Story-telling in the Gaelic Tradition

Telling a story takes many forms, but the ancient tradition of telling a story around a fire during the winter nights is a special thing.


Declan Kiberd, ‘Story-Telling: The Gaelic Tradition’, in The Irish Short Story, ed. Terence Brown & Patrick Rafroidi (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979), pp.13-26.

In 1888, that prince of literary diplomats, Henry James, observed with some tact that it the little story is but scantily relished in England, where readers take their fiction rather by the volume than by the page [1]. Pondering this text almost seventy years later, Seán Ó Faoláin remarked with a kind of baffled triumph that ‘the Americans and Irish do seem to write better stories’ [2]. The short story as a literary form has flourished in many countries besides Ireland and America [where] has had gifted exponents such as Katherine Mansfield. The Russians of the past century are rightly regarded as masters of the genre and Chekhov is justly celebrated as the master of the Russians. France, too, has produced many great story-tellers in the tradition of Daudet and Maupassant. In his study of the genre, Mr. Ó Faoláin attempted to explain why the English, who have given the world so many great novels, should have failed so spectacularly to master the short story. He concluded that English readers preferred the social scope of the novel to the more private concerns of the short story. English writers, he believed, found a natural form for expressing their social philosophy in the extended narrative. The short story, on the other hand, was ‘an emphatically personal exposition’ [3]. Mr. Ó Faoláin offered various explanations for the strength of the shorter genre in other countries. The form had [13] prospered in the United States because ‘American society is still unconventionalized’, in Ireland because her people were still ‘an unconventional and comparatively human people’, and in France which was ‘the breeding ground of the personal and original way of looking at things’ [4]. These are pleasant arguments but there may be deeper reasons for the success of the form in such countries.

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I am an artist, accountant and author living in western New York, transplanted from Denmark, Michigan, Florida, West Virginia, Pennsylvania (in that order!) I love the beauty of the world and sharing it with others through jewelry, photography, digital painting and writing.

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