Storytellers gather at ‘perfect backdrop’ for Cape Clear festival

Numbers down slightly on 2012’s bumper crowd, but new events make for wider choice

Cape Clear Island served as a strategic communications hub long before it became famous for storytelling.

Participants of Diarmuid O’Drisceoil’s popular Heritage Walk heard about the island’s heyday as the Silicon Valley of the north Atlantic, delivering news between London and New York. But it is the skills of traditional oration that draw the crowds to the 1,500-acre island off the Cork coast every year for the Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival.

Numbers were down slightly on 2012's bumper crowd, but new events such as the emerging storytellers concert made for wider choice. "These are five individuals we've seen to be contributing to the profile of storytelling nationally or in their own countries," festival co-ordinator Gerry Clancy said.

The emerging set are often discovered in Pat Speight’s Story Swap event, in which volunteers test their skills on a discerning audience.

Storyteller and guide O’Drisceoil pointed to the old telegraph station that served as the island’s communications hub, now operating as the Tír na n-Óg hostel where a quarter of the 400-strong crowd were accommodated.

"The festival is unique because it's a confined location, it begins once you step off the ferry. Storytellers love coming here because they are treated so well, it's one of the top storytelling festivals in the world," he said.

Now in its 19th year, the festival features workshops, concerts, traditional and folk music, a storytelling boat trip and free children’s events.

The line-up typically includes one prominent Irish storyteller among a list of international names.

Texan Tim Tingle shared folklore from his native American Choctaw tribe. Italian Paola Balbi, the UK's Ursula Holden-Gill, Kerry native Batt Burns and musician Ger Wolfe were among a diverse line-up delivering tales on topics ranging from haggis to confession.

Poet and islander Chuck Kruger said the festival put Cape Clear to "perfect use". Kruger set up the festival because of his belief in the power of the spoken word. "People get to experience the peace and nature of the island. It's a perfect backdrop to storytelling. And a good story can stay with you, though you might have to keep it in your mind for a few decades before it makes sense," he said.