A good storyteller can spin a captivating yarn from the most mundane topics. They can carry their audience to another time and place. It’s an art-and a gift-and Tom¡seen Foley has it in spades. Last Wednesday, the Irishman and his troupe of four transformed the Granada into an Irish “rambling house,” sharing stories, traditional music, and dance.
The sparse set consisted only of a few chairs, a black backdrop, and a hanging four-paned window with a candle in it, yet the space came alive as Foley described the rambling house, the term used for cottages in which neighbors gathered on wintry nights to share music and stories. “In the west of Ireland, where I was born and reared, all the old traditions of song and dance and music and storytelling were all once very strong,” Foley said. “‘Twas a remote and rural place in the west of Ireland called Teampall an Gleantain. And I grew up in a house that was typical of that place and that time, with the whitewashed stonewalls, the thatched roof, the half-door and the small windows.”
Throughout the show, Foley shared traditions that went back before “the quills inked history,” as his grandmother put it, creating an intimate ambiance. In his mellifluous voice, he spoke of the excitement of getting Christmas parcels from family members who had emigrated to America; of putting a candle in the window and a bucket of water outside the door for lost loved ones who come calling at Christmas; of what a great country Ireland would make if only they could put a roof over it.
Peppered throughout the storytelling were music and dance. Marianne Knight, Brian Bigley, Katie Linnane, and William Coulter performed reels, airs, and jigs played on traditional instruments such as the bodhr¡n (a sheepskin drum), uilleann pipes (elbow pipes), whistle, guitar, and fiddle. Dancers Knight, Bigley, and Linnane showed their superb talents as world-class Irish step dancers, moving their feet sometimes faster than the eye could follow. Particularly memorable was “The Deadly Dance Duel,” a raucous danceoff la West Side Story between Bigley and Linnane.
For her part, vocalist Marianne Knight beautifully delivered Irish songs-in both English and Gaelic-such as “Ar Eirinn Ni Neosainn Ce Hi,” “The Kerry Christmas Carol,” and “The Boys of Barr na Sraide.” Grammy Award-winning guitarist William Coulter often provided sublime background to Foley’s stories.
Called a seancha- in Gaelic, the storyteller has played an invaluable role in Ireland’s long, ancient history. Foley thankfully is doing his part to keep that tradition alive. With today’s world of lightening-fast communication, it was a privilege to spend time in a rural cottage in the west of Ireland, listening to “old lore” and traditional music.