Arts

The storyteller: St Patrick's Festival man Niall de Burca talks tales

Jane Hardy talks to ace Irish storyteller Niall de Burca, one of the entertainers who will be spinning yarns at a free event taking place during the St Patrick's Festival in Armagh next week

Storyteller Niall de Burca in action
Jane Hardy

STORYTELLING is a human tradition and very much part of Ireland's DNA.

Ace Irish storyteller Niall de Burca, one of the entertainers at Armagh's magnificent St Patrick's Festival, reveals that his love of a good narrative was inherited.

Even today, if the Galway man ever wants inspiration for his job, he just takes a trip home.

"Yes, it was part of my family when I was growing up," he tells me.

"I still go home to my parents and remember hearing several aunties telling marvellous tales. They're great, wonderful storytellers."

Niall says he is a traditional storyteller.

"My stories are old Irish stories about how Ireland came to find itself," he explains.

"There is also an Ulster cycle I tap into, with the knights of the red branch, and even older stories than that."

While legend and myth may loom large in Irish culture, the storyteller learned at an early age that local lore was vital, too.

"In traditional Irish storytelling, genealogy is very important," says Niall.

"It's a big thing that I'm doing as a tradition-bearer, listening not only to family stories and traditional stories, but also the family names of who did what and whose skeleton is in whose closet, so that the names and the stories are passed on."

Despite his role in the St Patrick's Festival on March 16, on the 'big day' itself the Irishman will be leaving Ireland for New Zealand as he accompanies his teenage son James, who plays in a traditional band, on tour.

"I'm from the west of Ireland and I was a migrant who travelled to New Zealand and met my lovely wife," he explains.

"I lived there for 12 years and my two children, James and Aine, were born there in the Anzacs.

"So this year I'll be at the airport and then we will be touring. It should be fun."

Niall has an interesting day job. He has featured in theatre, radio and at many festivals including Feile Earraai, the East Belfast CS Lewis Festival and The National Children's Book Festival.

Abroad, he has performed and held workshops in many countries including Poland, Argentina, Italy and the Netherlands.

The ace storyteller adds that he loves his job because it's endlessly varied, with different audiences.

Indeed, he's just as at home with children's stories as more grown up 'horror'-themed fare, and there is a more serious strand to this art form too.

In January 2004, Niall produced Blackwater Storystream, a peace and reconciliation initiative using storytelling to link together fifty schools in the border counties of Armagh and Monaghan.

Reviewers have recognised his talent too: A gig that de Burca did in Vienna a year or two ago received this accolade from the Vienna Book Review:

"His ability to evoke a wide range of emotions from his rapt audience enables him to bewitch people with his stories and makes listening to him as well as watching him an unforgettable experience."

Stories are what make us human, part of the way we join up the dots between 'me' and 'you' and Niall has a beautiful Gaelic slogan that he's fond of:

'Nor bhris focal maith fiacal riamh', or 'a good word never broke a tooth'.

How very true.

:: Niall de Burca, Wednesday March 16, Marketplace Theatre, Armagh, 6.30pm. Free tickets available via Marketplacearmagh.com or on 028 3752 1821.

PANEL

ST PATRICK'S FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

FROM March 10 to 20, the new St Patrick's Festival: Armagh and Downpatrick will celebrate the life and legacy of this most famous of saints with a wealth of events including spiritual reflection, special walks and talks, theatre, lecture music, comedy and dance.

Key events include:

:: Celtic Spirit with Karl McGuckin, Liam Lawton and Andrea Begley of The Voice fame is at the Market Place Theatre on Friday March 18.

:: The Ulster Orchestra, under the baton of Robert Houlihan, makes a welcome return to Armagh with a musical programme especially chosen to celebrate the relationship between spiritual and earthly.

:: Inch Abbey outside Downpatrick offers an ideal backdrop to a special recreation of Patrick's landing on these shores.

:: The Archbishop's Lecture opens the stage for the Primates of both main traditions in Ireland to speak about the importance of Patrick's words today.

:: Learn more about the local area and local history with a spiritual pilgrimage between Armagh and Downpatrick.

:: Enjoy a tea party with a difference at The Synod Hall in Armagh on St Patrick's Day

:: Bring the family to the parade and procession with a colourful display under the theme of 'Feasts and Wild Beasts.'

:: Learn more about your family history at the fair in Armagh with key speaker John Grenham, one of Ireland's premier genealogists.

:: Full programme information can be obtained at Saintpatrickscountry.com

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