A long storytelling tradition…

Ogham Stone at Derrynane. Copyright Eileen Henderson

The rugged Iveragh Peninsula has been home to the storytelling tradition ever since the first Celts set foot on its scenic shore in the first millennium BC. Over the centuries the Seanachaí (storyteller) enjoyed a privileged status in the stately homes of kings and chiefs; he also entertained his neighbours and friends around a blazing peat fire on winter nights in his own humble abode as he recounted gripping tales of Ancient Ireland in the richest Gaelic.

From Sneem, all the way west to the strong Irish speaking areas of Portmagee and Ballinskelligs and around to Glenbeigh and Glencar, this marvellous tradition of storytelling was woven into the fabric of life: it was this entertainment which provided an escape from the many hardships and travails which people had to endure.

Numerous place names in Iveragh – Bealach Oisin, Lough Brin – bear testimony to the many tales of The Fianna, a legendary band of warriors of the third century AD; in the 19th century colourful tales of The Liberator, Daniel O’Connell of Derrynane, formed a great part of the repertoire of the local Seanachaí.  Who was more steeped in the folklore and storytelling tradition than the great Caherdaniel poet and contemporary of The Liberator, Tomas Rua O’Suilleabain? In the latter part of this century, Sneem Seanachaí, Sean Crochan O’Broin, was a well-known reciter of Irish stories and verse at local fairs and patterns.

The great Sean O’Conaill of Cill Rialaig, who in the late 1930’s provided the legendary folklore collector, Seamus Delargy, with enough material for a book of stories, must rank as one of Ireland’s best storytellers.

It was the vision of men like Seamus O Delargy who ensured that a large quantity of stories and folklore from Iveragh was collected. Great collectors like Tadhg O’ Murchu, who traversed the highways and byways of Uibh Rathach, including Sneem, with his cumbersome Edison recording machine, ensured that this vital part of our heritage was preserved for posterity.

Tribute must be paid to The Irish Folklore Commission and its dedicated staff, currently headed by Ríonach uí Ógáin, for the wonderful  work accomplished over the past seventy five years.

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