Council,actor aim to revive love of verbal art

 

Tales of Fionn Mac Cumhaill who, according to folklore, was reared in the Sliabh Bloom mountains, are among the stories being collected in Co Laois by actor and storyteller Nuala Hayes.

Appointed last week as artist in residence for Laois Co Council, Ms Hayes says the midlands is an area where traditional storytelling and folklore has not been "as confidently developed as Galway and Kerry".

The plan to appoint a storyteller as artist in residence has been in gestation for two years, says Ms Muireann Ní Chonaill, arts officer, Laois Co Council. She said it was a feature of the council's three year arts plan.

"Verbal arts are a dying art," says Ms Ní Chonaill, but the current work hopes to "ingrain a love of it in the community".

Two years ago, while developing a CD-ROM of storytelling aimed at schoolchildren, entitled Everlasting Voices, Ms Hayes said the stories and storytellers that were included came mainly from coastal regions.

Afterwards, she said people had asked her about the absence of contributions from the midlands. "It's not that there are no stories," she said. "I wasn't aware of them".

Now she says she would love to unearth and record types of storytelling from the midlands, featuring the region's accents and dialects. "There are rich differences which should be celebrated," she said.

A rich folklore exists in the area, says Ms Ní Chonaill. The Fianna apparently have strong connections with the county, and the monastic settlement at Abbeyleix, for example, is a source of other stories.

In the midlands, there has not been a focus on these types of stories, she says, but there is a lot of "untapped imagination".

And "there are layers and layers of history" in the county which can be unearthed. These stories are important, she says, for a county's identity.

As the project is in its early stages, Ms Hayes says her first work will be listening to the people in the area, trying to draw out the stories which are there. Ms Hayes said she recently spoke to elderly people in Abbeyleix and interesting stories "started trickling out".

Material collected would ideally feature in a CD-ROM, says Ms Hayes. The project also aims to connect with the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry where the data collected could be made available. Although the project will strongly concentrate on local narratives, Ms Ní Chonaill said they were interested in all types of stories and storytelling.

They also intend to organise a monthly meeting of local interested people, which will feature professional visiting storytellers, local storytellers and musicians.