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A year in the life of an Irish storyteller

A year in the life of an Irish storyteller

I am sitting here in the Arizona sunshine quietly thinking about the past year. I started 2010 with a week at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre where it was very snowy but that did not detract from my time there. I wrote a lot of my teenage novel, did my accounts, read, rested, listened to music and got myself into a very good mood for the year ahead.

As January went on I started work in schools, including a marvelous residency with children from three local primary schools, one Protestant school and two Catholic schools, developing their shared storytelling skills. We ended with a  celebration event for parents and other family members. I told stories to older people at the Belfast Synagogue and then travelled to Yorkshire as guest teller at the wonderfully named Shaggy Dog storytelling club in Hebden Bridge. I stayed with Christine McMahon and her husband Peter and met lots of old friends.

In February I did a lot of training sessions with parents in Donegal, sponsored by the Health Promotion Service. I also spoke to a group of retired police officers, worked with parents in several Belfast  schools and started tutoring on the “Our Story, Our Peace” programme at the Rural College in Draperstown.

March is always very busy for Irish storytellers with World Book Day being in the first week and St Patrick’s Day on 17th. As well as telling stories at local primary and secondary schools I travelled to England one weekend to do sessions in a South Downs College in Hampshire and then to Hammersmith in London for the “Around the Fire” storytelling festival organised by the wonderful Kate Corkery. The highlight of this was an impromptu hour I spend with older Irish women who had lived in London most of their lives – what stories they had to tell!

From London I flew to Edinburgh for an Irish/Scottish storytelling conference at the Scottish Storytelling Centre and the finale of this visit was a session called “Women of Ireland” which I shared with Clare Murphy and Nuala Hayes.

Coming home from this I had four days outdoors working for the Woodland Trust with children planting trees and then listening to stories about the environment. I loved that as I had a spot beside a stream and the weather was fairly kind though it is the first time I wore Wellington boots to tell stories.

Snow hit hard at the end of March and I was glad to fly off to Colorado where they know how to deal with it. I had my annual week as a participant at the Conference on World Affairs which I describe as the best week in my year. ( ) and then flew on to San Diego to teach a storytelling class at the University of San Diego. Boulder, Colorado, and San Diego are my favourite two places in the United States and I love going to each of them. I flew on to San Francisco where I did a workshop called “Shortening the Road: storytelling and conflict resolution” and then repeated that in Phoenix,Arizona at South Mountain Community College.

Next it was on to upstate New York where I was a featured teller at the Riverway Storytelling Festival with Donald Davis, Willy Claflin and Charlotte Black Alston – what a great bunch!        It was a tough being away from home for three weeks but I loved it all.

Then it was May and I had more storytelling training sessions in Donegal.

As May went on I had lots more work, from Donegal to Down and all places in between. I had a wonderful group of students from Middle Tennessee State University with Jetta Halliday ,Kim Neal Nofsinger and Carol Ponder.

 They arrived to stay at the barn for a week and they performed their storytelling, music and dance  show “Appalachian Roots” in local schools and gave us a special preview. They really shook up Joe’s with their wonderful singing, dancing and general joie de vivre. My friends Carol and Mike from San Diego and Arizona were also visiting so we went horse riding and life was great.

In June I went to Athlone for the Three Rivers Storytelling Festival where I met German storyteller Suse Weisse and also Melissa Baker who had her wonderful storytelling caravan. Old friend Liz Warren was there with her Study Abroad students from Arizona.

I then went to Glasgow to do workshops on storytelling and conflict resolution as part of a sympoisum on the theme of “Stories for Health”.

The whole week was challenging as we discussed difficult topics but I got to hear some great speakers including Nancy Mellon whose work I have long admired.. The highlight for me was my group of teenagers from a deprived area near Glasgow who created their own story and shared it in front of the whole conference, telling in speech and sign language as one was profoundly deaf.  

Our regular Saturday night sessions of music and stories at the barn gained in popularity as summer approached and my new barnminder, Sarah Petrak, arrived from Colorado. She is a wonderful young woman I had met in Boulder and who was waiting to be called for service with the Peace Corps. She is now in Samoa. To celebrate her birthday she and I and my friend Kay Butler from Dublin went to stay overnight at the Manor House on Rathlin Island and had a lovely couple of sunny days looking at puffins and seals.

June turned to July and work eased off a bit as I was trying to do some writing. The barn was pretty busy so I needed to help with that as well. Just the day before I was due to fly to Newfoundland to speak at the Canadian Storytelling Conference I fell and hit my head which caused me to go to hospital and made me worry about concussion and memory loss. I got over it with  a trip to the ER and just an egg shaped bump so I was happy that I was able to fly.

I really enjoyed the island and its people and was reunited with another old friend, Norma Cameron, who is Scottish but lives on Vancouver Island. I have many memories of that wonderful conference.

August brought the Heart of the Glens Festival at which I hosted an inter-cultural storytelling event with a Nigerian, a Jamaican and a Polish teller. It was something very different for such an Irish village! The whole week went very well and the barn was very busy. It is a wonderful event

We held an art exhibition of paintings by Bertie Pennie and woodcraft by local musician Martin O’Kane in the studio with lots of visitors for that and good coverage in the local papers.

I travelled to Cape Clear Island for the annual international storytelling festival and we had a terrific line-up. I drove down with my good friend singer Rosemary Woods and it was wonderful to be there again. Great telling with Suse Weisse, Pat Speight, Charlotte Blake Alston, and David Campbell. I stayed with friends Chuck and Nell Kruger and we had a great weekend. Next year we have so far confirmed David Holt, Sheila Stewart, Graham Langley and Kate Corkery – another event not to be missed!

I drove home after Cape and had a few days to write and think and prepare for the usual very busy autumn of storytelling. I had even to plan for my 60th birthday celebrations which would stretch to the end of the year with a trip to Arizona for Christmas.

September was busy with visits to schools all over Ireland and then a trip to New York City sponsored by Tourism Ireland. It was an unpaid week of hard work but one where I had fun and got some“spiritual enlightenment”. I was with a great bunch of people in Grand Central Station including singer songwriters Ben Glover and Anthony Toner, singer Peter Corry and music groups Kintra and McPeake and it was a pleasure and an honour to promote Northern Ireland.!/Our-Marketing-Overseas/Experience-Northern-Ireland,-Titanic-and-More—Ne.aspx

I also got to hang out with Laura Simms with whom I have shared past adventures in Canada, Israel and of course Ireland and the States.

And then October came. It has always been my favourite month! Lots and lots of school sessions, library visits, a conference for childminders.

The pre-birthdayweekend was fabulous with over 60 friends calling in or staying over – my German godson Bernhard came with his wife Christine and wee girl Fiona and it was a very special time with stories , music and laughter!

My daughter Clare and I then flew to Spain for the actual birthday and we lay on the beach in Malaga and watched flamenco dancing and a German Shepherd Dog show in Seville, acted as tourists and did not fight too much!

Once back it was Halloween with way too many ghost story sessions which did however help my bank balance. November saw a full storytelling calendar with highlights being a residency in an Irish speaking school in Dundalk that stretched into December and now due to snow into February. I met Spanish journalists, talked to nursery school parents and then had a marvellous week with Story Spark at the Ark in Dublin.

 We had the Storytellers of Ireland Annual meeting where there was a mass of storytellers – I have always wondered about the collective term – maybe a “declamation” of storytellers? .Then came December which started badly with lots of lost work (and money) due to snow.  I flew to Germany where I stayed with Feli,   my friend of nearly 45 years and had the honour of taking a  90 minute English lesson in her Hauptschule with her teenage pupils who came from many lands. It was a wonderful experience. We went to a Christmas market in Bielefeld and enjoyed the easy company of old friends.

I got snowbound for an extra night on the way home and then a week later it was on to sunny Arizona for another round of wonderful friendship with Liz Warren and Mark Goldstein. I am blessed to have so many good friends.

And here I am on St Stephen’s Day looking at the Arizona sunshine and getting ready for an evening of storytelling and music before the last day of my trip. More news to follow after that as we ease back to the snow and get ready for my annual New Year’s Eve open house at Ballyeamon Barn.

I have had some wonderful barnminders during the year and I would love to send my thanks to all of them but especially to my intern Sara Williams who has just returned to the States after three months with me. And also thanks of course to all the guests who have stayed or just visited for our sessions.

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Comment by Liz Weir on January 13, 2011 at 11:50am
I do hope you will be able to come and visit! Thanks for  writing -it is a very small word sometimes!
Comment by Christi U. on January 13, 2011 at 10:27am

Wow. Our worlds are so small, sometimes.


   My day job is at the Middle Tennessee State University and I know Jette. When I was an undergraduate, she was my teacher in the theatre dept. As an adult,  I've been a part of her storytelling guild, the Borotellers off and on, for a couple of years. Since December, I've been working with a group closer to Nashville called Explorastory, but Jette & I are still in touch.

   I also met Carol when I was in school, taking a Folklore class under the tutelage of Dr. Charles Wolf, may he rest in peace. After she performed in our classroom, I followed her gigs, acquiring a CD here and there. When I got married in 2010, she gave me helpful hints on how to write wedding vows and sent her love via Facebook.

  To top it all off, I was raised in southern East Tennessee, in the valley of the Appalachia. I consider the region to be in my blood intimately, which is why Jack Tales tend to sneak into my repertoire more often than I'm consciously planning.

   My husband David, whose grandparents immigrated from Ireland decades ago, and I would love to see Ireland one day, but I don't believe it will be in our traveling budget for another year or so. Maybe I'll get to meet you in person, when we do.



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