A seanchaí is a traditional Irish storyteller. A commonly encountered English spelling of the Irish word is shanachie and is pronounced
The word seanchaí, which was spelled seanchaid before the Irish-language spelling reform of 1948, means a bearer of "old lore" (seanchas). In the ancient Celtic culture, the history and laws of the people were not written down but memorized in long lyric poems which were recited by bards (filí), in a tradition echoed by the seanchaithe.
Seanchaí used to be servants to chiefs of their tribe and kept track of important information for their clan and were very well respected. The seanchaí made use of a range of storytelling conventions, styles of speech and gestures that were peculiar to the Irish folk tradition and characterized them as practitioners of their art.
Although tales from literary sources found their way into the repertoires of the seanchaí, a traditional characteristic of their art was the way in which a large number of tales was passed from one practitioner to another without ever being written down. Because of their role as custodians of an indigenous non-literary tradition, the seanchaí are widely acknowledged to have inherited – although informally – the function of the filí of pre-Christian Ireland.
Some seanchaí, however were not part of a clan, some were itinerants, traveling from one community to another offering their skills in exchange for food and temporary shelter. Others, however, were members of a settled community and might be termed "village storytellers" who told their marvelous stories and tales at ceremonies and community events, simialar to the servant Seanchaí. The distinctive role and craft of the seanchaí is particularly associated with the Gaeltacht (the Irish-speaking areas of Ireland), although storytellers recognizable as seanchaí were also to be found in rural areas throughout English-speaking Ireland.
The North Texas Irish Festival has a long tradition of welcoming local storytellers to our stages, not just on the Urchin street area Story Glen Stage, but also as an integral part of our cultural program on the new Seanchaí stage located in the Women's Museum building close to the DART gate and the Horse exhibits. Please visit with some of our local seanchaí while you are at NTIF.