Storytelling at the Royal Ontario Museum

I was contacted out of the blue by the ROM, asking if I, a storyteller, born in Scotland, could come to their “Celtic Weekend” as a “Scottish Storyteller.” I said that I knew some good Scottish stories, so, yes, could come along and tell them to a mixed audience of kids and parents.

A few days later, they were back with a further inquiry. This was a Celtic weekend, so could I tell Irish and Welsh stories, too. A little research provided good stories, so I said yes, and we were all set for two 40-minute sessions, at 12:00 and at 2:00.

I sat on a throne-like chair in front of a collection of movable stools occupied by a group of kids, who included my grandchildren Lindsay (7) and Alistair (5). When I told the Irish story, about Niall of the Nine Hostages who was “The Slave Woman’s Son,” I prefaced it with a word or two about slaves in different cultures, and unwisely referred to the Haida totem pole in the space just outside our room. I explained that a visit to the Haida Museum in Skidegate reveals that the Haida were sea-raiders who took slaves, which allowed them to have a slave-supported leisure society that could create great poetry and great art, like totem poles.

This was too much for Lindsay, who dragged Jane off to see the nearby pole, from top to bottom, then loudly returned to interrupt my tale-weaving with the words “What did I miss, Grandad?”

For future reference, the Welsh tale was about “The Lady from the Lake” and the Scottish one (where Alistair proudly told his neighbours, “I know this one. I know what happens.”) was “The Good Man Of Ballangeich,” about a king passing secretly among his people, doing mediaeval public opinion surveys in a very informal way.

Just before the second show, Jane and I were roaming around the main floor of the ROM, where an all-woman Celtic band was playing fine traditional music. When they paused to ask for a song from anyone in the audience, Jane asked them if they knew the old Irish song “The Wild Rover.” When they said yes, and invited her to start singing, she demurred, saying, “Not me, him!” and thrust me forward.

So it came about that the main floor resounded to three verses of me singing “The Wild Rover” while the audience joined loudly in the chorus “And it’s no, nay, never (CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP) No, nay never no more . . .” Etcetera.

And then as I took my bow, still blushing in disbelief, the PA system cut in to announce that “The Celtic Storytelling Session is just about to begin on the fourth floor” and I had to rush off. Believe it or not, some of the audience actually followed me upstairs, for my second storytelling session.

So clearly my resume has to be updated, to include the sacred title “Celtic Storyteller.” I think we’ll leave out the entry about Irish drinking songs.

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