Irish Story-telling

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER XI....concluded

4. Story-telling and Recitation.

The tales were brought into direct touch with the people, not by reading—for there were few books outside libraries, and few people were able to read them—but by recitation: and the Irish of all classes, like the Greeks, were excessively fond of hearing tales and poetry recited. There were professional shanachies and poets whose duty it was to know by heart numerous old tales, poems, and historical pieces, and to recite them, at festive gatherings, for the entertainment of the chiefs and their guests: and every intelligent person was supposed to know a reasonable number of them, so as to be always ready to take a part in amusing and instructing his company. The tales of those times correspond with the novels and historical romances of our own day, and served a purpose somewhat similar. Indeed they served a much higher purpose than the generality of our novels; for in conjunction with poetry they were the chief agency in education— education in the best sense of the word—a real healthful informing exercise for the intellect. They conveyed a knowledge of history and geography, and they inculcated truthful and honourable conduct. Moreover, this education was universal, for though few could read, the knowledge and recitation of poetry and stories reached the whole body of the people. This ancient institution of story-telling held its ground both in Ireland and Scotland down to a period within living memory.


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