Then she lilted into "The Woman of the Sea," about a summer night when a group of seals took human form to dance on the rocky coastline. A smitten farmer captures one who pleads for her freedom with a voice "like the waves whispering in a shell." But he is unmoved, hides her sealskin and says, "Come home with me now and it's my wife you shall be." McShane's expressive face captures the battle between the pleasures of domesticity and the call of the wild. The union lasts 14 years but the lure of the ocean is inexorable, the sealskin is found and one day her three children see her slip back into the sea "and dive down to the bottom," never to return. Some of the younger children were crestfallen at the less-than-happy ending and McShane said, "Maybe that was too sad. But it's like the Irish tunes, you know, there's a sweet sadness to them." 

She jollied the crowd, then, with Eve Bunting's story of Jimmy, Sean and Cathal O'Malley, "The Traveling Men of Ballycoo." They brought music and joy to villages throughout Ireland, playing and staying wherever they were welcome and riding Mrs. Murphy, their donkey, "whose back was as broad as the valleys between the Mountains of Mourne." Soon age forced them to give up the traveling, but they missed the joy of entertaining people. So they posted a "music nightly" sign outside their own cottage, which attracted an endless audience of locals and travelers and "even brought fairies into the wee warm room."

Marianne hails from the North - from Bangor, in County Down...She does storytelling for adults as well as children. The stories are "more layered and deeper" for grownups - and she especially enjoys how adults are surprised by their own enjoyment. "They come in thinking it's a reading or a one-woman play or something, I don't know, and then I tell them these lovely stories and I make them see it and you can just see them get sort of stunned," she said. Children and adults alike were rapt during the stories, but to give the kids a break, McShane had them get up and play a singing game called, "In and Out the Dusty Bluebells." And at the end, apparently surprised there were no Irish dance students in the crowd, she kicked off her shoes and did a jig herself.  

Marianne McShane Irish Storyteller
Irish storytelling in the US and Ireland.

By Jim Fitzgerald, AP Writer
Chappaqua, NY (AP)

You can put a green carnation in your lapel and march in a big parade. You can watch the Irish Tenors on television and shed a tear for "The Rose of Tralee." Or, if you're small enough, you can celebrate St. Patrick's Day by sitting on a rug at the library, closing your eyes and letting Marianne McShane transport you to a land of tin whistles, sea fairies and a donkey named Mrs. Murphy.

"You have to imagine you're in Ireland," McShane told about 65 children and parents crammed into the storytelling room at the Chappaqua Public Library. " Maybe the sea is behind you and there's green hills all around."