“When a storyteller dies, we lose an entire library.”
These were the first words Ireland’s foremost storyteller, Eddie Lenihan, uttered in The Santuary at The Queen’s Bar on Saturday as part of the Fleadh Nua 2016 festivities.
The Fleadh Nua is an eight-day celebration of traditional culture and music. It features some of the best storytellers, musicians and dancing of the region.
My love for the written and spoken word brought us front and center for the hour long storytelling event in downtown Ennis.
Lenihan, who has been collecting traditional stories and lore from the older generation for thirty years, shared his favorite stories with a rapt crowd in a dimly lit bar.
‘The Other Crowd’, ‘The Good People’, ‘The Wee Folk’ and simply ‘Them’ are a few of the names given to the faeries by Ireland residents. Honoured for their gifts and feared for their wrath, faeries help teach and guide humans along their individual journeys.
Lenihan’s tales offered a glimpse into history, such as walking home in the dark on an island without electricity, while weaving in modern connections to hook the audience. They came alive with his motions, hand gestures and tone variations.
From the potato farmer locked in his pasture to the creation of the various types of faeries, Lenihan’s storytelling weaved a trance over the attendees of the event. One of the more powerful stories was the descriptions of “American Wakes.” These were “go away parties” for the Irish leaving to start anew in America. Why wakes? Everyone back home knew that they would never return. These wakes were their “funerals” on home turf — the final goodbye.
At the end, the event was over but Lenihan still had tales to tell. He allowed those who had to depart leave, and then he launched into the tale of how faeries were made. He prefaced his tale by saying, this one is the truth for there are several versions of it.
Wait? What? The truth has different versions?
According to Lenihan, the stories in books, scriptures or texts were written down and then recited without variations. It was one person’s vision. But the stories that allow for a bit of humour, embellishment or differences are the ones that are true. They are the ones that people connect with. It’s the difference between memorization . . . And feeling it in the heart.
For me, it was seeing a masterful speaker at work. He may not be the World Champion Toastmaster, but his passion for sharing stories and lore erupted from every word spoken. He had us all leaning forward in rapt fascination.
I believe a friend of mine said it best: “Writing isn’t about sharing the world. It’s how we explore it.”
Storytellers are still trying to figure out the world, define it and explain it. They are viewing how we are all connected and exposing the thread that weaves our lives together. They are what bind us to our communities. It’s our memories shared and our hearts exposed. It’s what connects us.
Tomorrow, next week or next month, I may not remember every detail about the tales I heard. What Lenihan taught me about stories in the brief session will help me build my own personal library filled with wonderful tales — and several versions of them.