Traditional Storytelling

Myth, Hero Tales, and Folktales

Storytelling is the flagship of Irish folklore. Our famous oral tradition is exemplified in famous storytellers from Peig Sayers to Anna Nic an Luain, Eamon a Burc, and many more. Notably, the members of the travelling community were traditionally regarded as amongst the best storytellers, and they have made an enormous contribution to the preservation of Ireland’s oral and musical tradition. Anthropologists George and Sharon Gmelch famously recorded many of these narratives during the 1970s.

Stories of Fionn and the Fianna (The Fenian Cycle) CuChulainn and the Red Branch Knights (The Ulster Cycle), The Cycle of the Kings, and the Mythological Cycle , comprise the four major saga cycles in Early Irish literature. The Cycle of the Kings tells of the legendary kings of Ireland, both mythical and historical, including Labraid Loingseach, Conall Corc and, most famously, Cormac mac Airt and Brian Boru.

Alongside folktales and legends, all these stories, told around the firesides at night, formed the backbone of entertainment and imagination in Ireland for many millennia.

Legends tended, and still tend, to be told on a more informal basis – in the fields, over the kitchen table, at the pub – and do not require any specialised skill or knowledge in their telling. Legends were slightly more likely to be told by women than by men. But other forms of storytelling – folktales, hero tales, and myths – have traditionally been the preserve of the seanchaí, who was slightly more likely to be male. Much of the stories that were collected by the Irish Folklore Commission were from rural and Gaelic speaking areas.

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