Friday, March 15, 2013

The Risk and Truth of Ireland

As you may have read previously in this blog, my entire life I've clung desperately to entertained a mysterious love of the Emerald Isle. I was a one-man St. Patrick's Day Advent season every year of high school; I wore pins of the names of different Irish patriots every day (Patrick Pearse, Wolf Tone, etc). I focused on Irish history and literature in college: my senior independent study compared the effects of two invasions, Christianity and the Vikings, on Irish culture. I wear a shamrock necklace every day of my life. Needless to say, this time of year always brings me a sense of mini-euphoria somewhat akin to soft snowflakes on Christmas Eve.

At the same time, however, it also brings a question to the top of my mind: Why? What is it about Ireland and its people that creates such devotion in myself and many, many others? Often it can easily be traced back to celebrating one's own heritage. In my case, however, it was a few quotes from Irish authors that led me down a different path.

"Even a newspaperman, if you entice him into a cemetery at midnight, will believe in phantoms, for everyone is a visionary, if you scratch him deep enough. But the Celt, unlike any other, is a visionary without scratching.” William Butler Yeats

As a whole, the Irish love tradition. Living on the same land as their ancestors, driving on roads past 500 year-old castle ruins, a concerted effort to save their original Irish language: all contribute to a deep sense of place and identity that possesses the Irish. Much of this is transmitted to later generations through well-loved tales and the reels and ballads of its rich musical tradition. Perhaps the sense of their own history being kept alive so well contributes to the Celtic ability to stir the imagination.

"Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."William Butler Yeats

There is also a pervasive melancholy in the Irish culture, possibly from the constant damp and overcast weather. A continual sense that things may not turn out for the best, and the calm acceptance of that fact, combined with a strong sense of history and identity, have definitely generated a heavyhearted and poignant tone to the works of Irish writers from James Joyce all the way to Seamus Heaney.

The melancholy view of life doesn't always look backwards to what has gone one before, however. Now, in modern-age Ireland, due to a series of economic downturns, there is also a sense of missed opportunities: what could have been.

“Over time, the ghosts of things that happened start to turn distant; once they've cut you a couple of million times, their edges blunt on your scar tissue, they wear thin. The ones that slice like razors forever are the ghosts of things that never got the chance to happen.” 
Tana French

So this St. Patrick's Day Weekend, take a moment and consider the saddened richness of the Irish heritage. Then, go live boldly (and read some Irish poetry)!

"There is risk and truth to yourselves and the world before you." ― Seamus Heaney

Photo of the Irish coast from travel.nationalgeographic.com

1 comment:

Richard Shaw said...

Well done, Joel.

Quick comment about your cooking in an Irish context.

G.B. Shaw: There is no love more sincere than the love of food.

Richard Shaw paraphrase: Thre is no love more sincere than the love of food, your family and friends, your Church and your God.

And, as always, thanks for your great help in terms of my library needs.


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