A "seanchaí" (IPA-ga|ˈʃan̪ˠəxiː or IPA| [ʃan̪ˠəˈxiː] - plural: "seanchaithe" IPA| [ˈʃan̪ˠəxɪhɪ] ) is a traditional Irish storyteller. A commonly encountered English spelling of the Irish word is shanachie.

The word "seanchaí", which was spelled "seanchaidhe" 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".

The traditional art

The "seanchaithe" 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 "seanchaithe", a traditional characteristic of their art was the way in which a large corpus 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 "seanchaithe" are widely acknowledged to have inherited – although informally – the function of the "filí" of pre-Christian Ireland.

Some "seanchaithe" 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."

The distinctive role and craft of the "seanchaí" is particularly associated with the Gaeltacht (the Irish-speaking areas of Ireland), although storytellers recognizable as "seanchaithe" were also to be found in rural areas throughout English-speaking Ireland. In their storytelling, some displayed archaic Hiberno-English idiom and vocabulary distinct from the style of ordinary conversation.

Modern times

Members of the Celtic Revival such as Padraic Colum took a great interest in the art of the "seanchaí", and through them the stories that they told were written down, published, and distributed to a global audience.

At events such as mummers' festival in New Inn, County Galway, and the All-Ireland Fleadh Ceoil storytellers who preserve the stories and oratory style of the "seanchaithe" continue to display their art and compete for awards. Eddie Lenihan is one notable modern-day "seanchaí", based in County Clare, Ireland.


Since 1 January 2005, Patrick E. McLean has written and produced a podcast under the title "The Seanachaí". While the name is an interesting nod to the Irish story-telling tradition, elements such as the creation of completely original stories, the telling of stories without the use of distinctive hand gestures, and much of McLean's subject matter (such as superheroes) mark it out as a descendant of the folk tradition rather than a continuation of it.

Other uses of the term

Since the Scots speak essentially the same Gaelic language as the Irish and since they originally migrated from Ireland, it is not surprising that the term "seanchaí" has been applied to traditional storytellers in Scotland as well. All uses ultimately have their roots in the traditional poets attached to the households of ancient Gaelic nobility.


* Padraig Colum, editor, "A Treasury of Irish Folklore".
* Frank DeLaney, "Ireland."
* Patricia A. Lynch, Joachim Fischer, and Brian Coates, "Back to the Present: Forward to the Past--Irish Writing and History since 1798".
* [ The Seanachai Homepage]
* Video of a Seanchai:

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