The Challenge for Day 29
The challenge for today is “Write about anything you know well that you don’t have to research.” A free reign, I like that idea. The topic I’ve chosen is storytelling because it’s something I’m passionate about for many different reasons.
Storytelling has always been part of human culture. I like to imagine a group of early cave dwellers, sitting around a crackling fire, sharing stories with others. Maybe a small family group, the grandmother passing on stories of their ancestors and how they came to live in that particular place. The father recounting the day he landed his biggest fish ever and how he managed such a feat. Maybe the children get restless and their mother scolds them with tales of what happens to naughty bear cubs when they stray from their lair. Tales she herself heard as a child, now weaving their way into future generations.
Ireland has a strong tradition of storytelling, dating back thousands of years. from ancient poets ( filí ) through to wandering storytellers ( seanchaí ). These were the people entrusted with carrying on the folklore, myths and legends of the past. Tales of those like Fionn mac Cumhaill, a mythical warrior-hunter, or Queen Maeve of Connacht, who was said to have had five husbands. There were also stories of real-life characters, like King Brian Boru, a legend in his own lifetime.
But what about every day Ireland? The seanchaí could not be everywhere at once, so people built up their own storytelling traditions. Sometimes they retold the ancient legends, but often they were stories of a more recent, shared history. Like heart-wrenching stories of Famine times, American wakes or soldiers lost in battle. All told around the kitchen table, by candle or oil light, almost like a memoriam.
Sometimes they might sing songs, like ” Follow me up to Carlow”, celebrating Fiach MacHugh’s defeat of 3,000 English soldiers in the 16th century. I remember the first time I heard the Planxty version of the song, back in my college days. It gave me goosebumps.
We all have our family stories to share, don’t we? Sometimes we underestimate their importance. They can help us to understand who we are and how we fit into the world, thus grounding us.
I remember the stories each of my grandmothers told me.
My German granny was never one to hold back and I learned so much from her. She lived through two world wars and grieved the loss of humanity involved. There were personal stories too, like her fiance dying in the First World War. She was a tough cookie, but she had no choice.
From my Irish Granny, I heard stories of the desolate poverty of a woman widowed with five children, all under the age of ten. This at a time when there was no widow’s pension in Ireland. Another tough cookie. Maybe there’s a pattern here?
I salute both of these women, they are part of who I am.
One thing I’ve learned from my years involved in teaching, not to mention raising three amazing humans myself, is that children love stories. They don’t care if it’s real or makebelieve, their eyes light up just the same. It stirs their imagination, makes the ordinary magical, enables them to connect with other people, other worlds.
One of my favourite things to do with my Infant Class was News Time. They’d share their own stories, the things that mattered, like maybe they got a new goldfish. Then I’d share my news too, something equally mundane, perhaps how much trouble I’d had picking out my new shoes.
There would be absolute silence in the room, I could have been describing a secret encounter with the Tooth Fairy. I still can’t really explain it, but there’s a lesson in there for all of us.
Tell the stories, they matter more than you realize.
Day 29 of My 500 Words 31 Day Challenge, hosted by Jeff Goins…Storytelling. keeping with the Ireland theme.
The photograph is my own, shot near Spiddal, Co. Galway. See on Flickr.