Do you know a good yarn? If you do then a local storytelling group would like to hear from you.
The Causeway Yarnspinners meets once a month in Castlerock and its numbers have grown every year since it was first formed five years ago.
The group was set up by former teacher, Christine Turner, who moved back to her native Northern Ireland six-and-a-half years ago with her husband Mick.
“When we moved back home we joined U3A and someone mentioned about starting a storytelling group, I eventually became leader of that,” she told The Times.
“We met at our home in Articlave but the numbers never exceeded more than six. Outside the group I got to know Pearl Hutchinson and Maud Steel from Kilrea. We decided to expand the group to include non-U3A members, calling ourselves ‘The Causeway Yarnspinners’, and still meeting in our house until our numbers got bigger.
“We now have just over 20 members and currently meet on the second Monday of each month in the Peter Thompson Minor Hall in Castlerock.
“Because we meet in the afternoon our members are mostly retired or semi-retired but we have a broad mix of people right across the Triangle area and North Coast.”
Some objectives of the Yarnspinners are to:
• Bring together people from around the Causeway area - rural, coastal and urban, to participate in storytelling;
• Provide an active programme to ensure that the art of storytelling is kept alive in the Causeway area;
• Encourage members to learn, develop and practise the skills of storytelling (telling and listening)
• and welcome storytellers to share their stories;
• Take storytelling out into the wider community, whenever the occasion arises;
• Have fun and craic together.
People who come along to the meeting are encouraged not just to listen but to participate. Christine explains: “Well known storytellers such as Liz Weir and Kate Murphy have been a great encouragement to us.
“The meetings can involve a theme such as water or autumn and then members might bring a poem or story they have found related to that. We encourage people not only to tell stories but to write them.
“Liz or Kate might come along to hold workshops to encourage people to find their voice. There’s also a lot of reminiscing at the meetings, normally led by Pearl, where a story might provoke some memories.
“The yarns can be traditional ones that have been passed down generations or stories about lesser known figures in the area that people never heard of. At one of the meetings for example we discussed our favourite Christmas toys from our childhoods.”
In an introduction to storytelling for the BBC, Eugene McKendry said that “there have always been storytellers because people enjoy stories.”
He writes: ”Story-telling was a favourite art and amusement among the Gaelic-speaking people of Ireland and Scotland and much of their repertoire went back to pre-Christian sources.
“In olden days, there were professional storytellers, divided into well-defined ranks - ollaimh (professors), fi lÌ (poets), baird (bards), seanchaithe (historians, storytellers), whose duty it was to know by heart the tales, poems and history proper to their rank, which were recited for the entertainment and praise of the chiefs and princes.”
Even now Northern Ireland has a number of well known storytellers keeping that tradition alive.
Christine believes that encouraging storytelling is hugely important - even in these days of social media and electronic means of communicating.
“I think a lot of people are beginning to realise that that part of our culture is in danger of disappearing.
“Telling stories and keeping them alive for future generations is very important.”
The Causeway Yarnspinners held their first ever Christmas dinner in the Brown Trout in Aghadowey last month, which included storytelling by the fire and music from Patsy Devine from Derry.
Christine hopes the group can expand more into the community in future: “I’d like to see us working towards moving into schools and encouraging young people about storytelling.”
If you are interested in storytelling or want more information about the ‘Yarnspinners’, you can contact the group by email: firstname.lastname@example.org