Anna Nic an Luain (1884-1954)

Na Cruacha Gorma, Co. Donegal

Another remarkable female storyteller, Anna Nic an Luain, a native of Co. Donegal, lived all of her life in the shadow of the Blue Stacks, ten miles north of Donegal town. Anna married into the McLoone clan (Clann Mhic an Luain), one of the principal families of the area, and they, together with their neighbours, constituted a small community of Irish language monoglots who had an extraordinary rich oral tradition in that language.

The fulltime collector, Seán Ó hEochaidh, of the Irish Folklore Commission, visited that remote place in 1947 to record the traditions of the community. Among those whom he recorded was Anna Nic an Luain, then a housewife in her early sixties. Seán regarded her as a remarkable person and a gifted storyteller. She told him long stories, Fianna tales, and international folktales, some of which took a full night to perform, as well as legends, including fairy legends, prayers, and much information on the material culture of the Blue Stack's area. She also 'worded' or recited from memory two hundred songs, some of which contained more than twenty stanzas. Anna also had a remarkable collection of riddles which Seán Ó hEochaidh recorded from her. This is how he described his experience of collecting from her:

'She is as wonderful a woman as I ever met. I wrote down about two hundred songs from her, and as regards stories, traditional lore and other short items, there is no knowing how much I wrote down from her. Often while I was writing from her, I was reminded of a well of clear water in a great summer drought. The well would run dry today and tomorrow morning it would be full to the brim again. Thus it was with Anna. I would spend, perhaps, a whole day writing and taking down pieces of folklore of some kind from her, and I would be finished with her, it would appear, and if I went back the following day she would be ready again, and the well of knowledge would be brimming over…'[1]

He also painted a most engaging picture of Anna, who had no children of her own, sitting by the fire, surrounded by the neighbouring children whom she was entertaining with her store of riddles:

'When I thought I was finished with her, I was passing by one night and I put my head in the door to her. She was sitting knitting in the chimney corner with a crowd of the children of the villages sitting around her, asking them riddles... 

'I listened to Anna asking the children the riddles, and, indeed, it wasn't long before I started writing. I wrote down every single one I heard from her; I came back again and again, and in the end I had one hundred and twenty riddles from Anna...'[2]

[1] Ó hEochaidh, Seán, ‘Tomhasannaí ó Thír Chonaill’, Béaloideas 19 (1949), 6-7 (Author’s translation).

[2] Ibid., 7. For further published examples of Anna Nic an Luian’s repertoire, see Áine Ní Dheoraí (eag.), Na Cruacha: Scéalta agus Seanchas, Baile Átha Cliath 1985, 190-198 (passim).

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