Seanachaí – a word with many ways of spelling it in the Irish: seanchaidhe (plural seanchaidhthe); seanchaí, or shanachie in its anglicised form. In Scottish Gaelic the word is seanchaidh or shennachie, while in Manx Gaelic the word is shennaghee.
A Seanachaí is a bearer of old lore – the role that the Bards once fulfilled, either attached to the retinue of clan chieftains or individually travelling through the Provinces where it was obligatory to offer them hospitality in return for an evening of elucidation or entertainment. I have previously mentioned the travails of ‘Red’ Aengus O’Daly whose reputation of publicly criticising his hosts on his travels led to a sticky end.
The Seanachaí came to us in Ballydehob – heralded by a missable poster in the window of Levis’ Bar, which held the event. Levis’ is one of the smallest pubs in the town but over fifty people crowded in to listen to Eddie Lenihan – probably Ireland’s best known living storyteller. The pub interior itself is a wonderful backdrop for such an occasion: a selection of groceries and household goods rubs shoulders on the shelves with old postcards and paintings. Behind Eddie in the photo you can see a full length portrait of Ballydehob’s most famous son, Danno O’Mahony, 6ft 3ins tall and weighing over 18 stone: he was regarded as the strongest man in the world. The family haled from Dereenlomane and Danno was born in 1912. By 1934, at the age of 22, he was already the Irish Wrestling Champion and started a professional wrestling career in America. He won 55 out of 55 fights and became Supreme World Wrestling Champion in 1935. He successfully defended his title 125 times. His homecoming to Ballydehob after winning the world title was captured on Pathe News, here.
Returning to our own champion storyteller, Eddie Lenihan provided a fascinating, amusing and sometimes frightening evening’s entertainment to an enraptured audience of young and old listeners. He has gathered stories of The Other Crowd, Irish folk and country ways from people who still remember them being told in their own youths seventy or eighty years ago, and he is passing them on. Sometimes he speaks of stories which can’t be told: intriguing. He was born in Kerry, lives now in Clare and was passing through Cork: truly keeping alive the tradition of bearing the old lore: the Seanachaí.