You stand on the edge of the world, the Blasket islands, a now uninhabited wilderness. Home to one of the greatest film franchise stories ever told – Luke Skywalker makes his dramatic return from this spot in Episode VII.
But this place has a connection closer to home, the great grandmother of one our Project Managers, Peig Sayers, renowned as one of the greatest storytellers in Ireland.
What’s so remarkable about Peig, we’re on first name terms already, is she was a woman born in 1873 who lived in poverty and as such, a POV which is rarely documented historically. There was no running water or electricity on the island and long periods where it was too dangerous to sail to the mainland for supplies. But Peig had an incredible talent for storytelling, with over 350 stories that covered ancient folklore, historical events and island life, in her native language, all of which had been passed down through the spoken word.
In her later life, scholars would come to the island to record her stories and write them up into books. But long before that, the young in her community would gather in her home each evening for their entertainment in a time before Netflix, Tiktok or doom scrolling were options.
They say you never knew which way the story would go and she had everyone hooked. Living on an island there was very little in the way of events, however she was able to take any small happening, and make it into an engaging piece of storytelling.
We see this magnetism of storytelling repeated with the rise of personal brand and influencer marketing.
Those who are able to tell their stories and make engaging content from their day-to-day lives are wiping the floor with large corporations and their calculated comms. Goodbye granny knickers Spanx, hello sexy Skims. Or the natural beauty revolution we’ve seen led by Pamela Anderson, following her Netflix documentary, which has seen her following and impact sky-rocket. She arrived bare faced to a red carpet event with Vogue and was subsequently snapped up to model high fashion make up free at 56 – a complete contrast with the historical narrative created around her and her less than natural assets.
There’s no denying we gravitate towards people when we’re interested in their story, their authenticity and, usually with age, their independence from a narrative created around them. Their actual truth is powerful. Once Christina Aguileria walked away from the corporate Disney image, we got the Stripped album, arguably her best.
Peig’s lasting personal narrative had its struggle. She dictated her autobiography and it was written by her poet, and religious son, and then edited by someone else. Conscious to highlight her stoic nature in line with his view on the world, the fullness of her character wasn’t actualised nor did she have final say in the edit. As such, her character was sometimes misinterpreted by those forced to learn her autobiography as part of the Irish syllabus, someone who represented misery and hardship – her children dead or emigrated, and ‘one foot in the grave’.
Locals tell of different stories, parties in her house that lasted until the sun rose in the east, and stories she kept for such occasions.
Where does this leave us with the art of storytelling, and the control around the narrative? That to tell another’s story is a privilege, and the care, understanding and authenticity we must hold sacred around it.
And to give people the tools, and the confidence, to tell their own whether that’s through user generated content or crafted content is the most powerful and human way to connect to a message and their narrative. Authenticity is the brand. Imagine if Peig had had her own platform to broadcast from? If her autobiography was captured by a neutral influence?
One thing can’t be denied, the gift of the gab holds a magnetism that makes a truly great storyteller the only person you want to sit next to, but who controls the narrative may control the legacy.