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Storytellers: There’s a story in each of us
[re Clare County Library Website]

Clare People, Tuesday, 2 November 2010

by James Lynch

Stories are all around us, there’s a story in finding out how a place got its name or as to why a certain place has a historic marker attached to it. Here in Clare we have a wealth of stories, both historic and mythical. Since before Merriman we were storytellers and we had our heroes and villains.

There are stories of sports, faction fights, forbidden love and life and death in every town and parish in the county. The secret in telling them is in unearthing them and knowing where to look. This week in Storytellers James Lynch suggests we use the resouces at hand to find the stories that made our parishes and communities what they are today.

This series has only just got underway, its an opportunity for us at the Clare People to look into our communities and find and highlight the stories that may otherwise be lost or perhaps not get their due recognition. These stories may come from the past or the present; they may be stories with national and international relevance or they may be more localised. Either way these stories are often a reflection of our society and of our world at the time. In years gone by the heritage commission sent researchers into the countryside to collect the stories, songs and music of the people before they were lost or forgotten. These days the continued and evergrowing influence of American and British culture on our small Island means that we are in even greater danger of losing or forgetting so many of these stories and legends.

With Storytellers one of the aims is to provide those stories to you the readers and to get them to a wider public than they might have reached before. Every parish, every community and every family has a story or two worth telling. Many of them feature local characters or people who made the community what it is today and these articles are a way of recognising their achievements or recounting events that shaped for better or worse the communities in which we live today.

As I stated there’s plenty of stories out there to be told and a great many of them run the risk of being forgotten or of going to the grave with the people who know the story best. If you or a family member or neighbour have stories worth telling, surely it would be only right to record that story for future generations. In the past the oral tradition of storytelling kept so many tales of courage, sadness, joy and hardship alive for centuries. Some were myths and legends others were histories of Irish families and communities. It was a proud tradition, but one that is sadly almost lost in its entirety to us.

The seanachaoi was a highly respected figure in Ireland for centuries. They were folklorists, keepers of historical records and entertainers to rich and poor, young and old. The tradition of the seanachaoi was superceded by the arrival of radio and eventually television.

Local stories have therefore been replaced by national and international ones and we are losing our grip on our more immediate surroundings and the stories most relevant to us and our community. It’s time we regained a respect and an interest in our local areas and in the lands and people that surround us daily and with whom we interact on a regular basis.

The release of the census details for Ireland from 1901 and 1911 during the past few years has allowed people to gaze back at their families and to examine where they came from and what type of life they may have had. These census details give us a snapshot of what type of family life our forebears may have lived and can help us reconnect with some of our family stories and even put some new perspectives on said stories. Browsing the site of the National Archives online, helps you find so many different records regarding your family, your parish and perhaps even your townland.

When you combine the National Archives and the census information they have released, with the work of the Clare County Library in putting together what is essentially the best online county archive in Ireland, you have a readybuilt opportunity to produce your own personal ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’. Believe me when I tell you, your family story is bound to be far more entertaining and interesting than that of any celebrity on television, because it’s your story and you’re connected to it. Anthony Edwards and his colleagues in the Clare County Library office have over the past 10 years provided us with a resource for researching and learning more and more about our county and our local communities.

The Library website provides us with not only access to the catalogue of books we can borrow, but it also links us to various websites of local interest and provides a number of other tools and services to the public. However, for me, the jewel in the crown for Clare County Library is its online collection of archives, journals, antiquities and statistics that are all easlily accessed via their website. The achievement in making all this information available was due in no small part to the work of the Clare Local Studies Project or CLASP as it was known. Over a period of 10 years the Library staff and CLASP workers researched, catalogued and put online a vast quantity of material to allow people to research the Banner County in a way they had never been able to before.

I met with Anthony and he spoke with passion and pride about the online resource that the Clare County Library had put together. The site has a forum that allows users from around the world to trace their Clare roots and answer queries and questions about their heritage. People are learning their stories and the Library is allowing them to do that. As a research tool there is little or nothing available to the public that compares with the Clare County Librabry site. As Anthony explained to me, it’s an ever developing and evolving resource and it is through the users that it can develop further. Anthony and his staff are looking for stories, photos, copies of historic documents to add to and to link to their site. Anthony encourages users to sign into the website and join the forum. He and his colleagues know the value of the stories of Clare. There are categories on the site for heritage, folklore, history, genealogy, archaeology, literature and song and placenames. As a look at our county there is nothing as comprehensive or detailed available anywhere else. Much of the story of county Clare and of its many parishes is contained within the library site. It definitely wouldn’t hurt to go and learn some more about where we come from, it might even help to give us some perspective on where it is we’re going.

The county library and its massive online database can be found at
The national archives have made the 1901 and 1911 census details available for perusal and download at
The details of those who emigrated to the US through Ellis Island are available online also at

If you have old photos, articles or stories you wish to donate or have copied to the library’e ever expanding online archive, be sure to contact Anthony and the team there via email ( or on the library forum.

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