story Archaeology

Exploring stories in the landscape

Stories and Activities with Children 5: The Two Poet Pig-keepers

Wild boar with piglets

This audio story is one of the many stories that circle around the great
Táin Bó Cúailnge , The cattle raid of Cooley. It is not a well known story but it is important as it is really the ‘origin’ story for the whole cycle. It is also a great tale and explains a lot!

The story has been included because it emphasises the importance of the storyteller-poets and can be enjoyed in conjunction with the become an Irish Hero Poet activity sheets. Have fun together.

Or go to the podcast episode about the Two Poet Pig keepers, The Quarrel of the Two Swineherds.

Return to the ‘Stories at Home’ project hub

Stories and Activities with Children 4: Become a hero poet

Try your hand at a Rosc poem

Rosc is very old. The very first stories were told through this type of poetry. The form was used to describe both the setting of a story and the action. It was a good way of describing a battle. It can be hard for us to understand today especially because they were originally written in a very old style of Irish. Download the ‘rosc’ worksheet and have a go.

Make a Praise Poem for a famous hero

First, listen to the story Bricriu’s feast to get to know about some of the best heroes.When these stories were first told, there was no TV, there were no films. The story tellers had to paint pictures with words. Thy were very good at it. You can do it too. Download the Hero Praise poem worksheet and have a go.

Make a praise poem about yourself

There is a very early type of ‘praise poem where a poet (or a poet-warrior is singing his own praises. Each line begins “I Am”. You could write a poem in the same style. It is very easy but great fun. The short video below will show you how you can create a really imaginative poem.

Download the special template sheet. With this you can create really unusual poems by asking your brothers and sisters parents or even Grans and Grandads the questions on the template, over Skype or Watsap.

This is a translation of part of a poem that was first written down at least, 900 years ago. Your poems will be just as good.

I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a poet: who but I
Sets the head aflame with smoke?

Return to the ‘Stories at Home’ project hub

Stories and Activities with Children 2: A Family Project Pack

This project pact can be explored by one child, a group, for example, siblings together or even as a family activity. There are opportunities for design activities, imaginative writing in a variety of styles and suggestions for further research.

The Adventures of Fergus Mac Leite

The best introduction to this topic is to watch one of the video story sessions: Fergus Mac Leite, Airthine the Unsociable or the audio story Bricriu’s Feast

The pack is divided into six different topics connected to the theme. Each topic has one PDF information sheet to read together and a connected activity sheet. You can download them all though the links below

Download topic 1: Waterbeasts . Information sheet and Activity page

Download topic 2: Become Queen (or King) Information sheet and Activity page

Download topic 3: Land Under Wave . Information sheet and Activity page

Download topic 4: Otherworld Islands . Information sheet and Activity page

Download topic 5: Heroes . Information sheet andActivity page

Download topic 6: Poets and Story-tellers . Information sheet Activity page 1

Go on to explore the old poet writing Ogham with Activity page2a and Activity page 2b

Have fun and please feel free to send me your stories and pictures . I will be happy to send you more ideas, I can include a gallery page on the site.

There will be more videos and things to do very seen. So, join in the Irish Hero stories ‘Stories at Home’ project. Stay safe and have fun!

Return to the ‘Stories at Home’ project hub

Stories and Activities for Children 1: Bricriu’s Feast

It has been a while since Isolde and I have been able to work on the podcast but I have continued working with the stories in schools around Ireland, This year, as part of the 2020 Tain March Festival, in May, I had planned to set up a children’s Óenach in Roscommon. Like so much else, this has been postponed for the foreseeable future

But this very postponement offers new possibilities. , As a teacher, I am only too aware of the need for fun and interactive ‘things to do’ at home at present.. Those of you who value the old Irish stories as much as I do might welcome stories and projects based on marvel-ous Irish hero stories,

So I am going ahead in releasing my schools’ Irish story telling programmes “Warriors, Heroes and Poets”. There will be videoed stories and full project pack suitable for use by siblings or as a whole family if you like.

I will also be uploading some audio readings of stories of the stories from my, as yet, uncompleted book. This post contains just one of these stories. This is Bricriu’s Feast. We covered the story for adults in a previous series. This version is a ‘family’ version.

Watch the animation, part of this story, The Cats of Cruachan.

Return to the ‘Stories at Home’ project hub

Thanks from Isolde

Your donations have allowed Isolde to buy a really important and useful piece of kit. Although she has to largely remain lying down, (She can sit in her wheelchair for short periods now) she can begin to think about work again. The Braille display unit will greatly help her get back to working with early Irish texts. The video says it all. Take a look,

Walking with the Táin ~ Stories in The Landscape

The text of the Táin Bó Cúailnge is one of Irish story’s greatest treasures. The central tale of the two great bulls may be familiar but the wealth of wider stories that circle the Táin, involve some of the most colourful of Irish characters and encompasses almost the whole of the country.

Since 2011, a group of academics and knowledgeable enthusiasts have been walking the entire route of the Táin story, encouraging the growth of Táin based events along the way. The Táin March Festival is run by a voluntary committee who are passionate about preserving the history and culture of the Táin with the hope of generating greater interest and participation of local communities. The walk begins at Rathcroghan in Roscommon

For the past three years, I have been giving workshops on early Irish mythology to primary schools in Roscommon and Longford to support this on-going project. These workshops, using props and costumes are designed to set these, into the late-iron age context in which they were originally placed. As a story-teller, it is also my role to make these, often obscure, stories accessible and fun. We also get to explore story making and poetry inspired by those wonderful story-teller poets. in those days. It was never wise to upset a poet for their magic was the skill of making the world with words. We also examine some of the craft skills that made the world of the stories so memorable.

Each year, in late May, the schools (in costume) gather on Rathcroghan mound, to meet with Queen Medb and her poets, bringing their own stories and poetry to share. It is quite an event. Other celebrations and events also take place in Longford over the weekend. This year, we even published a poetry book and a short, animated film, based on one of the stories.

This year sixteen schools sent more than 350 children and their teachers to Rathcroghan. This large number means that the project will need to grow and change. Next year, we hope to provide children’s aonach days where classes will have the opportunity to enjoy hands-on ‘living history’ workshops on early crafts, environmental issues and maybe even take part in a ‘poets law court as well as continuing to explore the wonderful stories and poetry.

As you can imagine, this project occupied me fully from March through to the end of May but a lot has come out of it, including the very real need for written and audio versions of the stories that will appeal to a family audience. I am now occupied in creating some of these.

The project has at its heart community and connections, crafts and creativity. As we come together to celebrate an old story safely told for another year, we are also celebrating the on-going story of our shared environments.

Links: Find out more about the Táin March Festival

The Cats of Cruachan ~ an short animated film

This time last year, I was struggling with what felt like an impossible task. I was asked to come up with a scripted screenplay for the Rathcroghan Visitor Centre, Roscommon. This short animation was commissioned by Nollaig Feeney, the Roscommon Heritage Officer and was a direct outcome of the Schools workshops undertaken in the county in support of the annual Tain March event. (I will be writing about this event in a subsequent post.)

I was keen to tell part of the Fled Bricrenn story. There was a problem in that Bricriu’s Feast is a long and complex text full of convolutions and duplication. It took Story Archaeology four full episodes to tell the story. I had created a telling adapting it for a modern audience and much loved by Primary aged children but it would be a huge challenge to condense it to under tn minutes. Eventually, I settled for telling only the section of the story that concerned Medb and Rathcroghan.

As I am sure you are aware, and we soon discovered, animation is costly to produce and basic flash was all that the budget allowed for simple 2D graphics. I think that Pink Kong did a great job and we are pleased with the results. We had hope to make some of the children’s poetry integral to the story telling but the script had to be kept tight. We managed to include a short selection along with the credits. The film was completed last October but was released this May at the culmination of the 2019 Tain March event.

Our regular listeners will recognise that Medh is played by our own Isolde. We had fun getting the wheelchair into the recording booth but all went well eventually. I have now produced a full written and audio version of Bricriu’s Feast for a family audience and this will be published shortly.

Medb: Conquests and Consequences

Medb, Queen of Connacht, is rightly renowned in Irish legend and mythology, as a strong and influential woman leader. Her centre of power, Cruachan Ai, is still recognised as one of the most important Iron-age sites in Ireland.  Medb lead her people in her own name and by her own right. She was a strong woman in a society largely dominated by strong men. She fought hard to maintain the high status of her rule throughout her long life but the choices she made, as always happens, had consequences.

This audio-article endeavours to discover some something of Medb the woman, as she can be found in the old Irish texts? What choices did she have to make to protect her land and people and how did she come to terms with the consequences of those choices? It is an interesting story.

This audio article is based on a presentation given for an on-line conference  hosted by Vyvianne Armstrong. This conference is entitled Medb, Intoxication and Initiation. This is one of a series of upcoming conferences. If you would like to find out more, contact Vyviane at 

Music: A Trip to Emain by Gian Costello

Robin Williamson: Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave

Robin Williamson

released 1997

When I was putting together my audio-article on story telling, I mentioned that I owed a debt of honour to the musician, story teller Robin Williamson. I also mentioned that I once owned an entire vinyl collection of Incredible String Band albums! (that was in another country and besides …..)

I haven’t listened to them for years but tracks like ‘October Song‘, The ‘Dancing of the Lord of Weir‘,  and ‘Seasons they Change‘, yes, especially that one stays with me.

I saw them many times but, later, after they went their own ways continued to follow Robin’s work as a story teller. I think the last time I saw him perform was in the old chapel at Markree castle, near Sligo. Funny enough I have given a story telling evening there myself now.

I was always a story teller but it was after hearing Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave that set my feet on the path to living in Ireland,  exploring and experiencing the Land, not just the stories.  Back in 2000, I was fortunate enough to be able to light the spark that gave rise to Moytura 2000  when we re-enacted the battle and where the story was told, in its entirety, by a gathering of tellers.  Someone once told me that Robin. who inspired me to search for the story, had considered its location to be mythological . But this is Ireland and the stories lie held in its landscape. I am so glad his poetry sent me searching

I thought I might share the track with any listeners not familiar with it.



Telling Stories : Continuing the Oral Tradition

Join Chris Thompson as she takes a story-teller’s view of the old Irish stories. Who told the and why were they so memorable.   In this audio article, Chris celebrates the old stories and explores the challenges in telling them today.

For those who have asked me for ideas and advice on story telling generally, I am going to be devoting a  section of my upcoming Patreon site ‘Sinann’s Well’ to this subject.

References and Links

Oral Tradition Theory

While there are a great many experts who can illuminate this eclectic discipline. I have found the writing of John Miles Foley comprehensive and enjoyably helpful. I also appreciate the manner in which he takes account of the revitalizing effect of the internet on oral story tellingProfessor Foley was the founder of the academic journal Oral Tradition and the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition at the University of Missouri, where he was Curators’ Professor of Classical Studies and English .

I have added a link to the UK Amazon page listing a few a selection of his works but they tend to be somewhat difficult to find.  Our American listeners, I  suspect, would have less of a problem. His  books do offer a comprehensive and modern approach to Oral Tradition Theory.

For those of you who enjoy audio books.I would  highly recommend,  The Modern Scholar: Singers and Tales:  Oral Tradition and the Roots of Literature  By: Professor Michael D. C. Drout.

Miichael Drout, who studied under Professor Foley,  Professor of English and Director of the Center for the Study of the Medieval at . He is an author  and specialising in Anglo Saxon,  medieval literature, fantasy and science fiction.

This is an enjoyable and easy-to-follow introduction to the  history and development of Oral Tradition Theory and offers a fascinating insight into how story telling functions within  diverse  societies. I listen to the book  over and over again, just because I enjoy it. It is not too long, either.

Other links

The Ark before Noah by Irving Finkel

Nothing to do with Oral Tradition theory, or, indeed, with the early Irish tales, I am still going to recommend this book in connection with the current topic. This tells how a story, now known, only from the careful translation of long-lost Cuneiform clay tablets,  has continued to retain so much information,. Irving Finkel, does not just plot the meandering, ever changing and adapting, course of a story, still known and loved today,  but he throws a fascinating light on the world where this story may have been first told. He even identifies performative elements, still recognisable.

I love this book.

Music: The Wandering Harper by Gian Costello


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