On Wednesday night, all of the Arcadia students in Galway had the wonderful opportunity to listen to writer and storyteller Eddie Lenihan share some of Ireland’s culture and folklore with us. After our classes had finished, a group of us headed through town and over to the Harbor Hotel. Once there, we were treated to a lovely meal, a real joy after attempting to cook for ourselves during our first week of classes. It was wonderful to see the whole group again, since we hadn’t been all together since orientation had ended. We spent most of the meal discussing our classes, our favorite parts of Galway, and our travel plans for the upcoming weekend.
After the meal we were introduced to Eddie, who was about to tell us all about Ireland’s traditional folklore. He began by telling us a bit about himself, including that he had also studied at NUIG and that the work he did there was the starting point of his life’s work. Turns out, Eddie has spent the past 40 years collecting firsthand stories about Ireland’s folklore and history from people all over the country. He spends his time getting to know people from all walks of life and listening to their stories. Throughout this process Eddie has compiled several books, but he has never altered anyone’s story. He then shared a few of those stories with us in one of the most spirited and animated performances I had ever witnessed. He used their stories to introduce us to a new world of fairies and folklore where we learned that Irish fairies and English fairies are very different, to never build a house on a fairy path, to be wary of black dogs blocking your way, and that you will be rewarded if you play along with the fairies.
As the evening progressed, I began to pick up on just how important these tales were to the Irish culture and identity. Eddie continually emphasized how these stories came from people that he knew and had talked to, so they weren’t “long ago and far away” tales. These stories represented real people holding on to their culture in a world continually trying to smother it. As I came to this realization, one of Eddie’s opening statements popped back into my head. He had said, “Being such a small country, it’s a wonder we’ve held on to our culture at all,” and the magnitude of importance held by these stories and folklore was instantly clear. Of course the Irish fairies are different from the English fairies. Of course the fairies invite people to play Gaelic games with them. These stories are for and about the Irish experience and the Irish people. That was why Eddie’s performance had such life and spark in it and why he had dedicated most of his life to collecting these stories. He was collecting and preserving their culture.
After he finished his performance, I was lucky enough to have Eddie sign one of his books for me so I’d be able to revisit the stories again sometime. It may look like just a book, but it’s filled with real people and their stories. What an incredible opportunity to hold a collection of culture in my hands.