Once upon a time, long ago there was a man named Mike Burns, who was born in South Keery, Ireland. Burns is now in his forty-first year of story telling. His first time was at the tender age of nine, the young boy was put on the spot by an aunt at a family gathering and he’s been telling stories ever since. “They’ve been there that long, they’re not going anywhere now, I was brought up with those,” said Burns who now counts anywhere between 600-1,000 stories to his repertoire.
His stories were taught to him by his father and grandmother, others he tracked down by himself. He got the bug, as he put it, when away studying architecture in Dublin. While on a trip with his classmates, one night they all found themselves at the hostel where they were staying and everyone brought out their instruments and started to play and sing. Mike, not being able to carry a tune, decided he would entertain the gang with a few stories. Well, a few stories soon turned into a lot, which soon turned to 3 a.m. It was then that he realized his great gift .
He likens it to a musician that can play a tune after hearing it only once, he works the same magic with stories. He holds the oral tradition above all else and says that people today, being over educated, with their heads too full, loose the ability to remember things like stories.
In his ninth year of storytelling at Hurley’s pub, his craft has taken him around the world. “I don’t push my storytelling onto anyone,” Burns replied when asked if he goes looking for jobs or gigs. They just seem to come to him. He’s been to France, Labrador and also takes part and organizes the English part of Le Festival Interculturel du Conte de Montreal.
But with all this experience, he still doesn’t consider himself a professional storyteller.
Life in Montreal is quite different, here Burns juggles his time between teaching computers at Herzing, a private college, his Shiatzu practice and his other love, Ikido, a Japanese martial art. What drew him to it was that it is a non-violent martial art. Its basic principle is to not respond to violence with violence, but to respond to it with love. This principle seems to jive with his philosophy of life.
He’s studied architecture, Chinese medicine, is a vegetarian (other than for the fact that he eats fish). Burns is what some would call a pessimist, others a realist. If nothing he is someone that seems bent on intentional living.
Although none of his tales is based on his life, they are all true. They are all stories older then time, before print and books were invented. They are full of myth and magic, legend and folk. Passed on by word of mouth, between families and from one storyteller to the next. Stories of wizards and seamonsters, kings and princes, shamans and priests are told with such color and life, painting pictures with words, as only a true master can.
He speaks with fervor and excitement, always with his eyes closed, a lanky man of average height, with longish graying hair and a beard. There’s something old about him that has nothing to do with age. It’s in the way he speaks and moves, as if somehow he absorbs the timelessness of his stories.
As Burns would say “to make a long story short and a short story merry”, I think I can say that I’ve only just chipped off the tip of the iceberg with what I’ve written here about this unique man who lives intentionally, fully and on his own terms
Come catch him on the last Sunday of every month at Hurley’s Irish Pub located at 1225 Crescent. Show usually stars around 7:30 p.m., free admission.