One of Eoin Colfer’s most exciting legacy projects as Laureate na nÓg is Seanachaí, a storytelling project that is 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 is being 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 are: Larkin Community College, Dublin, where children are working with storyteller Veronica Dyas; Gaelscoil Eoghan Uí Thuairisc, Carlow, where Seosamh O Maolalaí is passing on his storytelling skills; Galway Educate Together, Newcastle, Galway, where poet Nell Regan is storyteller in residence; Blarney Street School, Cork City, where Veronica Coburn is working with the children; and St. Brigid’s School, Derry, where Joe Brennan is the resident storyteller.
In each school, a series of workshops are being 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 are working with residents at the Lourdes Day Care Centre, Sean MacDermott Street, to discover the many stories to be found in their own neighbourhood. They’ve also been looking through online archives such as the witness statements from participants of 1916 which are kept in the Military Archives.
Each project will be documented and it is hoped that it will form part of an oral storytellng event in the Dublin Festival of History, 2016. The project ties in with the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht aims to remember the past, reflect on the last hundred years and look to the future. It is being funded through the generosity of Eoin Colfer, who returned his annual stipend as Laureate na nÓg to the Laureate project fund.
LARKIN COLLEGE – SESSIONS 1 AND 2 FEBRUARY / MARCH 2016
‘There is no wrong way’ was how Veronica introduced the Senachaí Project to class 101 in Larkin Community College. This school is right in the heart of Dublin city, a stone’s throw from the GPO where so much of the action took place on Easter Sunday 1916. We did a physical warm-up and introduced ourselves. The first activity was a mapping exercise recalling and drawing the journey to school that morning, paying attention to the landmarks and structures we pass by without noticing everyday. Drawing in streets, transports, specific details of what we saw, heard and felt along the way. The idea of this was to look at details, begin to observe more mindfully our everyday life, see patterns and structures and begin to think in parallel with the events of the 1916 Rising and the city’s geographical locations in relation to it.Each young person told the story of their journey as they had mapped it out on the page – telling their ‘first story’. A simple method acting as a beginning to the programme and a way to engage the group in a performative yet simple way in the act of storytelling.
They next created mind maps of the 1916 Rising to 2016, mapping on the page everything that they knew so far and then expand those points into the wider contemporary global context, to get a sense of how the events of 1916 resonate with the group in terms of their own lives today. The Young people offered some fascinating points in this exercise, relating the 1916 events to poverty, housing, violence, current events in Syria as well as artistic connections to Opera and theatre. We were impressed and excited about their level of knowledge, particularly Laura their history teacher who had been trying out different teaching methods.
In session 2, we looked at silent footage of Ireland 1913 to 1916 as a mechanism to begin a narrating exercise, to begin story telling by describing what you see on screen and a way for the Young People to locate the historical situation of the 1916 Rising and the conditions post the 1913 Lockout that, in part, lead to it. A couple of young people created the sound as we watched, narrating as events unfolded on the screen. There were some very interesting comments made such as, “old men, old men, more old men, another old man” and references to women in the footage being described as men. The session unfolded differently than expected with some young people finding it easier than others. The overall consensus was that it was boring without sound and it wasn’t in HD! It did however stimulate a very interesting discussion among the Young People about the role of women, the role of Britain in Ireland’s history, the causes of the Rising and an interesting analysis about what might have happened if Michael Collins hadn’t have been involved. The Young People were very engaged and spoke with discernment and an analysing urgency, they were easily able to relate their own experiences in the context of history and ask for historical guidance from their history teacher Laura too when necessary.
The young people responded to the footage by writing for five minutes and then reading their own witness statements beginning with – “I was there I saw it all” Veronica suggested that the young people could write in whatever language they wanted to, there are a number of ethnicities in the class and some have only recently arrived in Ireland- this enabled all to be fully involved. Each person told their story in their chosen language: Irish, Igbo, English and Romanian – it was a very moving experience. In history class during the week, they will explore Rosie Hackett’s statement and we will explore this in the next session.
10TH MARCH – LARKIN COLLEGE
We had another lovely class today – the sun was shining so we were able to do some of the more active things outside. We explored how to use physical movement to create a story by pretending to walk through swamps, snow, a graveyard at night and even hot sticky tar. We experimented with tones and expression and counted from one to ten – as though we were a child learning, or we were receiving a surprise on our birthday as well as many other ways. We brainstormed words for said and walk and started 28 very different and intriguing stories just by replacing these words in a sentence. We worked in pairs as the listener and the speaker and the speaker had to give the listener directions to their bedroom where they were to retrieve a very precious object – the listeners then told the class the route that they had taken and why the object was precious to the speaker. Myself, Barry and Bernadette were really impressed with the stories that have been coming out and then we all got a chance to hear the amazing stories collected from home and retold brilliantly. These included one about a very brave granny, a dare, a pitchfork and an hospital visit…there were several moving stories of war and migration set during both world wars as well as funny things that have happened closer to our time.
It is looking as though there will be a great range of stories to choose from when we have our final filmed session – there will be the stories prompted by the postcards we looked at the first day as well as from the story starters exercise that we did; stories from 1916 and from home as well as stories still to be imagined and told.
SEOSAMH O MAOLALAÍ – GAELSCOIL EOGHAN UÍ THUAIRISC MARCH/APRIL 2016
Follow me up to Carlow! It was great fun to start working with the boys and girls of 6th class in Gaelscoil Eoghain Uí Thuairisc on the Once Upon a Place 1916 project. I drove down to Carlow with Bernadette Larkin last Tuesday. We got there early and had time to visit the Brownshill Dolmen just outside the town before we called to the school. Once we got to the Gaelscoil we met with some of the teachers in the staff room. Then straight into Múinteoir Micheál’s class to introduce the project. The boys and girls have already done some research on Carlow people who were involved in the Rising – the likes of the O’Hanrahan family and Nurse Kehoe.
We talked about stories and storytelling and about what exactly is ‘a story’ and the many different ways a story can be told. I started to tell one of my favourite stories ‘Manka and the Judge’. It’s a long story and I only started it so it will be a bit of a ‘follier upper’ for the class over the visits of the next few weeks. In the meantime I asked the boys and girls to talk to their families, mams, dads, grandparents and to come back next week with anything at all that they heard or learned even remotely connected to 1916. From there we will see what happens – I wouldn’t be surprised to see sketches and raps and songs and recitations in Múinteoir Micheál’s classroom in a few weeks time when the cameras come to record our work. Looking forward mightily to it so I am.
Tar liom go Ceatharlach! An-spraoi ar fad a bhí agam nuair a thosanaíos ar bheith ag obair le buachaillí agus cailíní rang a sé Ghaelscoil Eoghain Uí Thuairisc ar an dtionscamh Uair Amháin in Áit Éigin 1916. Chuaigh mé síos sa charr in éineacht le Bernadette Larkin ar an Mháirt seo caite. Bhí am le sparáil againn nuair a shroicheamar an baile agus thugamar cuairt ar Dholmain Chnoc an Bhrúnaigh píosa beag taobh amuigh den bhaile sular thugamar aghaidh ar an scoil. Nuair a bhaineamar an scoil amach bhuaileamar le cuid de na múinteoirí sa seomra fóirne. Díreach as sin go rang an Mhúinteoir Mícheál chun an tionscnamh a chur in iúl do na daltaí. Bhí a lán taighde déanta ag na páistí ar dhaoine de bhunadh Cheatharlach a bhí gafa san Éirí Amach – leithéidí Mhuintir Annracháin agus an Banaltra Kehoe.
Labhair muid mar gheall ar scéalta agus ar scéalaíocht agus phléamar cad is ‘scéal’ ann agus na modhanna difriúla chun scéal a insint. Thosnaíos féin ar cheann de scéalta is fearr liom féin ‘Manka agus an Breitheamh’ a insint. Is scéal fada é agus níor dheineas ach é a thosnú – beidh eachtraí eile de á insint agam leis an rang ins na seachtainí atá romhainn. Idir an dá linn d’iarr mé ar na buachaillí agus ar na cailíní labhairt lena gclann, lena dtuismitheoirí, lena maimeoanna agus a ndaideoanna agus teacht thar nais an tseachtain seo chugainn le scéal nó eachtra nó píosa nuachta nó eolas ar bith go bhfuil nasc éigin ar bith aige le 1916. Chífimid as sin cad a thitfidh amach – ní bheadh aon ionadh orm sceitseanna, rapanna, amhráin agus agallaimh beirte a fheiceáil agus a chloisteáil i seomra ranga an Mhúinteoir Mícheál nuair a thiocfaidh na ceamairí isteach chun muid a thaifeadadh faoi cheann roinnt sheactainí. Ag tnúth go mór leis atáim gan dabht ar bith fén spéir.
VERONICA COBUN – BLARNEY STREET BOYS SCHOOL, CORK CITY. APRIL 2016
First Day @ Blarney Street Boys School!
Blarney Street Boys School lives on the longest, skinniest road in Ireland. Having found it we made our way to Ms. Quinn’s class. From there we all went on an adventure to the hall. The boys are lovely, interested and interesting, willing to play games and chat about storytellers and storytelling. A storyteller can be a man or a woman, they said. A storyteller can be any age. They also said that a storyteller tells stories to a group of people, not just one person, and that storytelling happens in public. We all agreed that each of the boys could be a storyteller and we listened to some stories from their lives. Ordinary stories about ordinary things. Next week we’re going to tell stories about extraordinary things that can happen in someone’s life. And see what stories the group has to tell about what their families, neighbours and friends were doing in 1916 when an extraordinary event happened in Ireland.
I’m beginning the second leg of my journey home from Derry – I’ve lost count of the miles I’ve covered over the last few weeks with this Laureate na nÓg initiative, all thanks to CBI and the generosity of Eoin Colfer. The last of the five Seanachaí schools got began today. Now we are up and running in Dublin, Galway, Cork, Carlow and Derry. Joe Brennan and I met a great bunch of Year 11 students in St. Brigid’s College- 24 in all and we got off to a great start. I’m not sure they were ready for all of the jumping around and sound effects Joe had them doing at 9.05 am on a Thursday morning. They have srtrict instructions to get an early night next Wednesday.
I’m looking forward to being back in Larkin Community College, Dublin with Veronica Dyas and the 1st year group we have been working with over the past five weeks. Last week they visited Lourdes Day Centre and chatted with a group of people who have seen many changes to the area over their lifetime – one of them was born in 1918! We’ve had stories in Igbo, Romanian, Irish and English in this group, reflecting the diversity in today’s Ireland.
Peter and myself will be heading to Galway on Wednesday next to catch up with Nell Regan and her 6th class group in Galway Educate Together where we hope to capture some great stories on film. They had stories about a Granny who stuck a pitch fork through her foot to wine a dare and a Great Grandad who escaped as a prisoner of war and has written a book. They since visited Renmore Barracks with teacher Barry so I’m looking forward to hearing stories from there too.
Veronica Coburn and myself drove through the winding steep and narrow streets of Cork to get to Blarney St School to meet the boys of 4th class. it was well worth the white knuckle ride to get to meet this bunch who had such great rhythm – even Veronica couldn’t catch them out with her sneaky changes in clapping and movement patterns. She was very impressed and we can’t wait to see what stories they bring back from home.
Seosamh O’Maolaolai and I drove to Carlow to meet 6th class in Scoil Gaelscoil Eoghain Uí Thuairisc. We visited a dolmen on the way and tried to get a cup of tea in Duckett’s Grove but unfortunately it was closed. We had to make do with sandwiches from the garage and the nice teachers made us tea in the staff room instead. Seósamh Ó Maolalaí got the stories going straight away with one to be continued…
All the groups are responding in such different ways it really exciting to see how they’re responding to the project as they develop confidence as storytellers. I’m having such a good time that I have to remind myself I’m working when I’m in the classroom instead of getting lost in the chat and the stories!
Veronica Coburn – Blarney Street Boys School 13th April 2016
Today we talked about great grandparents who would have been alive in 1916. Some of the boys great grandparents grew up and lived their lives in Cork. Others came from London, Manchester, Nigeria, Estonia and Latvia. To tell stories about their great grandparents the boys have to imagine what their lives were like. They know some things about them, their names, where they grew up, at what age they left school. They can use what they know as clues to fill in what they don’t know. Today we started to build a story together, a story about 1916, a story set in Cork, a story that starts with a clue. The clue is a set of muddy boots that belonged to a young man who lived in Cork in 1916. The young man now has a name and we know his age. We also know his name, Mathew McCarthy, and we know he has a brother. Oh, and his boots are size 11. Tune in next week to find out more about Mathew and his older brother, Luke.
Blog Sheó – Gaelscoil Eoghain Uí Thuairisc, 12th April 2016
Thugas cuairt arís an Mháirt seo caite ar rang Mhichíl, rang a sé, i nGaelscoil Eoghain Uí Thuairisc, Ceatharlach. Bhi Micheál agus Charlotte, an t-ábhar múinteora, sa rang. Agus, dar ndóigh, bhí timpeall triocha dalta geala, éirimiúla sa rang chomh maith.
Bhí a gcuid obair bhaile déanta acu go léir! Chuir seisear a lámha in airde agus dúirt liom go raibh gaol díreach acu le fir agus mná a bhí páirteach in Éirí Amach na Cásca. Maimeoanna nó Daideoanna a dtuistí a bhformhór. Beirt fhear darbh ainm leo ‘PJ’ ina measc – duine as Corcaigh, duine eile as Ciarraí. Beidh an seisear seo ag bailiú níos mó eolais ar laochra a muintir.
Bhí fonn scéalaíochta ar chuid de na dáltaí an lá úd chomh maith. D’inis ceathrar nó cúigear cróga a gcuid scéalta fíora – eachtraí a tharla dóibh – os comhair an rang go léir.
Roinneamar an rang uile ansin ing ngrúpaí triúr agus d’iarr mé orthu scéal ar bith a chumadh nó a chur le chéile. Scéal ar bith. Más sa scéal 1916 nó Ceatharlach, ceart go leor, ach munar sa scéal ceachtar den dá rud sin, is cuma. Bíodh scéal againn!
Last Tuesday I again visited Micheál’s class, sixth class, in Gaelscoil Eoghain Uí Thuairisc, Carlow. Micheál and Charlotte, the student teacher, were in the class. Indeed so were about thirty bright and clever students.
They all had their homework done! Six hands went up and told me that they had a direct relation to men and women who took part in the Easter Rising. Most of these were grandmothers and grandfathers of their parents. Two of these were men by the name of ‘PJ’ – one from Cork and another one from Kerry. These six will be gathering more information about their heroic ancestors.
Some of the pupils had a desire to tell stories on the day too. Four or five brave ones told their true stories – things that happened to them – in front of the whole class.
We then divided the class into groups of three and I asked them to make up or put together a story. Any story. If 1916 or Carlow are in the story, well and good, but if neither of these things are there, who cares. Let’s have a story!