Friday, March 10, 2006

Back from the West

Back from the West

We are formed by the landscape in which we dwell.  Our Irish character is shaped by the rocks, stones, ancient walls, fields, planes, rivers, seas, lakes, valleys and mountains on whose bosom we are reared.  Our literature, both in English and in Irish bears the marks of our landscape.  We cannot study Irish literature, philosophy or theology without being cognizant of this fact.  I remember years ago studying Máirtín Ó Díreain at college and writing an essay entitled “Mairtín Ó Díreain, An Fear Aniar” for one of our lecturers in the Irish Department in UCD.  All of Ó Díreáin’s poetry is hewn out of the rocks and stones of Inis Mór on which he was born and reared.  He never managed not to write about his beloved Árainn.  He saw his antecedents as having extracted their rights from the land by sheer struggle with the elements –  as “winning their rights from the strength of nature: ag baint ceart de neart na ndúl”.  Then I remember all those fantastic stories written by Liam Ó Flaithearta in that well-crafted and beautifully written classic collection called “Dúil” which we studied long ago at school and college.  Once, when Liam went back to his native island of Árainn he proclaimed these famous words: “A chloch mhór, aithním thú: o great rock, I recognize you!”  His stories also were all totally inspired by the mystical beauty of landscape, seascape and mouintaincape of the west of Ireland.  The same, of course, can be said of our writers in English like Paddy Kavanagh who never escaped from his “stony grey soil” of Monaghan or James Joyce whose writings are suffused in the geography of his native Dublin and in the sea that lashed its coast around the famous Martello Tower at Sandycove, the Forty Foot and, of course, the famous Sandymount Strand where many a Joycean encounter, if not epiphany, happened.  

These thoughts are occasioned by a week I spent with my Transition Year students in the West of Ireland – an area which constantly overwhelms me with its mystical if harsh landscape.  There is a deep spirituality at its heart’s core.  Read either of the following mystical contemporary philosophers, both of whom follow in that great Celtic spiritual tradition – John O’Donohue and John Moriarty.  Don’t seek understanding in their writings – rather seek to be enlightened ,entranced, enthralled and spellbound.   However, back to the occasion that inspired these few words – namely a class visit to Delphi Adventure centre in Mayo.  It is located in southwest Mayo, halfway between Louisburgh and Leenane. All around the centre are the mountains, beaches, sheltered inlets, rivers, lakes and majestic scenery of Connemara.  Added to that is the uniqueness of the fact that the centre lies on the banks of the famous Killary Harbour, the one and only fjord in Ireland.

I have inserted a photo I took of the River that runs just outside the Adventure Centre.  You can visit The Delphi Adventure site at this link: .  Apologies for my inability to insert a smaller classier link than this horrible written one.


bighouse said...

salve mr Quinlan ,
complimenti, continui cosi con l'apprendimento dell italiano!!
anch io sto imparando la sua lingua
, ho vissuto a Dublino per 2 mesi anni fa e mi ricordo con piacere gli scambi linguistici tenuti alla biblioteca centrale! i have dear memories of that time.
i'm a student, tesista, graduating in English. i have read your blog about the Irish landscape. i'm really interested as i'm searching information about this subject matter. To write my thesis i have to choose some contemporary writers who have considered landscape in their works, according to different views: rural and wild countryside, big house, gardens, seaside and fishing, frontiers and borders, the north, the Kerry area (i was thinking about J.B.Keane with his play 'the field')...i was wondering if you'd like to give me some i don't actually know a lot of your recent (Anglo-)Irish literature. i have read something of Kavanagh, would you suggest me some specific writings related to all this subjects? i'd be really grateful,
thanks for your interest!

TQ said...

Grazie per la posta. Puoi mi chiamare "Tim" per piacere. Non posso trovare il tuo blog, purtroppo.

John B Keane is an excellent choice. His play "Th Field" would be a suitable play to research. The Lanscape in the West of Ireland (Johb B Keane is from Listowel in Co Kerry in the South West) is wild, windswept and rocky by the coast. It is also richer and more fertile inland. Keane's play shows how ownership or possession of a piece of land is important to the Irish psyche. Why? Well, historically, the Irish were robbed of their land by the Normans and later the English. So, Irish people became dispossessed. Indeed much of Gaelic literature, rather than Anglo-Irish literature(a literature of the nouveau riche both Catholic and Protestant - like Yeats and Joyce etc)is a literature of the dispossessed - those who have lost their land and their heritage. Then there was the horrible experience of the Famine which killed millions, and dispossessed even more. So you see when Ireland got its freedom from the British, land ownership became very important - people were now, on a small scale, becoming able to re-possess their land and their heritage. Hence you have Bull McCabe's obsession with owning his piece of land, that is the field. It's all about staking your claim to your heritage; staking a claim to your BIRTHRIGHT! Then ther is this sin in that an American or Yank (even if he were second or third generation Irish American) is coming back to Ireland to "take" this land from those who had remained faithful to Ireland by never leaving her. In short I thin k your choice of play excellent. I hope these few ideas help. I teach Gaelic Language and literature to secondary school.

Kavanagh is also hugely interesting with respect to land as he had a "love-hate" relationship with it. He had tried hard to survive as a farmer, but then the lure of poetry took over.

These are the two best ones I think. Keane for the drama and Kavanagh for the poetry.

Thanks for your comments. Please let me know ypour name and give me the name of your blog.



bighouse said...

Grazie Tim, sei stato molto gentile a darmi i tuoi consigli. It's really soothing to find someone who shares the same interest, as i'm completely alone in doing this work.i have found your comment on J.B. Keane pretty 'illuminante' enlightening(?). another difficulty here is to find writing on it..
Sto un po 'impazzendo per le mie ricerche: it's difficult to find the right suggestion from a literary anthology..there are so many writers i don t know and it's not easy to understand the right works related to landscape...
i don't actually have a blog.
i havent thought about doing it by now..i dont have the time..and also i dont feel to be able to say something before such a huge audience!however , maybe, one day i'll do it.
i hope you could help me as well, even just having an exchange in this form. that's another way after all. much more easy for me at the moment.
my problem now seems to find an Irish literature related to a fisherman's life . i thought that Liam o'Flaherty was the right choice but i mis-read a critic/critical book thinking that Skerrett was of that wasnt of course..could youi please give me a big help!?

moreover, i wish to study Kavanagh but my professor seems not to know she doesn t say anything when i suggest about him..that such a pity i can't follow just my point of view and relate to what she thinks. but that's the way it least for my thesis
i really hope to have an exchange on this topic with you
thank you

TQ said...

Ciao Ela,

Sorry for the delay in this post. Perhaps you could reply to this by using my latest post entry - it would be easier for me to access, i.e., posts of April.

A small interesting play to look at as regards the SEA would be "Riders to The Sea" by John Millington Synge. It tells the story of an old woman on the Blasket Islands (I think, but you can check this) who has lost all her children to the sea. They would have been fishermen who took their lives in their hands to get a living from the sea. This paly is very short. JMS listened to the cadences of the Irish language (Gaeilge = il Gaelico) both on the Aran Islands and on The Great Blasket Island around 1900, so don't be put off by the cadences and words in the play as they are in English but are "Gaelicized" by Synge. This paly is only 5 or 6 pages.

I hope this is okay for you. Sono appena ritornato in Irlanda dopo un meravigliosa vacanza di una settimana in Sicilia.