A storytelling pilgrimage to Cork island

Cape Clear International Storytelling Festival is a hybrid one this year, writes AISLING MEATH, who talks to some of the women involved
A storytelling pilgrimage to Cork island

Storyteller, Orla McGovern. Picture: Emilija Jefremova

“WHEN the one-eyed man came and sat in the corner, the people on the island stopped telling stories to one another,” remarked the late Paddy Burke to Chuck Kruger, writer and founder of the Cape Clear International Storytelling festival, which takes place on the first weekend of September.

Paddy was the proprietor of Ireland’s most southerly pub on Cape Clear island, the glittering jewel of Roaring Water Bay, and the one-eyed man he was referring to was, of course - the television.

Times have changed, the pub has long since closed and Paddy has passed on, though is still fondly remembered by his family and the island community.

Chuck and his wife Nell, former residents of the island, relocated to be closer to their family in Pennsylvania, but it was this remark of Paddy’s which inspired the Krugers to set up the storytelling festival in 1994, leaving an invaluable legacy.

“During the past two years of pandemic restrictions, we held the festival online, but we greatly missed the community on Cape Clear and the live events, and this year are happy to be able to return in person.” said festival director Daphne Babington.

It’s a hybrid festival this year, combining events on the island with online performances, and we are very much looking forward to it beginning on September 2 and running to the 4th.”

Donna Washington
Donna Washington

One of the online storytellers is Donna Washington, who is based in North Carolina. An internationally acclaimed master storyteller, Donna has been performing for audiences of all ages for over 30 years.

They say that the truth should never get in the way of a good story and Donna claims that “every story I tell is true, except for the parts that I make up.”

She has a book for children entitled Boo Stew and her animated performances have been described as a ‘walking Disney movie’ and ‘better than TV.’

Jan Blake
Jan Blake

“‘Women of Power and Poise’ is the theme of the set I will be sharing with Jan Blake at the festival.” explained Donna.

“I love folklore and mythology, so I often choose stories about women from those genres, as well as stories of strong women in my life who have shaped who I am.

“The woman who has inspired me the most is my mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years ago.

These days, my mother swings between being somewhere about seven to being in her seventies. We dance together, she tells me stories, I tell her stories, and she laughs about the oldness and newness of the world.

“Storytelling is everything. We are the product of all the stories we believe, as well as those we don’t.”

Real life stories with fairytale endings have occurred through the storytelling festival itself, as was the case for storyteller Simone Schummelfeder who met her husband at the festival, as did her twin sister Silke.

The sisters grew up in an old converted mill in a rural area of Germany called Beverungen.

“Part of the ‘Fairytale Road’ runs near my home town,” explained Simone, “it’s not an actual road but a route that was mapped out to connect all the places where the brothers Grimm collected their fairytales.

“I was studying to be a teacher of English as a foreign language and spent three months in the Glens of Antrim where I fell in love with storytelling and with Ireland.

“I decided to become a storyteller myself, and travelled back and forth to Ireland to learn stories, and both my sister and I worked as volunteers at the festival where we both met our future husbands.

“Cape, with its beautiful landscape, surrounded by ocean and star- filled skies is incredibly romantic, I’m convinced a little magic happens there at every festival.”

Kate Corkery.
Kate Corkery.

Kate Corkery will be among the storytellers who will be boarding the Cáilin Oir ferry to take them to the island. She divides her time between Cork and London where her role as Storyteller in Residence at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith won a fringe first award for her ‘Outstanding work in regenerating the art of storytelling in today’s society’.

Kate grew up in a sweet shop, Lydon’s, in Passage West, and is the author of Cork Folk Tales, recounting stories which sprang up from amongst the 5,447 townlands of Cork.

Masako Carey.
Masako Carey.

She’s an expert in mythology and the custodian of an extensive repertoire of stories such as the Hag of Beara, the Goddess Cliona, and St Finbar who banished Louie the fiery serpent whose long tail formed the course of the River Lee.

Kate will be joined by Galway- based Dubliner Órla Mc Govern along with Masako Carey for the ‘Women of Ireland’ session.

Órla has written two children’s books, Dublin Folk Tales and Wild Waves and Wishing Wells, and is also a performer and facilitator. She was inspired by listening to stories told to her by her grandparents who nurtured her imagination.

“Going to Cape is like making a story-telling pilgrimage. Storytellers are preserving a tradition but are also holding space for the artform to breathe and evolve. Weaving a good story is a powerful thing, a good story is an exchange both in the telling and in the listening,” she said.

Cape Clear resident Séamus Ó Drisceoil will be leading a walk on the island.

“ On Cape, every field has a story. We are delighted that the festival is back again this year, and the residents of Cape Clear are very appreciative of the efforts of the festival committee and would like to extend our thanks to them,” he said.

Full details of the festival programme: https://capeclearstorytelling.com

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