SISF 2018 – The Story So Far

The Scottish International Storytelling Festival is on until the 31st of October and we’ve gathered some highlights and memorable moments from our recent events for you.


Opening at Stirling Castle

Could there have been a more fitting and atmospheric setting for the opening of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, an annual celebration dedicated to storytelling and our shared intangible heritage, than the Great Hall at Stirling Castle?

On Thursday 18 October, traditional art connoisseurs from across the country made their way to the previous home of Scottish kings and queens, to indulge in a feast of tales from Martin Macintyre, Janis Mackay, Donald Smith, and David Campbell, accompanied by a stellar line up of musical talent, including Ross Ainslie, Allan MacDonald, Brighde Chaimbeul, Griogair Labhruidh and Angus and Kenneth MacKenzie.

In his welcome speech, chair of TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) Gary West, set the mood for the evening:

It is incredible and overwhelming to think what these ancient walls have witnessed, the songs and stories they’ve listened to. Tonight, we are making history by reviving the roots of our shared traditional heritage, celebrating our past, looking out into the future.

The evenings artistic material was based on James MacPherson’s romantic poems of Ossian, closely connecting Scotland’s continuing oral streams of song, music and story. The first story of the night ‘Fionn and the Salmon of Wisdom’ was told by Festival Director Donald Smith and the exchange of Ossian tales and pipe music started to flow seamlessly alongside each other, echoed by the interweaving of Scots and Gaelic.

A memorable moment was Griogair Labhruidh’s pause before his performance of ‘An treasamh port’, as he switched from musician to storyteller by sharing his personal connection to this Gaelic tune. His family came from an area in North Argyll, which is beautifully described in the song, and he believed that they would have heard and sung this tune, just like he was about to share it with the audience.

The evening finished on a high, with all musicians gathered on stage for the finale of ‘Port mu dheireadh’. It has been wonderful to see the themes of this special event reappear in performances throughout the festival, growing a true connection amongst artists and participants as they continue to enjoy the tales of our ancient Celtic roots.

 ‘It was beautifully organised with music and tales interspersed.’

‘Great setting and a good mixture of performances.’

‘Do it again here – magnificent!’

photo Sally Shalabi

Once Upon a Book

Old books and well-loved children’s stories came back to life as storytellers took us through the world of children’s literature in a vibrant afternoon at the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Museum of Childhood. Inspired by the Museum’s exhibition ‘Growing Up With Books’, the day featured tales for both younger and older audiences, telling stories that had been passed on for generations.

The storytelling of the day was closely related to the ancient connections between Irish and Scottish cultures. Although the stories were aimed at children, what became really clear to me during the “Once Upon A Book” event was that the sense of who we are is built on and closely connected to who we were. Storytelling plays a key role in passing on this knowledge and nurturing the understanding of our contemporary culture.’ (Tim Channell)

photo: Sally Shalabi

In the cosy and relaxed atmosphere of the Museum of Childhood, storyteller Ailie Finlay told the story of a robin and a wren, adapted from a lullaby that Robert Burns’ wife used to sing to their babies. She also included tales of her own childhood:

‘The story of the fox and the goose from Aesop’s tales, was one I was personally very fond of as a child. The feedback I received for this event has been fantastic and rewarding, for example a grandmother, who came with her granddaughter, said they both thoroughly enjoyed it and that it took her back to her own childhood.’

Across the road at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, The Wee Spanish Mobile Library came for a visit to the Sandeman House Garden and offered a Spanish take on growing up with books. Parents and children engaged in Spanish songs and play, making it a joy to witness the universal pleasure of stories and their outreach to different communities.

Royal Botanic Gardens

Sunday opened the gates to the Enchanted Garden, allowing storytellers and audiences to embark on story journeys in the beautiful surroundings of the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Such diversity of stories and song stirring up a real zest for life, truly wonderful for all ages. I felt like a child again!” (participant’s comment)

It was unbelievable fun to see The Armagh Rhymers outside the Botanic Cottage encouraging folk to stick their finger up their noses, whilst their lively ‘horse’ had everyone chanting and joining their song and games.

Adding an international aspect to the afternoon’s entertainment, Chantal Dejardin took her audience on a French nature walk in the glistening autumn sun, accompanied by the sound of her accordion.

‘I was amazed how easy it was to understand another language through the mimics and body language of her storytelling, as well as a delightful feast for the ear!’ (Storyteller and Festival Volunteer Jan Bee Brown)

The outdoor activities in the Botanic Gardens commenced on Monday around lunchtime, with the unique story, arts and crafts workshop ‘The Bountiful Birch Tree’, engaging participants in a hands-on learning experience about cultural and medicinal uses of birch. Birch in Scottish tradition was often used to make besoms (Scottish brooms) and the workshop shone a light on the folklore of this everyday object, once an intrinsic part of everyday culture and a sound heard in all homes.

The workshop’s stories unfolded the associations of sweeping not only for hygiene and cleanliness but revealing the association of brooms as a religious symbol of cleansing, both in pagan cultures and modern religious beliefs. Instructors, Alette Willis and Allison Galbraith guided everyone through the practice of making their own brooms.

It was wonderful to use my hands to make the main character in the story.’ (participant’s comment)

A lovely mix of history and science wonderfully presented.’ (participant’s comment)

John Hope. 
Credit: Welcome Library, London.

Moving from folklore to the medicinal use of birch, The Professor’s Room on the upper floor of the Botanic Cottage received its name from Dr. John Hope, who taught students the chemical composition of plants and their potential use for future pharmaceutical purposes.

This historic workshop setting gave many of us goosebumps. All of us had taken modern medicine at some point in our lives that traced back to the upper floor of that Botanic Cottage. Here we were still learning, where Professor Hope once used plants to help revolutionize western medicine. Cleaning out superstitions. Swish, Swish, Swish.’ (Tim Channell, workshop participant)


Feeling like you’ve missed out? Keep calm, there’s still more fun to come! For latest event info check and join us on our last day for the Halloween Storytelling Marathon, a free drop-in storytelling session for lovers of ghost tales and all things spooky.