It is an undisputed fact of literary history that, whereas British writers and readers have always favored the novel over the short story, just the opposite has been the case for their Irish neighbors. Irish short-story writer Frank O’Connor has attributed this distinction to differences between national attitudes toward society. Whereas in England, O’Connor says, the intellectual’s attitude toward society is, “It must work,” in Ireland it is, “It can’t work.” The implication of O’Connor’s remark, echoed by many critics since the 1963 publication of his well-known book on the short story, The Lonely Voice, is that, whereas the novel derives its subject matter from an organized society, the short story springs from an oral, anecdotal tradition. According to J. H. Delargy, in a frequently cited study of the Gaelic storyteller, ancient Ireland fostered an oral literature unrivaled in all of western Europe, a tradition that has influenced the growth of the modern Irish short story.
Delargy describes Irish storytelling as being centered on a gathering of people around the turf fire of a hospitable house on fall and winter nights. At these meetings, usually called a céilidhe (pronounced “kaylee”), a Gaelic storyteller, known as a seanchaí (pronounced “shanachie”) if he or she specialized in short supernatural tales told in realistic detail, or a sgéalaí (pronounced “shagaylee”) if he or she...
(The entire section is 510 words.)