The renowned storyteller from Dún Chaoin talks about her childhood, and growing up in a house where storytelling was the home entertainment of the day.

Cáit ‘An Bhab’ Feiritéar from Dún Chaoin was one of the last great traditional storytellers in Ireland. With a repertoire of up to 150 stories, most of which have been recorded in the Department of Folklore in UCD, and also published in book and CD format, she was also a regular contributor to programmes on Raidió na Gaeltachta. 

Born Cáit Ní Ghuithín in 1916 in Baile na hAbha, Dún Chaoin, County Kerry, her mother Eibhlín Ní Shé died when she was only a few weeks old, and the nickname ‘An Bhab’ (the baby) stayed with her.  

Bab tells a story about a widow’s daughter, which has a dramatic ending. Thankfully her own life, despite its sad beginning, has been a happy one, and she remembers her early days with fondness, 

Bhí an saol go deas suaimhneasach.  Bhí muid bocht, ach ní raibh orainne bheith ag coimeád suas le éinne, mar bhí gach éinne mar a chéile, fé mar a déarfá...

Growing up in the home of her paternal grandparents Mícheál Ó Guithín, she says the saying Leanbh gan mháthair, ní bíonn é ag gol, agus ní geall é gáire never applied to her, as she grew up surrounded by love and affection from her uncles, aunt and grandparents from both her mother’s and father’s side. Her father Seán Ó Guithín provided the discipline.  

In this interview Bab credits her grandfather Mícheál Ó Guithín as her primary teacher in the art of storytelling, as he was a noted seanchaí (storyteller). But in truth she was born and raised in an environment steeped in storytelling, as the tradition ran through the veins of both sides of her family. Her maternal grandmother and maternal grand-aunt Cáit Bean Uí Shé and Máire Ruiséal, Bean Uí Lúing were well known storytellers, as were her father and her uncle Tadhg.   

When he was a very old man, Mícheál Ó Guithín lost his sight, and to pass the time, would tell stories and recite poems. As a child Bab was unaware that his rich store of stories was being passed on to her; this was just the norm in their house. She absorbed it all, even though she was unaware of what was happening at the time, 

...chuadar isteach im’ chluasa dá m’ainneoin, ag síor éisteacht leis, agus téann cuid dos na scéalta beaga san, téann siad i bhfeidhm fós orm.

Bab didn’t start telling stories until she was much older however, for fear that the other children at school would tease her.  

In the time before radio and television, people in rural Ireland would go ag bothántaíocht in the evenings. While it can be translated into English as visiting one’s neighbours, it was also an occasion for storytelling, singing, playing cards, chatting and catching up on the local gossip. The emphasis was on enjoyment rather than polite conversation. Bab’s grandparents’ house was often home to these gatherings, 

Daoine a bhíodh ag siúl a rinne i gcónaí...Bhíodh a lán acu. Bhíodh cuid acu ag imirt cártaí sa tig...Ní raibh raidió ann, ní raibh uisce sa tigh, ní raibh solas aibhléise ann ach bhí gach éinne go sona sásta, i bhfad níos sásta ná mar atá an saol anois.

When the time came for her to start going to school, Bab missed her mother keenly, especially when she heard the other girls talking about their mothers. One poem they learned in school was called ‘Mo Mháthair’, and she found that reciting it gave her great comfort whenever she felt sad, 

Táim gan mháthair le bliain is ráithe, 
Ar dteacht an Mhairt a d’éag sí, 
Sí a bhí grámhar, mín, tais, mánla, cneasta, lách, gan aon locht...

Cáit ‘Bab’ Feiritéar passed away on 8 May 2005. 

This episode of ‘Cúrsaí’ was broadcast on 4 March 1994. The reporter is Bríd Óg Ní Bhuachalla.