These days if you work in radio or journalism, everyone talks about “storytelling” – but my own experience of storytelling is a little bit different from most people’s. I studied traditional Gaelic storytelling in Scotland, as part of my doctoral research in the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
From 1993 to 1998, I recorded stories from the late Brian Stewart, one of the last traditional Scottish Gaelic storytellers on the Scottish mainland. I also conducted many interviews with him about the storytelling tradition in his family, and how he had learned his stories from his grandmother and his uncle. Storytelling was at the heart of Gaelic culture for a thousand years and more – the greatest form of entertainment and art in Scotland and Ireland – and Mr. Stewart’s stories stretch back deep into that tradition.
My work with Brian Stewart was part of my study of Gaelic narrative, and of oral literature and storytelling more generally. Mr. Stewart was first recorded telling stories by fieldworkers from the School of Scottish Studies in the 1950s. Later, he was recorded again in the 1970s, and eventually I recorded his stories again in the 1990s. As a result, I was able to compare many versions of the same stories, as told by the same storyteller over a period of 37 years, and to answer questions about the extent to which the stories varied from one telling to another. I also explored the ways in which Mr. Stewart learned and remembered his stories.
My dissertation was titled ‘Mar a Chuala Mi – Remembering and Telling Stories: A Study of Brian Stewart’ and it was submitted to the University of Edinburgh in 1998. I have since published a number of articles based on my doctoral research, as well as articles on related topics. Here are some of those articles:
Variation in Gaelic Storytelling in Scottish Studies 35, 209-243, (2010)
Learning and Remembering Gaelic Stories: Brian Stewart in Scottish Studies 36, 125-139 (2013)
Mouth to Mouth: Gaelic Stories as Told Within One Family in Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, Vol. XXVI and XXVII (199 – 217): 2010
Loircean na Luaith: another link in the chain? in Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig 2, 118-137 (2006).