Who we are
Ours was a very socially engaged household and my parents, Jim and Peg Armstrong, tended to run the clubs they joined. In 1990, when dad had finally been persuaded by mum to go to the Linen Hall Library to see Liz Weir telling stories, his response was to head for their local library to discuss with Librarian Adrienne Adair the idea of holding a regular storytelling event. In February 1991 the Tullycarnet Yarnspinners’ first meeting was held. Dad was to see only a year and a half of this before he succumbed to cancer, but mum, who was at least as redoubtable, ran the sessions until her death in 2013.
From January to May 1993, I recorded each session and we issued a cassette of the stories, which was sold worldwide: £12,000 was donated to the Northern Ireland Hospice from the proceeds. The collection, now available as a CD, acts as an historic document of contemporary storytelling in Northern Ireland.
My parents were very outgoing, relocating to Portugal for four years in the mid-70s and, on retiring, travelled extensively, circumnavigating the globe at one point. The stories on the cassette/CD are local in nature and none the worse for it, but my dad would be delighted at the way in which Tullycarnet Yarnspinners’ has now embraced the world and its tales; something mum lived to see and supported wholeheartedly.
They grew up before the internet and social media, when writing letters to people and places near and far was how people kept in touch, often in the form of stories to tell. Maybe the means of communication has changed but there is still power in a story well told, by someone who knows how to tell it. That power is enhanced by storytelling through the spoken word, an art form under threat of extinction.
In 2006 mum was awarded an MBE for Services to Storytelling, an award that was really to honour those who had told stories and listened at Tullycarnet over the previous 25 years. Peg and Jim Armstrong started a wonderful thing that has grown well beyond the boundaries of Tullycarnet Library and the scope of the original sessions. The Armstrong Bursary is dedicated to their memory.
I am proud to be able to fund the Armstrong Bursary with the indomitable Liz Weir as the first recipient and first Libraries NI Storyteller in Residence, to spread the word and keep alive this most precious means of communicating with each other.
Liz Weir was appointed as the Armstrong Storytelling Bursary’s first Storyteller in Residence with Libraries NI in January 2016. She has been telling stories for over 40 years and was the first guest at Tullycarnet Yarnspinners’ inaugural meeting back in 1991.
Based in County Antrim, she is a storyteller with an international reputation. Formerly children’s librarian for the city of Belfast, she now travels the world telling stories to adults and children. She organizes workshops, appears at major international festivals (including the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee and the Australian National Storytelling Festival) and has performed in Germany, Australia, South Africa, Canada and the United States. Liz was the first winner of the International Storybridge Award from the National Storytelling Network which cited her “exemplary work promoting the art of storytelling within Ireland and between other countries,” and she was twice nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Award.
As Storyteller in Residence with Libraries NI she organises training for library staff and for people within Northern Ireland communities who wish to enhance their own storytelling skills. Work with schools and encouraging young people to tell stories is an essential part of the role and another priority is working with older people and those with dementia. The monthly Yarnspinners groups which have now been extended to Bangor Carnegie Library and Lisburn City Library appeal to adult audiences and give emerging storytellers the chance to practice their art,
She admits to having “the best job in the world”!