By Judith Cullen
Declan sat on a boulder while Pat trotted up and down the strand reciting names of Irish Lords and Kings, in chronological order. Every now and then the old man would bellow out questions randomly, and Pat had to respond with a basic bit of information. If he paused at all, Declan would holler “Crap!” and make him back up a few hundred years or so and start again. If Pat stopped jogging to think, “Keep moving! Keep moving!” rang down the beach and Pat had to back up his recitation again. Last week it had been Gods and Goddesses. The threat of Irish Saints was looming in the future.
Pat didn’t complain. He found it as exhilarating as he did infuriating. Even though the sound of “Crap!” made him want to punch something, he kept at it and kept at it until he could recite the entire list uninterrupted but for the unexpected questions which he fielded without pause. Once he could achieve that, his teacher made him do it again five, six, seven times with no respite.
The first time Pat had been able to complete the exercise undisturbed, he had felt the power of the knowledge within himself. He felt like he owned the names, dates, and details and in the joy of it, his jogging broke into ecstatic leaps and spins. His teacher grinned as he watched Pat careen across the sand and rocks, never once letting up his trial of the young storyteller.
Patrick was a clean, fresh palette and his rapid mastery of the basic knowledge was unlike anything the old Seanchai had seen before. He was almost ready to take the next step, and that would be a hard one to make. Many a pupil never made it past the dates and names to understand the art of the story itself.
When Pat had completed the recitation of Lords and Kings perfectly eight times in succession, Declan invited him to come and sit on a nearby boulder. Pulling a silver flask from his pocket, Declan took a sip and then offered one to Pat.
“You’ve done amazingly well, my young friend. You make me very proud.”
“Thank you, sir,” Pat panted still catching his breath, all aglow at his success.
“We’ve still the Saints to do, but I’ve no doubt you will master them as well. It’s time to start thinking of the next phase of your journey. It will be time to begin with poetry and build your virtuosity with words.”
Pat was still gasping a bit, and he looked down at his feet, not wanting to let his teacher see his nervousness.
“Before we do that, Pat, can you remember what our first lesson was?”
“Listening, it was, sir. Listen to the sound of the people you are telling to. Listen to the sound of your telling as if you were one of them. Let your ears be the ears of your audience.”
|A rocky tidal zone in Sligo|
“Exactly right. Listening is the first rule. Listen to your story, your poem, and put yourself in the seat of the audience. That is how you can make certain that you are serving the story, and not yourself. I cannot stress how important that is, Pat. The minute your audience feels like you’re telling at them, they’ll do the same thing that they’d do in church, or a political rally, or when their elders speak to them, and turn themselves off from what they don’t want to hear. Your job is not to change minds, but to lay the truth before the people in such a way as to make their heads consider and their hearts feel. If you have remained loyal to the truth of the story, people will make up their own minds if they were ever open to begin with. Maybe, just maybe you’ll inspire a crack in a mind that was not so open. But you’ll never change the mind that is determined not to be changed. Remember that.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll remember.”
“There might have been a time when seanchais had such power, but it led to arrogance and abuse. Never succumb to that, Patrick Flynn. Remember the first story you heard from me way back all those weeks ago? Remember Dallan Forgaill – a great poet and master of his craft to be sure. But he lost touch with truth and service to the story. Be humble, Pat, and in that way your stories have power. Do not lose your perspective on what is important.”
Declan looked deep into his young eyes for a long moment. Pat was sure his uncertainty showed, but he schooled himself to breathe deeply and regularly, to focus outside of himself, and found he could return the old man’s searching gaze without fear or discomfort – his own concerns completely forgotten.
“Yes, I think you do understand this. Or at least you are beginning to understand. I think you might be ready for a little experiment.”
Declan rose and bade Pat to follow him as they walked up the cliff road.
“Mind, I’m not letting you off the hook where the Saints are concerned.”
“No, of course not, sir. I do understand that all this reciting is because this is knowledge I need to have automatically to hand at anytime and for any situation. Not every audience is going to sit quietly and sometimes I may have to compose a tale to accommodate those listening and still remain true to the lore. I’d not have time to think or search my memory at such a moment – the knowledge has to be right there.”
“You’re a good lad, Patrick Flynn.”
They walked into town and up to Reilly’s Pub, pausing at the door.
“Do you like Yeats, Patrick?”
“W.B. Yeats? I do, sir,” Pat replied.
“Good thing that. You wait out here in the sun for a few minutes, and I’ll be right back.”
When Declan returned, he had a piece of notepaper in his hand and was folding it into quarters. He handed it to Pat, “Memorize this. It’s not so much now, and you still must work on your Saints for next week. I’ll expect to hear this bit day after tomorrow, and without pause nor hesitation, mind you or …”
“Crap!” Pat burst out, his face alight with a mischievous smile.
"Patrick's Path" will be published as a part of A TRIO OF IRISH TALES II, Coming to Amazon for Kindle and in Paperback this November.
Check back next week for another installment, as young Patrick explores what it means to tell a story.
You can read Part 1 of "Patrick's Path" HERE