Padraig Belton introduces the Story Slam 2019

padraig belton story slam

I am a journalist, and here to report that the art of storytelling is alive and thriving in West Cork.  As a reporter I am a paid storyteller, some of them, hopefully, true.

We are all storytellers, in this country—telling stories, some of them true. With a charming inattention to mere facts and an unfailing attention to the story’s life breathing beneath. At least in a story we tell each other about ourselves. We tell stories about ourselves, for self-understanding—life lived forward is understood backwards as narrative, Kierkegaard tells us.

Storytelling reveals meaning, says Hannah Arendt, without committing the error of defining it. Listening to stories makes communities, gathering under the Angelus bell, gathering in Béal na mBláth, gathering last 25th May in Dublin Castle. From stories’ power follows the responsibility of we who tell them— we, deciding who villains are, the identity of yesterday’s long suffering hero, the source of tomorrow’s hero’s pains.

You can tell a powerful story where the villains are European Commissioners, and migrants from France and Poland. People would retell it, to each other, on the radio, on Twitter. It doesn’t mean you should.

One of my own stories was a wet journey here to West Cork, running alone from Malin to Mizen, 400 slow miles. Along the country, from Derry to Omagh to Enniskillen to Ballinamore to Longford to Portumna to Limerick City, locals thought a budget sequel was being filmed to Shaun of the Dead. I stayed with lovely madmen, in Athlone and Charleville and Bantry, opening their wet door in the night to a fragrant mass of clothes, dripping painkiller.

We are from an island that—at Croagh Patrick—in circles barefoot, passes Lent. My own personal Lent after my mother’s death led me to cycle Land’s End to John o’Groats, then Malin to 50 kilometres away from us, Mizen, both times arriving on her anniversary. The second rainy time I had the forethought at least to go downhill.

Mizen has 99 steps, down which I did not descend. Known anciently for Ptolemy as Νότιον ἄκρον, Notion akron, for many it was the last, or first, glimpse of Europe. This week, Ireland and Skibereen seems an appropriate place to peep at the last glimpse of Europe.

In a country like this one, a sovereignty of strong narratives, I must confess a fondness for insurgent stories, flying columns, hurling commas against the stories of which our grandparents were fondest. And so the real life story of Linda Ervine, the Irish language activist from Protestant East Belfast, pleases me.

And objects tell stories, too – the National Museum preserves the uniform of Michael Collins, born 20 kilometers from here. It also contains Pearse’s spectacles from 1916, and a razor, not Ockham’s, but 1916 rebel Tom Clarke’s. That we keep them tells a story on us.

So it pleases me too that only yesterday, a woman called Shawna Scott spotted something for auction. A 19th century lengthy object of ivory, she thought it should be in an Irish museum, too. Personal, domestic, humorous, bizarre, it tells a different story alongside Pearse’s spectacles. She asked for donations to purchase it at auction, to donate it to an Irish museum. The plan worked. At 8:22 pm she announced her triumph.

‘Folks, we did it,’ she wrote, ‘WE WON THE DILDO FOR IRELAND.’