Tips and Programs
The European Scene
interestingly sounding strange words make up the name of Dublins
annual storytelling festival which is booked as "Stories in
November," November being the "dark month." But you
might also interpret the name as "month of good/bad witch stories,"
for Irish folklore and myth is vast and deep, and the River Liffey
runs to the sea.
It was a real pleasure to return to Ireland for a second time upon
the invitation of Nuala Hayes of the Two Chairs Theater Compagny
who organizes Scéalta Shamhna. This years theme was
international in scope with eleven performances presenting storytellers
and musicians from China, India, the Caribbean, Europe and the United
States. And it was my privilege to inaugurate the festival with
Jaqui Chan of Chineese patentage born in Trinidad, at present a
Londoner. Given that my family is from Sicily and Croatia and that
my wife is from Denmakr, and that we live in France, Jaqui and I
were almost all by ourselves a full-blown melting pot. But we were
joined by one of Irelands premiere flutists, Desi Wilkinson,
whose enchanting melodies and bonhommie rounded out our kick-off
evening in the ballroom of the National Museum of Ireland at Collins
Barracks. And the River Liffey runs to the sea...
Besides school performances and small workshops, the festival continues
over three weekends, with all the performances at the prestigious
Museum of Ireland in among the exhibitions. This is a clllaboration
with Helen Beaumont who is responsible for activities at the Nuseum.
The building, which dates back to the 18th century, has just been
refurbished and the objects which look out at you can be from local
tradition or from halfway around the world.
On Saturday night I was free, so I marched on over to Duke Street
in Dublin, past Bewleys Pub, where four years ago we concluded
the festival with Scottish traveller storyteller Duncan Williamson
and musicians from the hit musical River Dance. Fond memories. Duke
Street is the starting point for the esteemed Literary Pub Crawl,
where for two and a half hours, between pints of Guiness, we were
lolled and charmed with texts of Irish writers from Oscar Wilde
and William Butler Yates through Beckett, Joyce and other contemporaries.
Refreshing to say the least. And the River Liffey...
Sunday was to be the first grand finale. While Jaqui Chan and I
were unravelling our yarns among suits of samurai armor and golden
chalices, the Armagh Rhymers and Mummers were literally hypnotizing
the audience over in the ballroom. They arrived hooded with conical
masks made rrom willow and cloaked in scak cloth. They make some
strange noises, mumble, sing, amble and dance. You cna still see
them traditionally all over Ireland from Halloween until St. Stephens.
They represent the spirits of the season and the tradition dates
back three half millenioms. And the River Liffey still flows to
But I must say the cherry on the whipped cream on the icing of
the cake was the benefit concert for Eithne Ni Uallacham, well known
singer from Donegal, who died six months ago. It was a very poignant,
bittersweet evening for family, friends and aficionados from all
over. And the best of Irish folk groups were in attendance including
Cran, the group with which our flutist Desi plays. Fiddle and flute,
drum and pipe and especially clear, pure voices carried the audience
hour-long. I found the Irish audience that night really in tune.
At times they would gently stomp their feet to keep time or clap
tastefully. And the rhythms rocked me all the way back to the hotel
along the flowing of the River Liffey, all the way to the sea. Although
I was scheduled to leave the next day I had all morning again to
myself and I didn't waste a minute. Up early I shopped for Irish
bacon, crumpets, cheddar and of course whiskey. I bought CD's and
cassettes including the Voice Squad, a bouquet of exquisite ballads.
Then I hoofed it up to Dublin's prison for a tour of history first
hand until the bus whisked me away to the international airport.
But Nuala didn't forget to intrigue me one last time over lunch
together at the Irish Writer's Museum: "Do you know what the
name of your hotel means?" And in effect the Ashling is the
Gaelic word for vision or dream!
I was reading over riddles and triads one day and I came across
one that I think sums up this wonderful month of stories
"Three fewnesses that are better than plenty: a fewness of
cows in grass, a fewness of friends around ale and a fewness of
fine words." Says the Liffey as she flows to the sea...
published in Winter 2000
Why I Hate Lady Ragnell Alan Irvine's article and the rebuttal it engendered.