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What's the Story?

storyteller A common greeting on the streets of Ireland is, "Hey bud, what's the story?" Because there is always a story, especially with the Irish. The lilting dialect, the twinkling eyes, the perfectly-timed humor all combine to create an intangible quality in the storytelling that keeps listeners entranced. One of the more famous recent Irish storytellers, or seanchaí (and Irish Gaelic word pronounced shawn-shee) as they have been known from ancient Celtic times, was Eamon Kelly. He was very well-known throughout the world for his soft humor and sharp wit that entertained and educated his listeners without fail. Today the art of seanchaí is still cultivated in Ireland. In the age of the instant digital written word, there is something perhaps more intriguing than ever about gathering around a single storyteller to hear a tale that unites us in history, humor and humanity. Thousands of years ago, seanchaí were a vital key to preserving the history of the Celtic people. Very few of the population could read or write so the important stories of their history were entrusted to these traveling storytellers to spread throughout the countryside. Seanchaí were nurtured by the culture and supported by the people whom they visited. They roamed the nation telling the same stories again and again until they were thoroughly woven into the memories and souls of the Irish people. The Battle of Kinsale in 1601 is considered the official end of the seanchaí era as Irish life changed dramatically when they were conquered by the British. The patrons of the seanchaí were largely displaced and destitute. Somehow, however, the stories remained and survived. Today there are storytelling contests in Ireland that seek to reward the best modern seanchaí. There are also centers throughout the country that are dedicated to preserving the art of the written and spoken word. One, in County Kerry, is called The Seanchaí-Kerry Writers' Museum and it hosts tours of storytelling artifacts and history, contests for young and old, and events to entertain listeners of all ages. The seanchaí tell important stories and are themselves an important story. And as Eamon Kelly said, "The man without a story to tell was about as welcome as a drop of holy water in the Devil’s whiskey”.
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