Posted by: alexhickey | March 1, 2013

Alice Lannon (McCarthy)

Alice Lannon (McCarthy)


Alice Lannon (McCarthy) was born in St. Jacques.  Ask anyone who listened to her; and many did, for Alice was a born storyteller.  Yesterday morning on a flight to Deer Lake we stopped in Stephenville to pick up passengers.  In walked a friend whose family also came from St. Jacques, a grand-daughter of Chris and Lucy McCarthy.  As it happened she sat beside me and we chatted about the McCarthy family history.  She told me of her visit with Alice Lannon last August and the many stories she had of people and events in St. Jacques.  Little did either of us know that this was Alice’s last day with us.

She lived most of her life in Southeast Placentia. Today I read her obituary in the St. John’s Telegram. Alice was a daughter of Tom and Julia McCarthy. They lived on the east side of St. Jacques towards Burkes Cove.  Their house was located just beyond the turnaround space at the end of the current road. The family moved to Terrenceville when Alice was a young girl. This is a picture of their house in  St. Jacques.

Tom McCarthy House

Her obituary had this to say of her:

“Alice was highly respected as one of the province’s storytellers and over the past 25 years has told stories at festivals and special heritage events. She has been interviewed by international folklorists and her storytelling has been documented in a couple of films. Alice credits her gift of storytelling to her grandmother Mary (Strang) McCarthy. Her grandmother retold the stories she had been told by an elderly aunt, who was born in Lawn around 1820. These stories have been passed on orally in our family for about 175 years. In 1991 some of these stories were preserved in a book which Alice co-wrote with her brother Michael McCarthy “Fables, Fairies & Folklore of Nfld.” Alice went on to co-author two more books with Mike “Ghost Stories from Newfoundland Folklore and Yuletide Yarns.” He was a well-known author in his own rite and predeceased her in 2005. While she had never been further than Grand Falls in the first 62 years of her life, she made up for it in the last 23 years with trips to Australia, Costa Rica, France, Hawaii, Ireland, Italy, Medjugorge, and numerous trips across Canada and to the United States. Every one of these trips created great fodder for her own stories such as “How I Stopped the Trains in Australia”. In addition to her storytelling, Alice is known in her community for her caring and generosity which were often demonstrated by a specially made tray of cream puffs or a plate of fudge or caretaking for the sick and elderly. As well as being Mom and Grandma, she was known to others as “Ao”, “Abbo” or Aunt Alice and received the designation of “Grandma Alice the Great” by one of her great-grandchildren.”

Alice Lannon is considered to be one of Newfoundland’s foremost storytellers.  Many of us have heard her tell those rich stories and fairy tales that reach back through generations. They evoke evenings sitting around the kitchen, a wood stove crackling, waves breaking on the shore and the dim light of a kerosene lamp casting shadows around the room as we hung onto every word and expression of the storyteller.

If you’d like to hear Alice tell some of her stories that were recorded at the 2010 Storytellers of Canada conference you can listen to them by clicking on any of the links below to the Digital Archives of Memorial University:

Alice Lannon – as Introduced by Martin Lovelace

 Alice Lannon – The Good and Bad Fairies

Alice Lannon – Big Black Bull of Hollow Tree

Alice Lannon – Open, Open, Green House

Alice Lannon – The Loss of the Marion

Nicole Penney , who works with the Intangible Heritage Office of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, has taken Alice’s story  The Big Black Bull of Hollow Tree and added photographs to bring it vividly alive. You may watch this video on YouTube under the title Tellin’a Yarn.

Folklorists and researchers whose interests include storytelling and folktales, particularly those that relate to fairies, found Alice to be a great source of information.  Martin Lovelace of Memorial University is one of those.  If you clicked on the first link above you heard Mr. Lovelace introduce Alice at the 2010 Storytellers of Canada Conference.  You can read a paper about one of Alice Lannon`s stories by Mr. Lovelace published in the Journal of Folklore Research in January 2001, titled, A Model of Appropriate Behavior? “The Ship That Sailed on Land and Water”

Click on Literary and Oral Influences in Newfoundland Folktales to read a more recent paper presented by Martin Lovelace at a conference in Lisbon in June 2012.

In a book edited by the late Peter Narvaez of Memorial University, titled The Good People: New Fairylore Essay Alice tells of how as children they would carry bread in their pockets to avoid being taken by fairies.  In her own words, “My grandmother used to warn us that when we went out, going in the woods somewhere, to have a bit of bread in our pockets.  And the custom was when the woman was baking bread she always made the sign of the cross on the bread to give God thanks for having flour to make bread, and she always called it the `blessed bread`.  And the fairies couldn`t touch you if you had a bit of bread in your pocket because they couldn“t come near that.  So we always made sure before we went berry picking or wandering through the woods, that we had little crusts of bread somewhere in our pocket.“

We don`t always think about where the stories came from that we hear or how it is that they are still around. It is through the efforts of storytellers like Alice Lannon that we are still able to hear the words our great-great grandparents heard.  I don`t know about you but the next time I hear a story from long ago I am going to listen carefully.  All too soon the voice that tells the story may be silenced.

RIP Alice Lannon from St. Jacques.


  1. I am one of Alice’s daughters and I really enjoyed what you put on this website. I have been sharing it with family and friends. We all cherish the memories of our talented story telling mother .
    I hope to visit St.Jacques maybe next summer when I come back to Newfoundalnd for a month as I live in Alberta.
    Thank You
    Jackie McGrath

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