We at Romani Roots are extemely honoured to
welcome Richard O'Neill to our site.
Richard is an extraordinary gentleman whose talent
for telling stories throughout his life and as his
profession, make him an asset to, and fine example
for our race.
We are most grateful to Richard for the following
article which complements and very nicely
introduces our Fireside Storyteller page.
We hope in the future to be able to feature some of
ROMANI ROOTS would like to make it clear that Mr
Rcihard O'Neill is NOT a member of this site.
I’m sure most storytellers will get asked the question:
‘So how long have you been doing this then?’
There are two answers I can give to that question the
first is since I was five so that’s forty one years and the
second one is four years professionally.
I was born into a large Romani Gypsy family in the North East in
1962, in a modern caravan, my dad in 1925 in a horse drawn wagon
and his dad before him in a tent. My ancestors came into this country
500 years ago they were believed to be from Egypt hence the term
Egyptians which was eventually shortened to Gypsy. Irish and
Scottish Travellers also have histories going back as far. Literacy levels
were always low but training in people skills, buying, selling and
telling stories for fun and profit were very high.
I grew up listening to stories around camp fires, at family camps and
fairs, in caravans at weddings christenings and funerals. When I was
five years old buoyed by having learned to read at school I did my first
performance, some reading (which amazed many of the older people)
and a little selection of tales about my school and the Gorja (non
Gypsy) people I met there. I carried on telling my tales whenever I was
asked, developing new ones especially for my children and their many
cousins who seemed to have a voracious appetite for them. Like most
things you acquire for free it wasn’t something I particularly valued.
However I did realise that the skills certainly came in handy in my
work as a construction company owner who had to explain
complicated plans to customers who had little or no knowledge of
construction, as a volunteer in youth clubs and schools, as a therapist
and trainer and in gaining support to launch National Men’s Health
Week now an international event.
Five years ago I set up a website to encourage more Gypsies and
Travellers to express themselves in the written and spoken word and
through that website I was asked to tell stories at a community centre
in Manchester on a professional basis. This led on to a number of
other offers in Manchester to tell stories in places as varied as the
Imperial War Museum and at a corporate board meeting.
Since then I have worked with a number of different Traveller
education, museum and library services and a number of charities
and non profit making organisations around the country entertaining
and educating, but also helping to train more storytellers from the
Gypsy Traveller communities through the lollobal storytelling group.
I was really pleased to be involved with the ‘Open roads Open Minds’
project in Leeds in which Peter Saunders and his team brought
together Irish, Scottish and English Travellers to perform in schools
and theatres and to record a DVD with storytellers like Sheila Stewart
and Jess Smith.
I have been overwhelmed with the response from schools, teachers,
conference organisers and the corporate world to the stories. A really
nice compliment was to be asked to tell a selection of stories and to
deliver workshops at a national Teachers with Travellers residential
The question why tell stories is always in the back of my mind, I do it
because I love it, the reaction from audiences, the satisfaction that
comes from encouraging others to express themselves through story
and the opportunity to give people a different view of the Travelling
communities. We are currently working on a project with a county
council to help them get their message on community involvement
over to a range of different communities through storytelling.
Since the play ‘The management reserve the right’ was performed in
Edinburgh and London last year there has been a huge interest from
high schools to run storytelling workshops especially from students
studying drama. Drama teachers really seem to see the benefits of
understanding storytelling, simply because it is at the heart of all
Two of the most popular children’s stories have been turned into
plays by children themselves, it’s not just about Traveller culture
there are common themes that most of us experience being
discriminated against, feeling lonely and powerless.
The old saying that a man dies twice once when he leaves this earth
and again when no one alive remembers him I believe to be true, we
do keep our relatives and those we have loved and learned from alive
with story but it also gives us a sense of who we are and where we
have come from.
Story has been and still is a powerful force within the Travelling
communities in fact it was one of the main factors that decided
Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers should awarded ethnic status in
the1989 and 2000 court cases.
These are very exciting times for storytellers, because I firmly believe
the true potential and application of storytelling is still to be realised. I
am committed to training and encouraging more people from the
Travelling communities to tell their stories professionally as I believe
it’s vitally important that audiences outside the communities get a
genuine and clear depiction of our culture the past and the present,
unfortunately there are some who have taken stories not
understanding the language or the culture and represented us
I personally don’t anyone tell anyone else’s stories only those I’ve
created or ones that have been passed down through the family.
I have been asked if I will run workshops and training courses for
non Travellers to teach them the culture, language and skills to
deliver the stories and the answer is a resounding yes, I would like to
see many more people who really understand my culture and my
stories delivering them around the country.
My older relatives are pleased but also amazed that traditional
Romani storytelling skills are being used in the diversity and
leadership training I carry out for Police forces, local authorities and
government departments and that they have been featured on radio
and on TV.
It is the older relatives as well as the young ones who are right behind
my current project ‘Story time live’ a big family storytelling show I
plan to perform around Christmas time in the North which will be full
of the most popular stories like Ora Matchiko, Kushti Feeter and Baro
Mush and characters like Jasper and Bob, King Mouse and the
beautiful Queen. If successful I hope to tour it in 2009.
The advice I was given by my Dad before I did my first public
"Dik, Shoon, Rokker" which in English translates as ‘look, listen and
then talk still enters my head every time I’m about to perform.’
I remember the stories I’ve been told and the people who told them,
they still have a huge impact on my life and I hope I continue to
remember to look and listen more than I talk.