By Brenda Buchanan
As we all know, the ability to spin a good tale is a valuable thing, especially when times are tough. In the late 19th century, when my maternal grandparents were children living on the impoverished west coast of Ireland, entertaining family and friends with stories must have been a critical survival skill.
Ellen Fenton was from County Kerry and John Kane was from Mayo, two beautiful places that were desperately poor at the turn of the twentieth century, having never recovered from the potato famine of 1845-52.
Born in 1881 and 1882, my grandparents emigrated separately on crowded ships bound for Boston in the early years of the twentieth century. They met in America, several years after their arrival. When they married in 1912, she was 31 and he was 30. They had six children in eleven years. My grandmother died of cancer in 1933, when my mother was twelve.
My mother told a lot of stories about my grandmother, and many about County Kerry, though Mom didn’t visit Ireland herself until her four kids were grown and educated. I made my first pilgrimage last week and am still spinning from the experience.
My grandmother must have been a skilled practitioner of the art of storytelling because with words alone she imbued in her daughter—and my mother in turn conveyed to me—a clear, abiding sense of a yet-to-be known place, which is the essence of what good storytellers do. It was my first visit, but from the moment we arrived I felt as though I’d been there a hundred times before.
I’ve been back in Maine for three days but my body is still on Ireland time, so this month I’ll content myself with posting photos from our trip. In June I’ll write about the storytelling culture in Ireland, a tradition that is thoroughly and wonderfully honored every single day.