Beneath the Trees – When a Story Goes Spiral

I have always felt time is more like a spiral rather than a straight continuous line, that moves ever further away from events and memories experienced in our lives. I have often wondered is it this alternative concept of time, that our Neolithic ancestors wanted to preserve for future generations when they etched such wonderful spiral symbols into the entrance stones at Newgrange – itself a prehistoric temple for marking the passage of time.

This is a story of a young Basque filmmaker, a master seanchaí and a storyteller who wasn’t even sure if he was one or not. It is also the story of why this new website you are now visiting, even exists. Back in the early summer of 2012, a 21 year old Basque filmmaker called, Iker Esteibarlanda, came to Ireland to seek out the last storytellers of Ireland to make a documentary. For six weeks he travelled by public transport along the Atlantic seaboard of Ireland, from Clare to Donegal, seeking storytellers to record along the way and filming enchanting Irish landscapes.

I was to meet Iker after receiving an unexpected call from the local tourist information office one afternoon. That evening, myself and a good friend, Seosamh Mac Suibhne, an Irish language poet and artist, met Iker in Donegal Town to hear about his project. We were both impressed by the sheer enthusiasm he expressed to make a special documentary about the ancient art of storytelling in Ireland and its future survival. Iker told us he was born in a small coastal town called Algorta, in the Basque Country, and studied film at the University of Navarra, Pamplona.

The next morning I invited Seosamh and Iker out to my home, which is an old traditional style cottage in the hills of Donegal. As this was once a great house for music, dancing and storytelling in times gone by, I thought it a fitting location for Iker to set up his camera. I lit a traditional turf fire in the hearth and made tea for my guests, while Iker prepared for filming. Now, I must qualify that I never thought of myself as a storyteller in the traditional sense and no comparison’s should be drawn to other storytellers, such as the master seanchaí, Eddie Lenihan, from Clare, who Iker also somehow managed to interview for his documentary.

I did happen to learn one short story, however, which I felt might tie in nicely with Iker’s documentary. I chose to tell an old moral wisdom tale entitled ‘Fionn MacCool and the Enchanted Forest‘. It had made a big impression on me upon reading it for the first time. Fionn MacCool was a mythical hunter-warrior of Celtic mythology and this particular story tells how he had a very strange encounter after wandering deep into an ancient forest.

To my surprise and amazement, Iker would include the final part of this story I told in his documentary. This was a turning point for me as it would give me the confidence and self belief to continue my own storytelling journey, and become an active collector of other storytellers stories and folklore through my journey books.

When I contacted Iker a few montha back, he was delighted to hear my plans and kindly agreed to share his documentary to mark the launch of my new website. I think that Iker is in many ways a modern storyteller, telling new stories through his camera lens.

Iker spoke fondly of his visit, “I got a very good feeling when I arrived in Donegal. The local people were very kind to me and made me feel very welcome. I feel a cultural affinity and special connection between my people (The Basques) and Irish people, especially in more rural areas.”

His documentary entitled ‘Beneath the Trees’, is an exploration of the important cultural position storytelling once held in Ireland; how storytelling still survives and can evolve today; and what the future holds for this ancient art form. Iker explains, “The storyteller’s gift once transported the audience to different worlds by the power of the spoken word. Nevertheless, as a form of entertainment, education and moral instruction, the folk art of storytelling is struggling to hold its own in today’s modern world.”

‘Beneath the Trees’ may be perceived as a critique of modern times but the young Basque filmmaker prefers to describe it as a a tribute to the ancient art of storytelling. Click here to watch Iker’s short documentary