By Anna McGrane
Founded in Dublin, Seanchoíche (pronounced: Shanna-key-huh) is a hugely popular storytelling night running in several cities globally. Anna McGrane found the urge – and the courage – to sign up and tell a story at a recent Seanchoíche in Dalston, East London…
As a lover of everything story related, I immediately fell in love with the entire concept of the storytelling night Seanchoíche.
Founded by Ciaran Gaffney, the name Seanchoíche comes from the translation of Seanchaí meaning storyteller and oíche meaning night, hence a night of storytelling. Since storytellers were the original way people who could not read or write learnt about the world beyond their home, Seanchoíche is a place to learn from stories that may be very different from your own. It is also a space to feel safe and comforted by stories you may strongly relate to.
At each Seanchoíche event, eight people are invited to be speakers on a given theme for around ten minutes each. What people choose to do with the theme is up to them, which leaves space for the magic of personal interpretation.
I first heard about Seanchoíche after being hired as the photographer of a night at a London Irish Business Society event at the London Irish Centre in Camden back in September.
The theme on this particular night was ‘Belonging’, and I was moved by every story I heard.
Growing up, the only grandmother figure I ever knew was a magical woman from Ballina, Co. Mayo, known to all as Nanny Rose. Even now, whenever I hear an Irish accent, I am immediately transported to a nostalgic sense of her presence in my childhood.
This was the sensation that stayed with me the entire evening at Seanchoíche. The vast majority of speakers and audience members at this event are Irish, but it isn’t a prerequisite that you must be Irish to attend or speak.
Towards the end of the evening, it was put out to the audience that a speaker space had opened up and that if anyone fancied talking spontaneously, to make themselves known.
As someone who has spent the vast majority of my career thus far behind the camera, the opportunity to be on stage left me both excited …and terrified.
But I had made a promise to myself at the beginning of last year that if the only thing holding me back from doing something is fear, then I must push myself out of my comfort zone and do it.
So with this in mind – and heart thumping in my chest – I put myself forward to take the space. As it turned out, due to timing constraints the space was no longer available that night. But that didn’t stop me putting my name down for their next London event.
So two weeks later I was a speaker at the next Seanchoíche night in Dalston. This time, the topic was ‘Firsts and Lasts’. I chose to speak about a night a few years ago, when I went out alone on Halloween. As an absolute lover of people watching, and given the eclectic array of costumes and the vast amount of people out partying, it was a perfect opportunity to do just that.
That Halloween, there were two men I met and spoke with who had a profound effect on me. It just so happens that one was the first person I met that night, and the other, the last – Firsts and Lasts – hence my deciding to speak about them at Seanchoíche.
During my separate conversations with these men, we had spoken about grief, love, expression, poetry, neurodiversity, terminal illness, self harm – the whole spectrum of the human experience. I was so taken with their honesty, their courage and the power in which they spoke that it was immensely important I did them justice in the way I spoke about that night.
Before going up for my turn to speak, I felt immensely anxious. A natural, yet deeply uncomfortable sensation to endure, and one I was sure would only dissipate once I had entirely finished my story, if I even made it that far.
However, I needn’t of worried, because within a few sentences of my story and I found myself beginning to relax. Why? Because Seanchoíche audiences are always absolutely lovely. They genuinely want to see you do well, to hear and experience all of what you have to say and it is impossible not to feel this radiating in the air.
As a photographer and filmmaker – a storyteller of visual means – I am of the firm belief that everyone has a story to tell. Whether people choose to tell theirs in the privacy of their own home, or on the stage at Seanchoíche, what matters is that a story is told and listened to.
During the pandemic, the use of technology accelerated the reliance on connection through digital means. However, in a post Covid world now more than ever there is a societal craving to experience each other in a way that is tangible, to witness another person in a way that only occurs when they’re physically with you. Seanchoíche provides a space for this connection; stripping everything back to the very essence of what it means to be human, to speak, to hear, to laugh, to cry, to be moved by the agony and ecstasy of our existence.
I am so very grateful to have been part of Seanchoíche, for being the place I allowed myself out from behind the camera. It will always have a special place in my heart.
Seanchoíche returns to London on Thursday, 14 December at 7.30pm @ Ridley Road Social Club, Ridley Road, Dalston.
Anna McGrane is a filmmaker, photographer, and, now, a performer