Directed by Ger Fitzgibbon, the show hinges on the fact that Kelly initially trained as a carpenter who taught woodwork and Healy himself is an accomplished wood-worker. During the show, Healy will fashion a small object out of wood.
“I have a real sense of Kelly being a craftsman in every sense,” says Healy. “The making of a story requires an element of craft, just like making an object does.”
While Kelly always claimed that he didn’t own the stories he related, saying that they were part of a living inheritance of folk tales and rural lore, the Kerry man’s craft in telling the stories is evident in every line.
The show comprises five stories linked by commentary as well as anecdotes.While they’re rooted in the past, they still have relevance today, including a story of a man with a drink problem, constantly making and breaking pledges.
The spectre of sex involving a wife and a third party underlines the anxiety of a husband in The Tay-Man — ‘tay’ meaning tea. Before tea was sold in shops, men went from door to door selling tea. In Kelly’s surreal story, the tay-man puts up in a house with a young married couple who have only the one bed. All three of them have to share the bed. A carpenter is asked to make a division in the double bed.
“The husband suffered from ‘frequency’ and was in and out of the toilet all night. He goes to great lengths to ensure that distance is kept between his wife and the tay-man. The content of the story has something Chaplinesque about it.”
There is also an emigration story. “In a way, it’s the least witty of the stories. But there’s something lovely about it. It involves a guy back from New York who is describing Manhattan to people. He basically makes a map of Manhattan on the kitchen floor, using ashes from the fire. Manhattan is as familiar to the people referred to in the story as their own parish. They know all the street names.”
The art of the seanachaí is alive and well, says Healy. “There’s a whole world of seanachaís out there. Kelly would have influenced the regeneratio of the tradition. There’s a storytellers’ festival in Cape Clear and there’s the likes of Pat Speight in Cork.”
Tipperary-born Healy’s father was a Kerry man and was a huge fan of Kelly and a keen storyteller himself. “I grew up with the voice of Eamon Kelly in my ear.”
Kelly’s radio programmes included The Rambling House. “I love the language of Eamon Kelly and how his personality shone through. My sense of him is that he was very cordial and wise and also extremely intelligent and witty.
“I only saw him performing live twice; once in the Cork Opera House in a Sebastian Barry play and once, when he was an elderly man, performing at a fund-raiser in my daughter’s school, Gael Scoil An GortÁlainn. He had a connection there. He was in his eighties that time and was still amazing. I didn’t get to meet him but he was familiar to me as a Kerry man. Kerry people have a very particular kind of intelligence.”
Healy has been reading Kelly’s autobiography. “In it, he describes the making of a wheel. I love the way he trusted language to describe that completely. There are no diagrams. It’s just him using words.”