City streets come alive to the sound of spinning yarns

An internet initiative is putting the tradition of storytelling back on the map, writes Richard Fitzpatrick

City streets come alive to the sound of spinning yarns

THERE are a lot of stories knocking around Dublin — the good, the bad, the drunken. More than 70 of the better ones — and counting — are captured on Storymap, an ingenious website cooked up by two young Dublin filmmakers, Tom Rowley and Andy Flaherty. The pair launched Storymap in February 2011. They’ve been adding a story a week since inception, filming storytellers on location around Dublin.

“Part of the idea behind Storymap,” says Rowley, “was that there were a few open-mike storytelling nights starting in Dublin that were getting big crowds — Milk and Cookies in The Exchange, Temple Bar, which regularly draws in crowds of over 200 each month; and Yarn Spinners at the Teachers’ Club in Parnell Square. We were interested in seeing how we could bring it somewhere new and came up with the idea of mapping personal and historical stories to locations around the city.”

The storytellers include all types of characters — historians, poets, comedians, including Kevin Gildea and Aidan Bishop who possibly tells Storymap’s funniest story, and more than one or two rogues. Rowley and Flaherty also tell a couple of their own personal stories. They unearth material by field research and word of mouth.

“We’ve a couple of different ways of sourcing stories,” says Flaherty. “We do a bit of research ourselves and if we find a good story we’ll try and team it up with somebody that is good like a comedian or an authority figure on the subject.

“Once every week we take a wander around town. Anywhere we think is interesting we’ll go in and have a chat. That’s worked out well for us. For example, we got Maureen Grant in the Olympia and a few others that way.

“We attend pretty much every cultural night going to see if there are any good characters there and tap them up for stories. Any story we get we ask the storyteller to recommend if they know of any other characters or good storytellers.”

Grisly tales of murders and ghosts, the antics of Dublin’s infamous red-light district at Monto, the life of Dracula author Bram Stoker, as told by Dacre Stoker, his great-grand nephew, are some of the stories captured.

James Joyce figures in a few more; Paddy Kavanagh is referenced a couple of times, cropping up, for example, at the end of a story about the door from 7 Eccles St, the home of fictional character Leopold Bloom. When the site of No 7 Eccles was demolished to make way for the new Mater Hospital, the original door was salvaged and brought to The Bailey pub on Duke Street and declared “officially closed” by Kavanagh at a Bloomsday celebration in 1967.

The capital city’s military history, particularly Easter 1916, looms large. Dublin’s most unusual grave, for instance, has to be that on the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, where a plaque commemorates Vonolel, the Indian pony given a full military funeral, with a volley over the grave, when he died, aged 29, at the end of the 19th century.

Daniel O’Connell’s death also occasioned some unusual occurrences. His last words, uttered in Genoa, Italy, contained a grandiose command: “My body to Ireland, my heart to Rome, my soul to heaven.” They took him at his word. His heart was carved out of his dead body and ferried to the Irish College in Rome in a silver urn. It was placed in a vault there, until someone discovered in 1905 that it had disappeared. It has never been recovered.

There is scope for introducing Storymap to other Irish cities and overseas. For initial funding, Rowley and Flaherty got Dublin City Enterprise Board to match monies they had raised by crowd funding. They’ve recently got additional funds to develop a smartphone application, which acts a bit like the audio device that has replaced tour guides in museums.

“We decided to take our database of stories, and use it in a clever way,” says Rowley. “We constructed different routes across the city connecting stories that can intersect like a Tube map. We call them rambles. You can be on a historical ramble and if you want you can change track, as it is, and go onto a comedy ramble.”

“It’s the equivalent of having 10 walking tours in your pocket,” adds Flaherty.

Stories range in length. Most are around the five-minute mark, some, like the banter between two octogenarian O’Neill brothers while supping pints of porter in Fallon’s bar in The Coombe, clock in at 11 minutes while the shortest story on the site, at 37 seconds, is from Gerry Cowan, a banjo player.

“A few years ago we were playing here in The Cobblestone,” he says while scratching a formidable red beard, “and there was no one coming into the place. There was one guy sitting at the bar asleep. I think he was the only person in the pub and nothing could wake him. There was bodhráns beating away, banjos, fiddles, guitars being played. Nothing could wake him at all. So after a bit I decided to play the national anthem. With that he woke up, stood up, saluted. Finished off playing the thing, he sat down. We continued playing. Started another tune and we all looked across and there he was fast asleep again. Not a bother on him.”

* See

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