Cape Clear’s the place to be, so the story goes

Jack Lynch says a good storyteller must be a good listener.

The Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival, which begins next week, is 20 years old.

A boon to local tourism, it has run every year — with the exception of 2001, when it was a casualty of the foot-and-mouth crisis — since 1994.

The festival was cooked up by an American couple, Chuck and Nell Kruger. The pair moved to Cape Clear Island in 1992. They’d come to the island to unwind after working as teachers in Switzerland. They had many ideas about what to do with their spare time, including running a small animal zoo on their farm, before hitting on the notion of a storytelling festival.

Jack Lynch, one of Ireland’s finest storytellers and familiar to TV and film audiences from his acting roles in Fair City, Glenroe and The Snapper, is back again this year, as a featured storyteller. He says one reason the festival is so special is that it’s so hard to get to — Cape Clear Island, with its 120 inhabitants, is the southernmost inhabited part of Ireland.

“You’ve got to make the effort. You’ve to get to Baltimore, in West Cork. Then, you’ve to get the ferry. Then, you’ve to get to the island. There’s little transport on the island. There’s no automated bank machine. You have to book a bed very early on in the year — because there are only so many beds on the island — or else you can camp. So, people going that far are not going for the cider or beer. You’re with audiences that are eager to listen.”

Lynch is joined by featured storytellers from Europe and the UK, and by Kevin Kling, from the United States, who is famous for his contributions to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Lynch says two elements make a good storyteller: “You’ve to be a good listener and... I’m not telling ya.”

He says: “A storyteller must be a good listener. I tell stories a lot abroad, for example. People will have good English, but I like to know that they’re following me. If I’m on stage in Germany and, say, telling a story of a fairy haunting, I’ll probably have to describe what a traditional Irish fireplace is like. I’ll point behind the stage and get them to imagine the room in which the action happens on the stage.

“I’m also editing myself as I’m telling the story — here is a word they won’t understand, so I’ll have to explain it. It’s a live thing. You need to have your wits about you. It’s the same when you’re telling stories to kids with autism. All the time, you’re judging what might be understood, or how to tell the story best. I don’t think audiences realise how important they are.

“There’s a strange phenomenon that has been looked at scientifically, called liminal states. It’s a threshold state, when people go into a bit of a trance. If I’m working with kids and they really get into the story, if they’re really with you, they take on a glazed look.

“It’s funny, because the reaction is different with boys and girls. If they’re in a class, say, and sitting around in chairs, the boys either lean against each other or, if they’re really relaxed, they lie back with their legs open, like lions relaxing in the sun. The girls do something totally different — they start braiding each other’s hair.”

The Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival runs from Friday, September 5, to Sunday, September 7. capeclearstorytelling.com.


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