IRELAND is one of the few countries in Europe to have held on to its rich tradition of legends, customs and stories. We have perhaps the richest storehouse, in both documentary sources and memory, a heritage for which we are justly envied.

Eddie Lenihan is part of that tradition — a seanchaí who spreads his magical net far and wide, through storytelling sessions, books, lectures and broadcasts. He has collected and preserved the old folk tales. An instinctive children’s storyteller, as his reputation grew he was invited to participate in BBC broadcasts, at festivals, and even in the film, The Fairy Faith.

Lenihan never falters in preserving and protecting the old ways, even protesting the loss of our precious cultural heritage through over-development and relentless industrialisation.

Back in the 1970s, he caused a furore when Ferenka destroyed a fairy thorn tree in Limerick. He said then that it wasn’t a question of whether the factory would close or not, it was when. (It closed, with a loss of 1,400 jobs, after only six years.)

In 1999, he made international headlines when he opposed the destruction of another fairy thorn, during the upgrading of the Limerick-to-Galway road. He raised public awareness of the tree’s significance, and of the disasters that fell on those who harmed any such abode of the ‘Good People’. He saved the tree.

This year, he has been again in the news, warning a pharmaceutical company in Waterford that it would destroy an ancient fairy fort at its peril, and again saying it is a question of when, and not if, the fairies will decide to take their revenge.

Yet, says Eddie emphatically, he is no crusader. “I see people on the street yowling and shouting that they won’t do this or that, and I think of them as sheep, obediently following the behest of somebody who has an axe to grind. I go out and look, for myself, to see if the thing is justified. I walk the ground, look at the OS map, talk to the local older people.

“Some of today’s younger farmers don’t know the place and they have such big machinery that all they are interested in is reclaiming land. For what? A few extra acres aren’t going to make you rich. It makes no sense to be destroying our own landscape and taking away our antiquities.

“People shout that they want jobs at any cost, but how long will those jobs last? We should be preserving our heritage for ourselves, our children, our self-respect. I sometimes wonder if we have any self-respect left at all in Ireland, the way we’re kow-towing to the big international companies and developers.

“First, we bowed to the landlords, back in the old days, and now we’re doing it to the developers. Why can’t we appreciate our wonderful heritage and realise that, once it’s gone, it’s gone for ever?”

Lenihan appears at the Imagine Arts Festival, in Waterford, this month, sharing his wonderful story of legends and stories with both children and adults.

“The children love the fairy tales,” he says, before warning that the mood will change for his adult audiences. “By God, I do raise the hair on their heads!”

Imagine Arts Festival runs October 15-25 throughout Waterford City. Eddie Lenihan gives two shows on Sunday, October 25: Fairy Stories for Children, at 1pm, and Scary Stories for Adults, at 10pm. www.imagineartsfestival.com.


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