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The Gift of the Gab and The Art of the Seanachaí
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Gift of the Gab

A number of our beloved staff and locals at The Mills Inn Hotel, Ballyvourney situated in beautiful West Cork are blessed with the gift of the gab without ever needing to kiss the fabled Blarney Stone. Many a cold winters night stories about forgotten times in Ireland’s rich past or simply news from around the area and the colourful characters that inhabit it can be heard above the crackling of our roaring fire. During summer, these storytellers often venture outside to embrace the sunshine, captivating people with local folklore and fantastical tales in The Mills Inn Hotel’s scenic gardens nestled in the shadow of the Old Mill ruins.

The tradition of storytelling is almost as ancient as Ireland itself and is infused with the soul of the country to this day. For over 3,000 years, since the time of the Celts, storytelling has been the vessel in which our history, folklore and traditions has survived, passed on from generation to generation. Our remembrance and reverence of our past has forged who we are today and the custom of storytelling holds a special place in the hearts of the people. The art of storytelling that is so apart of who we are still exists through the Seanachaí.

A seanchaí is a traditional Irish storyteller. The word itself translates as a bearer of "old lore" (seanchas). In the ancient Celtic culture, the history and laws of the people were not written down but memorized in long lyric poems which were recited by bards (filí), in a tradition echoed by the seanachaí today. None of the Celt’s customs, beliefs or history was written down for hundreds, even thousands of years. All the information was passed on through poems, songs and incredible stories. This oral tradition was so much apart of their culture that it became representative of their entire way of life and forged the civilisation’s name ‘Celt’ or hidden. The Celts were the hidden people or the people who kept their history hidden. In fact, the Irish 'faoi ceilt' still means hidden today.

In celtic times, a seanachaí was a servant to the chiefs of the tribe and kept track of important information for their clan. It was a position of power and respect. They held the key to the culture’s past and its most important memories and traditions. Many of the seanachaí were wondering souls, belonging to no one community but instead traveling from one community to another offering their skills of storytelling in exchange for a warm bed and some food. it is here, that the stories began to be used to entertain and thrill the listeners.  Many people come to us in The Mills Inn Hotel fancying themselves as a talker,  seeking the same thing but unfortunately there stories aren’t nearly good enough to earn a free stay and dinner. We might throw in the odd pint of Guinness for the effort though. If you hear a seanachaí recount a tale you will know as the entire audience will be captivated, becoming spell-bound by the mastery of the art and the beauty of the story itself.

The craft of the seanchaí is particularly associated with the Gaeltacht (the Irish-speaking areas of Ireland). The popularity of the art is evident in Ballyvourney, where The Mills Inn calls home and throughout West Cork and Kerry, where there are strong links to Ireland's past forged through the regions love for music and stories.

We adore stories at The Mills Inn Hotel, be it tales of heroic deeds, terrible tragedy or light-hearted whimsical encounters that will have you doubled over in a fit of laughter. Next time you are staying with us at our hotel or if you are stopping off for a bite to eat, why not share a story with us… everyone has one. You may even be lucky enough to come across a wandering Seanachaí who will enchant you with stories upon stories, getting lost in the magic of the age-old art and giving you a glimpse of the true Ireland.

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