Once upon a Place (Past Laureate Project)

Once upon a Place with Eoin Colfer

At the start of his term as Laureate, Eoin Colfer said he wanted to bring stories to children all over Ireland, reaching places that might not normally be prioritised due to their remoteness or social demographic.

The was the origin of Once upon A Place, a two-year story tour aimed at bringing stories to children all over Ireland, reaching places that might be remote or disadvantaged e.g. schools that are not part of a writers-in-schools scheme, remote communities that may not have had a visiting writer or storyteller before, or youth/reading groups who don’t have funding to access visiting artists. The programme also focused on fantastic places: extraordinary settings in which to stage, either himself or with a carefully chosen team of authors and storytellers, a very special and memorable storytelling event that would spark children’s imaginations and bring the magic of story and of books to young people in an experiential way.

In June 2014, an invitation was issued for organisations and individuals who wanted to participate in Once upon a Place to make proposals to Eoin Colfer and the project team. More than 60 proposals were received, and Eoin selected 16 of these to take forward and develop over the course of his two-year term.

By April 2016, all 16 of the projects had been completed. Highlights included telling stories in lighthouses, on steamtrains and in haunted houses. The tour also took us to schools with just 25 pupils, to Cork to work with children in Direct Provision and to the Wetlands Halting site in Kilkenny.

The second strand of Once upon a Place was a specially commissioned anthology of stories and poems for children, edited by Eoin Colfer, that explores the link between story and place in Ireland.

The anthology, featuring many of Ireland’s leading children’s writers was also titled Once upon A Place, and was published by Little Island Books in October 2015. It is aimed at young readers aged between 9 and 12.

The book features new work by Eoin Colfer himself, along with Pat Boran, Seamus Cashman, John Connolly, Roddy Doyle, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Mark Granier, Derek Landy, Paula Leyden, Oisín McGann, Geraldine Mills, Jane Mitchell, Kate Newmann, Siobhán Parkinson, Jim Sheridan, Sarah Webb and Enda Wyley. It was illustrated by award-winning illustrator PJ Lynch.

Following on from the tour and anthology, the Seanachaí project was born, a storytelling project taking place as part of the 1916 commemorations. While Eoin’s Once upon a Place programme saw him and a group of storytellers travelling around Ireland bringing their own stories to audiences of children throughout the country, Seanachaí is designed to pass on the art of storytelling to the children themselves.

The idea behind the project was to explore ways that children could be encouraged to learn how the events of 1916 unfolded, not just in Dublin, but in their own communities and areas. These children would then learn the skills to gather those stories and to tell them in their own words and voices. The project was curated by experienced facilitator, Bernadette Larkin.

Five schools were selected to participate in the project from Dublin, Carlow, Galway, Cork and Derry. The participating schools were: Larkin Community College, Dublin, where children worked with storyteller Veronica Dyas; Gaelscoil Eoghan Uí Thuairisc, Carlow, where Seosamh O Maolalaí passed on his storytelling skills; Galway Educate Together, Newcastle, Galway, where poet Nell Regan was storyteller in residence; Blarney Street School, Cork City, where Veronica Coburn worked with the children; and St. Brigid’s School, Derry, where Joe Brennan was the resident storyteller.

In each school, a series of workshops were held, with children learning how to gather stories and to go into their local communities to explore their local history. For example, the children at Larkin College worked with residents at the Lourdes Day Care Centre, Sean MacDermott Street, to discover the many stories to be found in their own neighbourhood. They also been looked through online archives such as the witness statements from participants of 1916 which are kept in the Military Archives.