The rocky road to Cape Clear’s storytelling festival

Ruth Kirkpatrick will never forget her first journey to the island’s storytelling festival, which begins its 25th edition today, writes Richard Fitzpatrick.

The rocky road to Cape Clear’s storytelling festival

Ruth Kirkpatrick will never forget her first journey to the island’s storytelling festival, which begins its 25th edition today, writes Richard Fitzpatrick.

Scottish storyteller Ruth Kirkpatrick is returning to the Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival this weekend. She’ll never forget her first visit back in 2000.

She was only starting out on her journey as a storyteller so she travelled to the festival as a punter with two friends. They flew into Cork Airport.

An acquaintance had arranged for them to get a lift from the airport with people who were driving to Baltimore in West Cork, where they could then get a ferry onto Cape Clear island.

“This couple picked us up,” says Kirkpatrick.

“It was a man and a woman. The man was quite tattooed. They had clearly had a huge row before we got in the car.

They continued this row down this winding road, with three of us wedged in their back seat. And when he was laying into her with all his reasons why she was being unreasonable, he was looking at her even though he should have been driving.

Kirkpatrick likens the situation to a scene from the Woody Allen film Annie Hall, where the Christopher Walken character fantasises to Allen’s character about crashing headlong into an oncoming car while driving at night, clearly agitating Allen’s character.

Kirkpatrick and her friends’ only concern was to focus their driver on “the lovely road ahead”.

“At last we got to Baltimore,” says Kirkpatrick.

“We honestly had legs of jelly. I was never so happy to get on a rickety little boat and head off into the Atlantic. It felt a whole lot safer than driving in that guy’s back seat.

"We were just trapped there. It was awful. I remember being on the boat and as we headed off there was a double rainbow in the sky. My friends and I said, ‘That must be a really good omen’.”

That festival — the sixth edition; this year will be the 25th — didn’t disappoint. It had a mix of international storytellers and a memorable performance from a man reciting a poem about loss accompanied by a bodhrán.

And it was as much about the island festival’s trappings and infrastructure — the lack of street lights so “everybody had to walk to the venue so people came in out of breath and ruddy-cheeked” — that charmed Kirkpatrick.

“I’ve done storytelling festivals in the Orkney Islands, the Shetland Islands, on Iceland, but there’s something about Cape Clear — the way it’s so undeveloped; it’s of a time when storytelling was king,” she says.

“Now we have to claw for a place against the tablet, television, and cinema but when you go to somewhere like Cape Clear,” she says.

“It feels like you’ve gone back in time to a time when storytelling was held in such high regard.”

Kirkpatrick returns to Cape Clear this weekend as one of the festival’s headliners, along with the likes of the American, two-time Grammy Award winner Bill Harley; Malaysian performer Kamini Ramachandran; and Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil, who will draw on his connections to the island.

Kirkpatrick cites a mantra from a 1950s book by Ruth Sawyer as the key to good storytelling.

She says to be a good storyteller, you have to live your life gloriously because if you are as dull as dishwater in your life, your stories are going to be dull. You have to put yourself into your stories.

"You need to be authentic. When you stand up in front of people you’re quite naked. If you’re not comfortable with yourself it will shine through.

“It’s no accident that a lot of the best storytellers are older people. It’s the stereotype. I often go to schools and they’re expecting someone in their seventies.

"As I get older, I get better because you’re more comfortable with yourself. You’ve had hopefully more experience of a glorious life.”

Ruth Kirkpatrick performs at Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival this weekend. See capeclearstorytelling.com.

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