The Seanachaí: Embracing Ireland’s Rich Storytelling Heritage

In the heart of Ireland, storytelling holds a special place. The word “Seanachaí”, the Irish word for storyteller, resonates throughout the land, signifying the revered role of the Irish storyteller. Eamonn Kelly, Beannacht De leis, is the greatest of them all. According to Kelly himself, “Storytelling is the oldest form of entertainment. In ancient Ireland, the Seanchaí was held in such high regard that he sat at the table with the King himself.”

Ireland’s creative history is intertwined with the art of storytelling. From ancient times to the present day, the Irish have harnessed the power of words to captivate and inspire. It is no wonder that Eamonn Kelly, a true master of his craft, was able to take a word or phrase and swing it in front of you like a hypnotist’s pendulum, leaving you utterly captivated. His gift was nothing short of a magician’s art, as John B. Keane so aptly described.

I consider myself immensely privileged to have witnessed the brilliance of the Seanachaí first-hand on numerous occasions. One such memory is clear in my mind—an enchanting Christmas Eve at Finnstown Castle. As a teenager, I stepped through the door adorned with holly and beheld a scene straight out of a fairytale: a crackling fire, a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, and the intoxicating aroma of cinnamon, mulled wine, and roasting chestnuts. Time seemed to stand still as we savoured a sumptuous traditional Christmas dinner in the grand dining hall.

After dinner, as if summoned by the very essence of the evening, the Seanachaí materialized. Eamonn Kelly, Ireland’s greatest storyteller, took his place beside the fire, ready to weave his tales of wonder. As he began, as always with the introduction “In my father’s time”, an enchanting hush fell upon the room. Every word he uttered cast a spell, and you could hear a pin drop. That moment, forever imprinted in my memory, transported us to a bygone era, where the art of storytelling reigned supreme. It was a glimpse into the depths of Ireland’s storytelling heritage, and it left an indelible mark on my soul. Truly, it was a night to remember.

If you wish to experience a taste of Eamonn Kelly’s incredible talent and his unwavering love for storytelling, here is a short video on YouTube. In just a few minutes, you will catch a glimpse of the man who embodied the rich storytelling tradition of Ireland—a tradition nurtured by countless writers, creatives, and passionate storytellers throughout the ages.

Here’s another clip from the RTE Archives. Storyteller Eamon Kelly recounts the tale ‘The King of the Tradesmen’ in which St Patrick forces a publican to give fair measures of beer. Visit this link to listen

The Seanachaí, the Irish storyteller, holds a special place in the hearts of those who have had the privilege of hearing their tales. Ireland’s storytelling heritage is a treasure that has shaped the country’s creative landscape and continues to inspire generations. Eamonn Kelly, the epitome of the Seanachaí, left an indelible mark on all who were fortunate enough to witness his mastery. I was very fortunate to hear him several times.

If you are planning a visit to Ireland you might want to consider timing it to coincide with the Listowel International Storytelling Festival which generally takes place in September each year. Check out their website for more details.

John B Keane speaking about Eamonn Kelly “He can take a word or phrase and swing it in front of you like a hypnotist’s pendulum so that he captivates you … It’s a magician’s art.”