The Seanchaí


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, similar 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.

Catherine KoehlerCatherine Koehler

Catherine Koehler has been singing and performing for over 40 years. Her piano teacher first recognized that her voice was preferred over her piano playing ability and therefore her singing debut was at the age of her piano recital.  The songs she grew up with as well as the stories she has adapted from contemporary and traditional sources have delighted audiences of all ages throughout the southeast and beyond.  Easily switching between Broadway show tunes and bluegrass, she has recently reclaimed her Celtic culture by focusing on traditional Irish tunes, many recalled from her childhood.  She has appeared at such venues as the Great Lakes Gathering, The North Texas Irish Festival, CelticFest Mississippi, and Fairwynd Renaissance Festival.  She was awarded the Kathleen O'Connell Memorial Bardic Award in 2014 and was a recent bronze medal winner in the Midwest Fleadh Cheoil held in Cincinnati, OH.

Jane McDanielJane McDaniel

Born in Limerick, Ireland in 1945, I started to write, retell and publish stories (local newspapers, Radio Telefis Eireann, John Bull, a weekly magazine in England) at an early age (10) thanks in part to a rich family storytelling tradition. I lived to a certain extent between two cultures, as my father was English and a staunch Protestant and my mother was from Belfast, N.I., and Catholic. I attended schools in Limerick and university in Germany, and worked as a business print journalist and radio news reporter and radio news anchor (AFN, Hessischer Rundfunk, both Frankfurt) for 26 years before moving to the US in 1993.

My love for storytelling grew out of those evenings as a child in Limerick, spent around the fire with family and neighbors. I treasure an intimate relationship with the great Celtic myths and romances, and delight in telling rollicking Irish folk tales as well as stories of Irish country people from the 1950s. I also tell a range of international wonder tales, participatory tales and riddle stories for children.

I first told stories to a larger public while hosting annual St. Patrick’s Day specials for AFN Forces Radio Network in Frankfurt, Germany (1978-1982). I was a featured Rising Star at the annual Texas State Storytelling Festival in Denton, 2002. I held the title of US National Irish Storytelling Champion for four years (2004-2007), and was voted The Biggest Irish Liar in Texas in 2006.

John BurlesonJohn Burleson


Gary WhitakerGary Whitaker

Gary Whitaker the Storyman is a long time favorite of the NTIF Urchin street stage. A professional storyteller for over 18 years he brings fun and excitement to storytelling.

He is a lover of Irish tales who enjoys bringing his stories to life for his audience.