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Meet the Storytellers (3) Nick Hennessey

Updated on March 11, 2014
Photo: Settle Stories
Photo: Settle Stories


Settle Stories is an Arts and Heritage charity, based in North Yorkshire. One of the important roles of Settle Stories is to organise an annual storytelling festival, which brings us into contact with many professional storytellers.

So meet Nick Hennessey (right), storyteller and musician.

The aim of this article is to help you become a better storyteller. This can be within your own family and community, or even as a first step to you becoming a professional storyteller.

But if you don't aspire to this, don't worry, you can still enjoy watching and listening to Nick perform this lovely song, 'The Tinkerman's Daughter'.

Nick Hennessey

Nick became interested in professional storytelling when he was researching for a doctorate in Cultural Geography, as he became interested in the relationship between people and places, and the way stories evolve because of the mix of landscape, history, and culture.

Since then he has performed internationally at concerts and festivals and won acclaim and awards for his work in epic-singing, particularly the Finnish Kalevala. In addition to his singing and storytelling, he is a playwright, with work performed in theatres in London, York and Plymouth. His music has also been played on BBC radio.

In the film extract that follows you will watch, Nick is performing in concert with folk singer, Maddy Prior, during their 'North of Barnsley' tour in 2010.

The song/story performed by Nick is 'The Tinkerman's Daughter'.

We suggest as you watch and listen to Nick, you think about the development of his performance (how it works) and about the structure, plot, theme and images in the story. And do you have any sympathy for the farmer?

'The Tinkerman's Daughter'


'The Tinkerman's Daughter'

'The Tinkerman's Daughter', as performed by Nick, is a modern adaption of an extended poem, 'The Tinker's Daughter', by the Irish storyteller and poet, Sigerson Clifford (1913-1985).

The story presents Nick with an opportunity to weave ballad, story and poetry into his performance. It can be helpful to break any critique into sections that look both at performance and story, including themes and imagery.


Nick immediately establishes rapport with the audience by making an ironic reference to the 'joys of travelling' as a musician. The audience at these events are often well-informed and knowledgeable about the itinerant nature of a musician's life and will enjoy being part of the 'in' joke. Nick also uses language that assumes their wit and intelligence, e.g. use of the term 'binary lifestyle'. He also equalises the performer/audience relationship by mentioning the importance he attaches to meeting new people and hearing their stories, which feeds into his performances and enhances his repertoire as a storyteller.

There is a musical introduction by Nick on harp - a lovely instrument, both visually and instrumentally - that introduces the recurrent melody in the song. In this performance he thus demonstrates his prowess as a musician, a storyteller, then and a ballad singer in a way that enhances his credibility and reputation in all three performance areas.

It is interesting to see how Nick recovers from his momentary confusion of the lines in the story. He does not let it upset him and he treats the incident as a joke. This was the best way to respond if you are ever in this situation yourself, as an audience hates to be embarrassed by a performer's embarrassment!

The Story

This was a story rich in its narrative structure, plot, themes and images; it lingers in the mind well after its close.

Structurally it is presented in a cyclical way. We are presented at first with the bitterness of the farmer and gradually the story reveals why. His hatred is linked to his rejection and desertion by the Tinkerman's Daughter, "the red-headed Ann." He avows thereafter vengence on all gypsies : "Whenever he hears iron-shod wheels on gravel, or a horse in the shafts of a bright caravan."

The plot centres on the loneliness of the farmer and his infatuation for the Tinkerman's Daughter, and then her abandonment of him. At first, "She tried hard to please him." She did what he told her to do, including working on the land and sleeping in his bed. "But the walls of that cabin pressed tighter and tighter on the Tinkerman's dDughter, the red-headed Ann."

She runs away, leaving him frustrated, bitter and lonely.

This plot is a recurrent one in the late 19th and early 20th century. A number of novels and poems feature free-spirited women confined by relationships forced on them. Mary Webb's novel, 'Gone to Earth' (1917), for example, features a similar wild heroine, who is 'imprisoned' by her expedient marriage and subsequently is killed trying to protect a fox from the local huntsmen.

Charlotte Mew's poem, 'The Farmer's Bride,' also features a young woman: "Happy enough to chat and play/ with birds and rabbits and such as they/ so long as men-folk keep away," who is married off to an older man, without knowledge of what this involved.

The common storyline in these works is about how women are treated as property by men and how they respond to this. In the case of the 'Tinkerman's Daughter' - as was with Charlotte Mew's reluctant bride - it is to run away from their oppressive situation.


This theme the birds "Waiting to fly to a far sunny shore," and the gypsies, who move on when they will.

The paradox in the story, however, is that the gypsy girl is traded by her own father into a bondage that flies against her own free spirit. and the gypsies own loathing for conformity. This contrast is particularly marked in the verse where the farmer and the girl's father conspire: "Tinker and the farmer inspected the land/And a white gelding pony was the price they agreed on..."

The price was his daughter's freedom - for a new horse.


The bleakness of the dying trees in autumn, contrast with the birds and the gypsies wanting to move away to new places. The girl's captivity is dramatically presented in the lines: "White as the hands of the priest or the hangman/The snow spread its blanket the next Christmas round/The Tinkerman's Daughter."

What images stood out for you?

The bitterness of the farmer is all he is left with. Yet I couldn't help - despite his possessiveness - to have some sympathy for him at the end: "Then his day's work's tormented, his night sleep's demented/By the tinkerman's daughter, the red-headed Anne."

What about you, did you feel any sympathy for the abandoned farmer? Give us your opinion in the poll immediately below, and please leave comments, too, in the 'Comments' box below.

Did you feel any sympathy for the farmer?

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