Tale-a-phone: Isolated people in Co Wexford to benefit from traditional stories

Public can call up for 20-minute story in council effort to combat loneliness among elderly

 Storyteller Joe Brennan from Wexford town, storytelling over the phone. Photograph:  Patrick Browne

Storyteller Joe Brennan from Wexford town, storytelling over the phone. Photograph: Patrick Browne

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As older people continue to feel isolated due to the coronavirus pandemic, those in Co Wexford will have access to an unusual method of support in the form of stories through the phone.

An initiative by Wexford County Council and Age Friendly Wexford, and supported by the Government’s Keep Well campaign, will facilitate older people to receive a phone call from renowned storyteller Joe Brennan.

The tale-a-phone exchange begins on February 3rd, and will continue each Wednesday – except St Patrick’s Day – until the end of March.

Mr Brennan, who has been a professional storyteller for the past 20 years, said each 20-minute phone call with participants will be unique.

“The first step really is for me to have a conversation with the person. The conversation really is to help me decide what story I can offer the person on the day. It’s like if I’m hearing something from the person and in exchange for that there’s a story which hopefully somehow resonates where they’re at at the moment,” he said.

“After that, depending on the time, there may be time to have a further little chat, the person might want to respond to the story and that’s what very often happens with a story because it reminds them of another story.”

‘Storytelling tradition’

Mr Brennan will retell traditional oral stories, such as the selkie seal folklore tale.

“They come out of that storytelling tradition so they can be from Ireland, we have a great folklore collection in Ireland, or from other countries. During this, I’m kind of hoping to tap into, insofar as possible, local stories from Wexford,” he added.

Though he has told stories for many years, this initiative will be different, because it will be one-on-one.

“I think there is an intimacy in that. Obviously it’s still at a distance but what I like about it is the focus is just on that person, at that time. Hopefully it’s something they will get a lot from.”

When the pandemic first hit, Mr Brennan wondered how best he could use his skills to help others. He said he is “so excited” to take part, and hopes this will help older people who might be feeling down during the Covid-19 restrictions.

“They’re very cut off, very isolated, there’s fear there as well, particularly this time around. We’re all experiencing it but if you’re on your own and not seeing anyone, it’s very difficult,” he said.

“The other side of it… is there are a lot of people who don’t have access to online material. It’s not fair to say it’s across the board for older people but it is an issue that affects a lot of older people. I can just make a phone call. It’s accessible, which is really good.”

Anyone who wants to book a call should contact Ann Marie Laffan, Age Friendly programme manager, on 053-9196680.