Monday, May 30, 2011

Interview with Bairbre McCarthy on April 9, 2011

On April 9, 2011, I interviewed Bairbre McCarthy, storyteller, Irish language teacher, and writer. Her most recent book is “The Keeper of the Crock of Gold.” I am sure you'll enjoy the delightful discussion I had with her:

Question: How did you get the idea for your latest published book, “The Keeper of the Crock of Gold”?

Bairbre: I feel that Leprechauns are not treated properly. I am basically sticking up for Leprechaun rights!

Everybody knows the traditional stories of how people grab a Leprechaun, squeeze him, and shake him. And they never get good results. I figure if you treat them with respect, maybe you'll get good results.

Question: Is that the book that was presented to President Obama's children?

Bairbre: That's right. That was pure surprise to me. I just found out of it the day before the book went to the White House. I had a call from the Prime Minister's office from Ireland and I thought it was one of my brothers fooling me. I was laughing at the guy for awhile and then he got very serious and said, “Well are you the author of this book?” Then I realized it wasn't one of my brothers.

It was just chance. I don't know really how they found the book. What I'd heard was the Prime Minister sent out a team to book stores and libraries in Dublin and asked them to recommend something. They chose a book of poetry for Mrs. Obama by one of the Irish poets. And they wanted something for the children and they chose mine! So I am very lucky really. I guess some Leprechauns were looking out for me.

Question: Because you treated them with respect in the book! Who presented the book?

Bairbre: It was the Irish Prime Minister. We call him “Taoiseach” (said something like the English words “tea – shock”) in Irish. We always use the Irish words in Ireland for the government positions. So we call him the Taoiseach but he is the Prime Minister. It's a tradition that the Irish Prime Minister or Taoiseach comes to the White House every St. Patrick's Day.

Question: I picked up that President Obama is being invited to Ireland. Now, you grew up in County Clare? What was it like there? Did you hear stories as a child?

Bairbre: Yes. I really was very fortunate. My father was a good story teller, as were my grandparents. But I think everybody in Ireland is a story teller!

It's very much part of the Celtic culture it's in the blood. We carried on the oral tradition for so long, it's become part of us.

I didn't consciously become a story teller until I'd been living over here in the United States and I'd been teaching Irish language and history. When you try to teach the history you have to teach the stories.

Over twenty years ago, somebody in my class was a librarian and asked me would I come down to the library and tell some stories. That's how it all started!

I had the idea for the language students that I would have a dual language book on the Irish legends.

I got a grant from the New York State Arts Council and self published it. I was able to send it out to publishers and Mercier Press in Ireland really liked the idea of the dual language. Plus, they do like to publish a lot of mythology and folklore. They've been my publishers ever since.

Growing up in County Clare was very different. I've been living over here for thirty years. I think Ireland has made great progress in catching up with the rest of the world from those times. When I was growing up we listened to the radio a lot. We heard stories on the radio.

Question: What is your take on the language these days? Is Irish gaining in popularity, both in Ireland and in the USA?

Bairbre: It is! I'm very pleased with how it survived. When you think about how difficult it was for the Native Americans in this country, and their culture hasn't survived very well. The Irish language and the Celtic culture is making a big come back. People are happy to go back home and proud of their roots. Many of them go back to learn Irish if they have abandoned it for awhile.

Question: Can you give us a peek at the book you are writing?

Bairbre: I can! It's actually a young adult book about Cú Chulainn because I thought he was such a great hero. He is very much a Herculean mythical figure. Often we don't get a picture of what it would have been like for him growing up as a child, with all those powers. So that is my approach.

I'm working on it with the same illustrator as my other recent books. I am very pleased with it. My illustrator, Oldrich Jelen, is from the Czech Republic. Of course, the Celts began there, so he's very familiar with the culture.

Question: I got to visit Prague and they are very much into publishing there, aren't they?

Bairbre: They are. They published a Czech version of that book that went to the White House. I thought it was very nice when I saw it.

I've been invited to go to the national storytelling festival next year in Tennessee. But I also am going to start bringing tours to Ireland, storytelling tours. I'll tell the stories behind all the ancient sites. The details will be on my web site. We'll arrive in Ireland on Easter Sunday, 2012. I'm sticking to the wonderful west of Ireland for the week.

Question: So you'll fly into Shannon Airport?

Bairbre: Yes, and we'll go to two of the areas where they speak the Irish as the first language – the Gaeltacht (An Ghaeltacht). We'll go to Connemara and down to Dingle. We won't be traveling all the time – I want us to appreciate what's there.

We'll start in County Clare and the first night I want to bring everybody to my nephew's restaurant which looks out on the Aran Islands. It's near Doolin. That's a lovely place with a lot of music. I'm going to go as far as Westport in Mayo. We're going to do a night in Galway.

Question: How did you happen to come to the US?

Bairbre: I came to Saratoga Springs thinking it was a suburb of New York City. I knew about the flat track. My father raised race horses, steeplechase racehorses. I came to the racetrack and I met my husband almost right away. And that's why I'm still here!

Learn more about Bairbre's books here.

Bairbre's Web Site.

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