The Dream of Eithlinn

A Myth and Legend Spectacular

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin
17-20 August 2016

When Aron and Sorcha Hegarty began their Irish myth and legend Candlelit Tales sessions at the Stag’s Head pub in Dublin nearly two years ago, the dozen or so people who turned up seemed to be mainly storytellers, confirmed story listeners and a few independent researchers in the field, curious to see how the stories might come to life off the page. With each more or less monthly session during the following year, the audience grew to full house, then standing room only, and now you need to join the queue early to be assured of a square foot of floor space. Why are the sessions so popular? The quality of the centuries-old stories is a given, but Aron and Sorcha started good and then got better and better.

The makeup of the audience seems to have changed since the beginning. At first, the interest was focused on those complex and inter-woven myths and legends that are often left out of contemporary Irish storytelling in favour of the simpler, family friendly fare of folk tales. The folk tales are good, but they tend to be localised international migratory stories that are common to many world cultures. It’s the native myths and legends that help to define a particular society. The folk tales show how all humans are the same. The legends show how every society is different. Sorcha and Aron were giving largely forgotten Irish legends back to the Irish people, and they resonated with the listeners.

Then came a change over the past year. Some people were coming to the sessions at least as much for the entertainment as for the content, and this was quite clear at the multi-arts production of The Dream of Eithlinn, fittingly at the 17th-century Smock Alley Theatre, which was founded at a time when there were still people living who had known Shakespeare. The Globe audiences were not students of English literature; they attended the plays for entertainment: for the tragic dramas, the raucous comedies, the politically daring histories, the rejuvenated myths and legends, the absurd clowning and the bawdy jokes and double-entendre puns.

The Dream of Eithlinn, about the mythological hero Lugh of the Long Hand – Lugh the Multi-talented – is a dazzling display of story, song, instrumental music and dance. Candlelit regulars were surprised to discover that Catríona Loughlin (filling in this summer for the absent Sorcha), who has proved to be a captivating storyteller, also has a bewitching singing voice. Maybe in future she’ll add a bit more harp accompaniment.

Aron’s intensity assures the audience’s attention, and his light asides keep the tension from getting too heavy. The dancing, headed by Aisling McCormick, was inventive and integrated smoothly with the narrative and enhanced it.

In my (apparently minority) opinion, instrumental music behind storytelling is nearly always counterproductive: it distracts from the story and too often obscures words. But the music in this show – mandolin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, fiddle, accordion, drums – was very much a necessary element.

Experienced teachers know that the classroom is a theatre, and the teacher is an actor whose job is first to entertain the students, and then to introduce curriculum subjects while the students still think they’re being entertained, before they realise they’re being educated. Something like this seems to be happening with Candlelit Tales

Bring your own seat cushion. The wooden benches get harder with each minute.

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County Folk Tales Storytelling Session

Four of us authors of county folk tales books published by The History Press Ireland will be telling stories from the books on Sunday, 17 April, 3-5 pm, at Books Upstairs on D’Olier Street in Dublin city centre:

Aideen McBride: Tipperary and Carlow
Brendan Nolan: Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford
Nuala Hayes: Laois
Richard Marsh: Meath

"We four @[100001972437402:2048:Nuala Hayes]   @[1013292987:2048:Aideen McBride] @[100000500783723:2048:Richard Marsh] and @[651924926:2048:Brendan Nolan] are all authors of titles in the county folk tales series.
On this Sunday April 17, 2016 we will tell some of these stories at Books Upstairs on D'Olier Street Dublin 2 from 3pm.
Admission €5 a skull.
It's an intimate venue and a full house is expected, get there early is the advice.
This may be the launch event of a world tour, details to be decided."

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Story from Devon, England

Two sisters from Dartmoor in Devon reminisce about granny’s Christmas cake disaster.

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MythFest 3-7 June 2015 – Trinity College Dublin

I went to all nine performances. Here are the highlights.
Click on photos to enlarge.

Odyssey Penelope on phoneHomer’s Odyssey
Penelope is leaving one of some 3000 voice messages to Odysseus asking when he is coming home. Blind Homer seated on right.

PiratesAhoy! Tales of Piracy
Henry Morgan, Anne Bonney, Granuaile, Black Bart and Captain Kidd tell their stories to decide who will replace Blackbeard as captain.

Unquiet HourThe Unquiet Hour: A Tale of Fairies
Too much talk, too little action, not much story, but salvageable with heavy editing, distilling 50 minutes into 15, or maybe 20 with the addition of humour. Some clever, poetic lines but only two laughs. One: “You are the most beautiful person in the world.” “How do you know?” “I checked.” The gold-clad actress has marvelous facial expressions.

Brown BullThe Brown Bull of Cooley
A slapstick Cliff’s Notes summary of the great Irish epic the Cattle Raid of Cooley. The rock guitar player on the left is the Brown Bull, the white-draped figure on the right is an impressive opera singer as the White-horned Bull. In the epic they fight and kill each other. Here they duel musically. Young kids loved it.

Tales from the ShadowlandsTales from the Shadowlands: Fairytales
One at a time, these four women sat in a chair in semi-darkness next to the screen and told a story with a book on their lap (why the book?), while the others manipulated shadow figures behind the screen. The Juniper Tree is on the screen here. The Happy Prince figure stands out against the white blouse on the left. The stories were The Red Shoes (Hans Christian Andersen), The Happy Prince (Oscar Wilde, but they changed the angels at the end of the story to fairies), The Juniper Tree (Grimm), and William the Curious, Knight of the Water Lilies (Charles Santore). The tellers were nearly invisible, giving precedence to the story. Simple, straightforward, cleverly done.

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Storytelling Workshop for Primary Teachers

Storytellers of Ireland present

The Magic Tool: How to Use Storytelling in the Curriculum
Department of Education Approved

The Teachers’ Club (Club na Múinteoirí), 36 Parnell Square West, Dublin 1, 6-10 July, 10 am – 3.30 pm, 90 euros

Two other storytellers and teachers, Aideen McBride and Catherine Brophy, and I will show you how to use the cheapest and most effective tool to enhance your teaching skills and your students’ learning ability to increase their performance across the education spectrum, while having fun. You will leave the workshop with a head full of stories and ideas, eager to share them with your students.

Contact Aideen: phone 085 16 05 028

For the results of decades of research into the effects of storytelling in the classroom, see my blog Storytelling in Education.

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Dublin Walking-storytelling Tour

Some of the stories are based on works of public art and who or what they represent — Oscar Wilde, Molly Malone, Éire with the harp, for example. We visit the Setanta Wall, shown at the top of this page, for stories about the great mythological hero Cúchulainn. Dublin’s newest sculpture, the Selfish Giant, by Lithuanian wood sculptor Sarunas Gimbutis, has pride of place in a new playground in Merrion Square behind the statue of Oscar Wilde, author of “The Selfish Giant”.

Finn’s Hotel, the fading sign still visible high on the side of the red-brick building that is no longer a hotel, was where James Joyce met his future wife, Nora Barnacle, and got the idea for Finnegans Wake.

One of our stops (if we can fit it in; the bank closes at 4.00) is the House of Lords in the old Parliament building, now the Bank of Ireland. The coat of arms of Derry on a tapestry depicting the Lifting of the Siege shows a seated skeleton, for which there is a grisly story.

The short video at the bottom of this post will give you a taste of the 1.5-hour tour. It was part of a proposed AudioTrip app that never materialised.

Derry coat of arms

Derry coat of arms

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

Sculptor Sarunas Gimbutis with the Selfish Giant in progress

Sculptor Sarunas Gimbutis with the Selfish Giant in progress

Finn's Hotel

Finn’s Hotel

Éire sculpture

Éire sculpture

Sample video
Tom Rowley, camera and sound

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Buile Shuibhne mural destroyed

Sweeney Astray, the mosaic mural at the Irish Life Centre on Abbey Street in Dublin, by Desmond Kinney, the same artist who made the Setanta Wall pictured above, was seriously damaged by a storm in February. When I saw it a few weeks ago, the damaged section was loosely and ineffectively covered by black plastic, but a large part was intact. Now the entire mural has been removed, with the approval of the artist and various experts, and the mosaic pieces will be donated to the National College of Art and Design for recycling. The artwork depicts the popular story called in Irish Suibhne Gealt (Mad Sweeney) or Buile Shuibhne (The Frenzy of Sweeney), about the king who was driven mad by the noise of the AD 637 Battle of Moira near Belfast and took to living in trees, believing he was a bird. Words are from Seamus Heaney’s 1983 poem “Sweeney Astray”.

I took these photos in 2005. The piece was too wide to get in one shot. Click to enlarge.





This text was on the wall around the corner from the mural. If the work is salvaged, the misspelling of “monastry” might be corrected.

Here is an article about the mural, with photos of the removal, in The Journal. You can see how much of the mural had remained intact.

Angela Bourke’s article in The Dublin Review describes the valley — Gleann na nGealt/Glannagalt — in County Kerry where Sweeney took refuge with other madmen.

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Storytelling at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

The show was recorded for Dublin Community Television (DCTV) in July 2013. We were told it would be broadcast some time in 2014. Here is a photo of all the tellers. Some of the performances are available here. Note that the names are wrong on Deirdre’s and Gráinne’s videos.

Details at

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Wicklow Heritage

New website about my favourite county — Our Wicklow Heritage. I have a story on the site under Places: Saint Bridget’s Head Stone.

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Dangers of Storytelling

A great giant came to Tara from a foreign land and demanded tribute or a fight with a hundred men from third-century high king Cormac mac Airt. He got three fights and killed three hundred of Cormac’s warriors. Cormac called on Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Fianna. The giant killed a hundred of the Fianna. Fionn asked Goll mac Morna if he would care to take on the giant in exchange for a third part of the spoils and a bonus, and Goll agreed. They fought all day, and when they stopped at nightfall, Fionn came to the giant in the guise of a storyteller and offered to tell him stories with the condition that he would not fall asleep while he was telling. The giant agreed, and Fionn yarned all night. The giant fought Goll again the next day, Fionn kept him awake all night again, and the same the following day and night, so that finally the giant was so tired he lost half his strength, and Goll killed him.
(from the 16th-century Book of Howth, included in my forthcoming Meath Folk Tales, to be published in December 2013 by The History Press Ireland)

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