Cover image for The Irish storyteller
The Irish storyteller
Zimmerman, Georges Denis, 1930-
Publication Information:
Dublin : Four Courts, 2001.
Physical Description:
633 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GR153.5 .Z555 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Supported by documents, many of which were not readily available or have never been published before, this book studies images of the 'Irish traditional storyteller' offered at different periods, from several viewpoints and for various purposes. Invariables, changes, ruptures and the effect of conflicting attitudes and ideologies are identified. Contextualized in Irish history and on the wider European scene, this huge book explores the testimony of early antiquarians, accounts of meetings with storytellers by 18th- or 19th-century travelers, representations of acts of elite storytelling in ancient Irish literature or of popular ones in oral tradition itself and in fiction in English - attention is given to the works of Maria Edgeworth, Lady Morgan, the Banim brothers and Griffin, Carleton, Lover, Le Fanu, Somerville and Ross, Yeats, Synge, George Moore and Joyce, and some more recent authors. The evolution of the aims and methods of folklorists, from the Romantic Age to the institutionalization of collecting and to modern ethnographic projects, and the links between definitions of folklore and cultural nationalism are investigated, as are the complex relationships between storytelling, history and truth and the concepts of Irishness and tradition. Another section tries to establish what is known of actual storytelling in the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th: the tellers' training, their techniques and conception of tradition, their status, the etiquette of performance and the role of the audience. Themes and formal characteristics of different kinds of oral narratives are examined.

Author Notes

Professor Zimmermann, now retired, taught in Swiss universities, particularily Neuchatel

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Zimmerman proposes the Irish storyteller "as an icon that suggests emotional significance and communicates values, and as a mirror revealing the desires or fears of the person who looks at it." In a survey that begins with the earliest manuscript evidence (about 1200 CE) and covers virtually everything up through such recent work as Henry Glassie's Passing the Time in Ballymenone (CH, Oct'82) and Clodagh Brennan Harvey's Contemporary Irish Traditional Narrative (1992), the author demonstrates this and much more. He surveys Irish literature--poetry, fiction, and drama--where the storyteller proves to be a ubiquitous icon, and Irish folkloristics, where the storyteller has been the abiding focus of collection and analysis. The first ten chapters situate this study in appropriate historical, political, and philosophical contexts. The following three chapters go back to 20th- and late-19th-century sources to determine what one can in fact know about Irish storytelling; how the storytellers themselves have portrayed storytelling; and how attitudes toward truth surface in legends, historical narratives, and personal anecdotes. Though Diarmuid ^D4O Gioll^D4ain's slim Locating Irish Folklore (2000) covers some of the same territory, this book is dynamite and has no rivals. For all academic and public libraries. W. B. McCarthy Pennsylvania State University, DuBois Campus

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviationsp. 7
Acknowledgmentsp. 8
1 'Tell us a story ...'p. 1
2 Colloquies of the ancients, and modern views or controversiesp. 16
3 Powerful and dangerous or humble and innocent: storytellers as seen by Gaels and Gallsp. 44
Document Ap. 69
Document Bp. 72
4 Echoes of past virtues, heard or imagined by antiquaries, surveyors and philologistsp. 79
5 Travellers and talkative guidesp. 122
6 Protofolklorists and imitators, nationalists and peasants, in the first half of the nineteenth centuryp. 167
a. Publishing Irish tales and legends and portraying storytellersp. 167
b. Irish nationalism and the rural worldp. 198
'The Irish Shanahus'p. 213
7 Nineteenth-century Irish novelists and traditional storytellingp. 223
a. First half of the nineteenth centuryp. 225
b. In the second half of the nineteenth centuryp. 262
8 Irish country life, folklore and nationalism in the second half of the nineteenth centuryp. 273
9 Noble peasants and mythical islanders--or 'tons of useless folklore'?p. 318
a. Traditions and mirrorsp. 318
b. A Gaelic nation once again?p. 357
c. Blurred outlinesp. 372
10 Folklorists meet storytellers or those who remember themp. 377
11 Irish traditional storytelling in the twentieth century: how much do we know?p. 428
a. The components of storytellingp. 429
b. An Irish storyteller's artp. 495
12 Stories about storytelling--storytellers in storiesp. 517
a. Storytelling within storiesp. 519
b. On not being able to tell a storyp. 537
13 'That was all true enough ...'p. 550
14 'Now to conclude and finish ...'p. 590
Bibliographyp. 599
Indexp. 627