On March 6th , not long before the tragedy of Covid 19 struck Ireland, I hosted a group of US University students on a nine- day tour of the country. Their tour leader, Lindsey Wotanis, professor of Communication, Literature and Language had been involved in some of my past tours of Ireland and had observed some storytelling workshops that I had conducted in Sneem. She attended the Sneem Storytelling Festival in November 2018. Why did she decide to base four days of her Irish tour in Sneem? Here is her answer to that question.
Our trip to Ireland and visit to Sneem was all part of a travel writing study abroad experience at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. All throughout the spring semester, my students were learning how to write travel narratives–stories that can be published in newspapers, magazines or travel websites. Good storytelling is a major component of successful travel writing. In addition, storytelling is a major part of the Irish cultural tradition. So, it made perfect sense to include Batt’s storytelling workshops as part of our experience. They not only helped the students learn about a major part of Ireland’s history, but also helped them to get a better understanding of the elements of good storytelling, which are universal. Learning about the tradition helped them to appreciate the fact that stories are central to the way we connect and communicate across cultures.
My purpose in sharing the above information is to point out the potential of storytelling to attract to Ireland US University students who are studying journalism and other forms of narrative writing. My experience of US visitors is that they love our Irish music, song and dance but many are disappointed when they leave Ireland without ever having a storytelling experience. At present it seems to be the poor relation of Irish culture and tradition.
The recent visit of the Marywood students to Sneem also included visits to Derrynane, Staigue Fort, Valentia Island and the Sceilg region, all very scenic rural areas steeped in richstory. I was amazed at the appeal of life for a few days in a small village, like my own, had for these 20/21 year olds. Freedom and safety, the friendliness of the people and their stories which provided material for students’ narrative writing, the uniqueness of their holiday experience which few tour groups from their country sample because of sticking to the beaten track.