Since the April of 2016 I’ve been blogging under the title ‘To be a Shennachie’. In all that time I’ve never properly sat down and talked about the meaning behind the name. I explained some of it, mainly about the duties of a shennachie and how it connected to my love of history and faith, in my Reformation Day post last year. But I had mentioned then that there was more to say.
A good place to start would be to give the proper pronunciation of ‘shennachie’, but that’s tricky. The Scots, Irish, and Manx all have their own way of pronouncing it. But if you have no hereditary preference, you can say ‘shan-ah-kee.’ The spelling is just as varied. I would have liked to use something like ‘seanchaidh’ or ‘senchai’, but I was afraid no-one would be able to pronounce that, so I went with the most anglicized version I could find.
I first came across the word when I read a small book on Scottish myths and legends. At the back of the book (or was it the beginning? It was so long ago) there was a small section dedicated to explaining the role of the shennachie, the Scottish historian and storyteller. As a lover of story, history, and all things Scottish, I was fascinated… but also saddened that such a wonderful word and position had apparently dwindled in use.
Some years later I came across the word again, this time with Irish spin, in Nothing to Fear, by Jackie French Koller, where they spelled it seanachie. “Ma and I tell them stories about Pa all the time so they’ll never forget who he was, and about Ireland so they’ll never forget who they are. Mama says I’m getting to be a bit of a seanachie myself.” That line is a good picture of what it means to be a shennachie. A shennachie was an important member of the early Celtic community, as keeper of that community’s story—someone to remind them of their identity.
The title of my blog is a goal. I want to be able to cultivate and share stories—both historical and fictional—, but I especially want to tell a story that resonates with the readers and reminds them who they are (as I showed in my Reformation Day post, through the context of history and faith). Stories about heritage and about the timeless and true are needed now as much as ever, if not more so.
What’s more, I owe so much to other shennachies who have taught and inspired me. I’d like to carry on that legacy.