The Queen of Irish Storytellers - Stories of Peig Sayers

Performed by Nuala Hayes

Script by Éilís Ni Dhuibne

Visuals by Rita Duffy

Peig Sayers (1873-1958) was first famous, then infamous, in Ireland. For roughly the first half of the twentieth century she was well-known to linguists, folklore scholars, learners of Irish, as an exceptionally clear and fine speaker of Gaeilge, and as a storyteller of extraordinary gifts. She knew more than 350 stories, in many genres, and told them eloquently and engagingly. Collectors came from England, Scotland, France, Norway, Sweden, and various parts of Ireland, to visit her on the Great Blasket Island, learn from her, and collect her stories. Partly thanks to the interest shown in her she was persuaded to write a memoir – Peig, a Scéal Féin, was published in 1936. Like all memoirs, it is a version of her life, and selective. In 1962 it was put on the curriculum for Irish secondary schools and stayed there until 1995. Many students who struggled with Irish grew to dislike it, for various complex reasons. Unfortunately the name of Peig came to be used as a symbol for everything that was perceived to be wrong with Ireland and Irish education. The real Peig was known to folklorists, scholars, linguists, but to the general public she was a figure to be ridiculed and despised.

Nuala Hayes is a storyteller and well-known actor. In this special YARN performance, she will tell some of Peig’s story – focusing on Peig’s close and happy relationship with some of the collectors who visited the Great Blasket Island summer after summer to sit at her feet and listen to her stories. Nuala will also tell a small selection of Peig’s stories, translated by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne from the original recordings (transcribed in manuscrips of the National Folklore Collection.) Some of these stories will be familiar to listeners, since they are versions of tales well-known in international traditional, and others will be new.

Peig Sayers, co-aeval with James Joyce, was, like him, a great literary artist. Joyce went in one direction – modernist, English speaking, urban, cosmopolitan. When Joyce was twenty he left home and headed for Paris, Pola, Trieste, and spent the rest of his life abroad. When Peig was nineteen she left Dunquin and headed for the Great Blasket Island, a few miles across the sea from her home. Europe came to Peig – in the form of the international stories she knew, and in the form of scholars and researchers. Joyce went to Europe. The belonged to two different worlds – the ancient traditional world where literature was oral, and the relatively new world of the written word. But they had something in common: they were exceptionally gifted with words and language. They had enormous vocabularies – Peig’s in Irish, his in English. They had unusually good memories, and bad eyesight. They were gifted.

Joyce is honoured, Peig is not.

We hope to give Peig her due! Please join us.