The direct provision centre in Athlone.

‘Tales my Granny told me’ set for National Folklore Collection

A unique collaboration between the former Athlone John Broderick Writer in Residence and residents of the Lissywollen Direct Provision Centre is set to become part of the National Folklore Collection.

‘Tales my Granny told me’ is described as “a local project with national impact” by its creator, Keith Payne, and features the voices of people of nine different nationalities who are current residents of the Direct Provision Centre in Lissywollen.

Keith, who finished up his stint as Athlone’s John Broderick Writer in Residence earlier this year, has collaborated on this unique project with Philomena Barry from Athlone Community Radio. The duo visited the Lissywollen centre on numerous occasions throughout the months of September and October to record tales and stories from all over the world.

Keith explains that the idea for the project came from Gerry Callaghan of the New Horizons group in Athlone which is a community group of volunteers working with international protection applicants in the area since the year 2,000.

“Gerry was at a funeral of a resident in the Lissywollen centre and he was struck by the stories that the women at the funeral were telling and the songs they were signing and he suggested that perhaps we could record some of these stories and songs.”

Keith Payne applied to Creative Ireland for funding to bring the project to life, which was successful. He brought Philomena Barry on board, and the many stories and songs which were recorded are currently being edited for a podcast to be broadcast on Athlone Community Radio later this year.

Speaking from his home in northern Spain, where he spends the winter, Keith Payne said the stories he heard from residents in direct provision in Athlone had “a profound effect” on him, and he cannot wait until they are made available to a wider audience.

Keith has big plans to bring the unique voices of direct provision women in Athlone to a wider audience, which includes a plan to archive the podcasts in the National Folklore Collection for future generations to enjoy.

“We are also planning to publish a book of all the stories, and we are going to develop a schools programme so that the diverse voices of the people who will become ‘the new Irish’ among us can be heard,” he says.

For the schools programme, Keith Payne is planning to work in close collaboration with the pupils and teachers from Gaelscoil na gCeithre Máistrí in Lissywollen, and he even has ambitious plans to translate some of the stories into Irish!

While families from 16 different nationalities are currently living in the Lissywollen Direct Provision Centre, Keith Payne and Philomena Barry have recorded stories from nine nationalities so far. “We are hoping to feature the voices of all 16 nationalities before we complete the project” points out Keith.

One of the things that struck him most while listening to the stories of people from Mali, Nigeria, Ghana, Bangladesh and many other corners of the world is the fact that “the more we think we are all different, the more we are the same” says Keith Payne, hence the working title of the project ‘Tales my Granny told me.’

“There are some great stories in there, and a lot of them will be easily recognisable to Irish people, and we have also recorded a lot of songs as one of the things we realised is that not everybody is a natural born storyteller, but that song is also a version of storytelling,” says Keith.

The project will run until next May, and is currently being edited into podcasts of between five and twenty minutes in preparation for broadcast on Athlone Community Radio

Keith Payne, who is a poet and translator, and has been working as a professional artist for the past decade, passionately believes that everyone “deserves to have their voice heard” and is delighted to be working on the ‘Tales my Granny told me’ project.

“I believe it is a very important body of work which will stand the test of time, and it has been a great privilege to hear the many stories handed down from generation to generation among so many different nationalities,” he explained.