I had an excellent group of students this summer in the Irish Storytelling Tradition. Their final papers revealed the breadth and depth of what they learned about storytelling in general and Irish storytelling in particular. Here are some excerpts from each of them:
Diana Lucente: I learned that seanchais are often folks otherwise thought to be uneducated and illiterate, but who are truly among some of the most intelligent and insightful and verbally talented individuals. They are incredible artists when it comes to the spoken word- for example, a turn of phrase, a description, or having a story for every occasion. Those who appreciate these masters of the oral tradition, such as storyteller Eddie Lenihan, are trying keep their stories and wisdom alive by listening, recording, and disseminating them to the public and attempting to preserve them for posterity. Otherwise, these tales will be lost when their tellers pass away and our culture will be worse off for it.
Ernestina Montoya: One of the most important things I think I learned from this class is appreciation – having appreciation for where the stories came from and the culture they bring. Being able to have appreciation for the rich and unfamiliar practice and ways of the Irish people is important. When you have the appreciation you're able to have the skill to just listen and imagine.
Jamie Brewer: I learned that fairies and fey creatures exist as a product of the people telling the stories about them, shaped by their fears, hopes and beliefs. I was comparing them to ghost stories as a way of saying that they were ways to explain the unknown. I think, hearing that the fairies were derived from the Tuatha de Danann, that I was expecting direct parallels between them. But successive generations of Catholicism, poverty, superstition and to some degree demonization changed it to something altogether different. The host at the storytelling dinner I attended in Dublin explained it better though: it was the way by which people with very little control over their world were able to cope with it, and feel like they could get some control back.
Haley Maffia: I learned that the place where you tell your story really helps your performance and helps you get more comfortable. Your comfort is key because the more comfortable you are, the better your story will sound. I told a story in a pub and I personally think I did a better job there than in a classroom. I also noticed that I get very connected to my stories mainly because I am in Ireland and something about being on the soil and knowing the stories originated here makes me fall in love with them. Hopefully I can do the stories a justice when I am back home in Arizona. I also realized I like to be seated when telling a story because I am more relaxed that way.
Steve DesMarais: The world needs more people to spread this tradition to ensure that new media doesn’t kill it. Such a rich tradition is still vibrant and well here in Ireland, although it isn’t as common as it once was. I fear that this tradition might become something that’s not as important to the children as new video games, and as television spreads to get their attention in new and exciting ways. While we should definitely enjoy these new fun things and continue to progress, it’s important that we don’t forget what has already been done. This way we don’t need to repeat and waste time when new and greater things can be inspired from the old materials of the past.
Zach McKenzie: I liked reading about how much a storyteller was valued back before electronic devices. Some of the articles we’ve been reading give accounts of people filling rooms to the brim just to hear one story. I liked learning that bards and storytellers would be greeted and showed such hospitality. I also liked that in that same article there was a storyteller who would tell serials each day he was there. I also learned that places are very important to storytelling. In almost all of the stories there is always a real setting in Ireland that corresponds to the story. Like in my second story I told it was set between Galway and Dublin. The Children of Lir is set in multiple places in Ireland. It helps to give the audience a place that they might have passed just that day to help immerse them in the story.
Bayliann Livengood: History has always been one of my weakest subjects. I find it boring and worthless. Yet, somehow, over the course of these last few weeks, I have learned a surprising amount of history through the stories I’ve heard, read, and told. Yes, most of it is fiction, or legends, but it’s still history, because it’s part of the land. It’s part of the people. I’ve never had a connection with a place that has historical relevance. I’ve been to Normandy, I’ve been to Pearl Harbor, but I’ve never felt a connection with those places like I do when I see a fairy tree, or another place that I read a story about. That makes it history in my eyes. Storytelling has been a tradition for a very long time, which also makes it history, but today’s world is changing fast, and with it, old time traditions are changing too. Reading the profile about Eddie Lenihan opened my eyes to a whole world of people dedicated to preserving the stories that have been told for decades, but are at risk of being lost with the generation of people who were here before handheld technology. Thankfully, it’s people with that burning passion, like Eddie Lenihan, who we owe for saving so many stories already. Before this class, I never would’ve known who Eddie was, what he stood for (in some cases literally, as we read in the other article about him), or that what he does is so important to the storytelling tradition.
Keely Parrish: I now know three stories and one poem well enough to tell: Hudden and Dudden and Donald O’Neary, the Children of Lir, Fair Brown and Trembling, and the poem The Wind that Shakes the Barley. This to me is the most important things that I learned during this class. I can go home and share this with all of my family and all of my friends. These stories are things that I hope to keep with me for the rest of my life and improve upon as time goes on.
Wendy Townsend: I can competently tell stories and you can still tell stories even if you have stage fright. I was very anxious when I first heard that we would be required to tell stories to our classmates. I have always suffered from pretty severe stage fright, so I was worried I would not be able to be a good storyteller. When Liz Weir came and spoke to our class, the point that stuck out the most to me was when she said that she experiences stage fright, but she is a professional storyteller anyway. You can still do it even if you have stage fright; in fact, Liz assured us that it actually helps lessen your stage fright. I am not sure about that last point, but I certainly agree with the rest. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I am perfectly capable of telling a good story to an audience.
At the top of the post: Ernestina Montoya, Jamie Brewer, me, Diana Lucente and Karen Acuna. 2nd photo: Haley Maffia and me at Trim. 3rd photo: Zack McKenzie and Steve DesMarais and Megan and Edward's birthday party. Last photo: Bayliann Livengood, Keely Parrish, Barry Vaughan, Wendy Townsend, and Karen Acuna at the same party.