions of people's lives. Two years ago I said I had enough. I'm here ten months now and I've never looked back.'

Speaking of her love of storytelling, Baya said it was passed down by her great-grandmother and grandmother who were great storytellers. 'My grandmother would tell me how they got oranges for Christmas presents only because she had an uncle living in Mexico.'

'I come from a very, very poor background so they made up family stories. I grew up hearing legends about my family.'

Baya was self taught, learning the Greek, Roman mythologies. 'I am lucky. when I was a child I went to drama school. Then you get married and you have to be reasonable.'

Baya, 62, worked as a storyteller in England and is a content writer, working collaboratively with businesses.

She was visiting the New Ross area last April when she saw a post from Hook Lightouse looking for a fireside storyteller. 'I messaged Ann Waters at the lighthouse and she asked if I would meet her for coffee.'

Baya did three performances for last year's Bealtaine festival and she quickly rediscovered her love of storytelling. 'I am pan Celtic. I have a passion for Arthurian legend stories and for the Celts. Suddenly I realised that Irish people love storytelling.'

Baya said: 'I think stories are for everybody. I don't tend to tell Irish stories because they all have a message in them.'

Over the bank holiday weekend Baya told the story of Tristan and Isolde at Loftus Hall's Festival of Fire. She also lead an incantation at Hook Lighthouse during a memorial service for the many lives lost at sea off the coast.

This follows readings at venues across the region, including at the Kennedy Boutique Hotel in New Ross where she recalled the lives of some of the great New Ross women down through the ages for International Women's Day.

Ably assisted by Myles Courtney of New Ross Street Focus, Baya said: 'That is what I love about this country. People love to help you and don't say: "I'm not talking to yuou because you are not one of mine".'

She told the story of Isobel de Clare and her mother Aoife MacMurrough and of the women of the Maiden Gate, Mary Halsey who fought in the 1798 Rebellion in New Ross, Margaret Roche who lived in Rosbercon Castle. 'The women of New Ross are something else. Out of all of the disaster they werre always there for the men. I don't know where the children were, but women were there helping to load muskets and got stuck in. I am a feminist. In this country women are amazing and feminism is so strong. They all have their own opinions but are not anti-men. They are really have that spirit of resistence. In England there is a real sense of resignation among women.'

Baya is doing a dinner with the Kennedy's event later this month at the Kennedy Boutique Hotel and has a gig coming up at Kilmokea Gardens. Baya personalises her stories, sometimes telling them from the viewpoint of a servant. 'Sometimes I will be speaking about Isobel de Clare and I will tell it as if I was her. The old stories were there to teach people. That is why I don't tell so many Irish stories. You have to make the story releveant to people.

'I have made a career out of this because there is so much demand. The Ireland's Ancient East is a great idea. Brexit is the best thing that ever happened to me because otherwise I would have stayed put in the UK. Here I've started life again.'

Describing County Wexford as cosmopolitan, she loves the way people embrace other cultures, be they people from Eastern Europe or Africa. 'I do not want to live in a country that is not in Europe and is anti-European. Unless we have our national identities that does man we can't live with other people. You can't go backwards.'

She said business is good. 'There is a French Tv crew coming over to do a documentary about magical Ireland and she is coming to the Hook.'

Baya will be telling the story of the Witch of Kilkenny, a woman with four very wealthy husbands who all mysteriously died. 'She is believed to have fled Ireland through New Ross port. I will be researching this and then I have a storytelling session about early Christian legends in St Mullins.'

Baya has no intention of slowing down, saying the rich history of the South East will provide plenty of raw material for countless stories over the coming years.

New Ross Standard