Ireland and the Power of Story and Imagination

cashelOn my first visit to Ireland, I went to Matt Molloy’s pub in Westport, County Mayo and had the delight of hearing a traditional storyteller. I could feel the enchantment woven through this oral tradition. The same way I have witnessed people’s attention held in a wondrous way from my own involvement with spoken word poetry in my community in northern California. There is something in the human psyche that is brought to life by stories.

Ireland has produced per capita more Nobel prize winning writers than any other country. With a population of 4 million, Ireland claims four Nobel laureates in literature: William Butler Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Samuel Beckett and George Bernard Shaw along with other writers of great stature like James Joyce, Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde.

The reverence for words, stories and poetry runs deep in Ireland tied to the oral tradition of the Celts who had no written language. For centuries in Ireland, the itinerant Seanchai,the Storyteller”was the person who kept the legends, the history, the traditions of the people alive. Up until the 1950s there were still storytellers traveling from village to village housed and fed along the way. This oral tradition was especially important in holding on to Irish culture during the eight hundred years of British occupation. Writers and storytellers are revered. Poet, William Butler Yeats, was instrumental in helping to spark the rebellion that lead to Irish independence in 1923.

My father, son of two emigrants from Ireland who settled in San Francisco, came home every evening and read the great works of literature. Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and W.B.Yeats were among his favorite. So I was raised with this love of words and stories that runs deep in my bones and I suspect is part of why I became a writer and why Ireland has such a strong pull on my heart.

While the storytelling tradition isn’t so obviously present in modern Ireland, support for writing and the arts is strong. Ireland actually gives a tax exemption to writers, composers, visual artists and sculptors for income made from the sale of their work. Traditional Irish music has remained vibrant through the 20th, and into the 21st century, despite globalization. Musicians gather nightly in pubs all over Ireland to play together.

I have long felt that Ireland hold something for the world. There is an ancient wisdom that run deep in the land, the feel of magic and mystery present especially in the West where the Irish language is still spoken. It holds a reminder that a love for words and stories can bring the world alive. You don’t have to be Irish or travel to Ireland to experience this. You can embrace it wherever you are.

. . .to understand the Irish, mere facts can never be enough; this is a country that reprocesses itself through the mills of its imagination. – Frank Delaney

Consider joining me on a Journey to the West of Ireland. For more information on the next trip visit

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