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Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

 

‘’ When the long nights would come long ago, the people of this and another village would gather together every night sitting beside the fire or wherever they could find room in the house. Many a device they would resort to shorten the night. The man who had a long tale, or the man who had the shorter tales (eachtraithe), used to be telling them. At that time people used to go earning their pay working in County Limerick, County Tipperary and County Cork, and many a tale they had when they would return, everyone with his own story so that you would not notice the night passing. Often the cock would crow before you would think of going home.”
Leabhar Sheáin Í Chonaill (1948)

 

 

MEMORIES OF BLASKET ISLAND, IRELAND.

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40 years or so ago, I traveled to Great Blasket Island off the Western Coast of Ireland. This bleak and barren island located off the tip of the Dingle Peninsula housed between 100 to 150 souls until the 1940s when the Irish Government in a fit of uncharacteristic responsibility removed the remaining twenty-two of them and resettled them in other parts of the country. As far as I know, none of the islanders objected to the relocation nor made any attempt to return.

I ferried there from mainland Ireland in one of those tar-covered little leather boats that used to be common in the western part of the country.
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Drying the boats. The village is in the background.

 

I met the ferry-man in the pub that stands on the bluff overlooking Blasket and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. For a few dollars, I persuaded him to row me there. There was no regular motor ferry to the island then but there is now.

Although the passage from the mainland to the islands is no more than a couple of miles, during much of the year when the Island was inhabited, it was too stormy and impassable for the small traditional row boats available at the time to make the crossing. As a result, the residents of Blasket were often marooned and had to live exclusively on what they could glean there on the island.

Even though the sea was relatively calm during my trip, the waves and currents in the straight threw the little boat around quite a bit causing the oarsman to strain at the oars and me to question the rationale for my visit.
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A traditional leather covered boat (a type of coracle) approaching Blasket Island. I took a boat like this on my trip.

 

We landed on a tiny bit of dressed stone surrounded on three sides by large rocks making an anchorage about ten feet or so wide. We tied up to a rusty and corroded iron ring.

I left the ferry-man there with a promise to return in an hour and a half.

In the only habitable place on the lee of the island lay a tiny village in ruins and deserted. I climbed through the ruins and into the abandoned cottage — Peig’ cottage. It was my reason for the trip — to pay homage Peig Sayers.

Peig was an old woman and seanchai (storyteller) who when approached by a representative of the Irish Folklore Commission and asked to write the story of her life on that forlorn island, did so. Much to the surprise of all, it became perhaps the greatest work of Gaelic prose literature.

The Book opens with the words:

I am an old woman now, with one foot in the grave and the other on its edge. I have experienced much ease and much hardship from the day I was born until this very day. Had I known in advance half, or even one-third, of what the future had in store for me, my heart wouldn’t have been as gay or as courageous it was in the beginning of my days.

 

In the evenings the people on the Island would gather in Peig’s cottage to listen to her stories. Seosamh Ó Dálaigh wrote the following about these sessions:

‘I wish I had the ability to describe the scene in Peig Sayers’s home in Dunquin on a winter’s night when the stage was set for the seanchaí’ ‘When the visitors arrived (for all gathered to the Sayers house when Peig was there to listen to her from supper-time till midnight) the chairs were moved back and the circle increased. News was swapped, and the news often gave the lead for the night’s subject, death, fairies, weather, crops.’ All was grist to the mill, the sayings of the dead and the doings of the living, and Peig, as she warmed to her subject, would illustrate it richly from her repertoire of verse, proverb and story…

Great artist and wise woman that she was, Peig would at once switch from gravity to gaiety, for she was a light-hearted woman, and her changes of mood and face were like the changes of running water. As she talked her hands would be working too; a little clap of the palms to cap a phrase, a flash of the thumb over the shoulder to mark a mystery, a hand hushed to mouth for mischief or whispered secrecy. ‘When the fun is at its height it is time to go’, runs the Irish proverb; and when visitors went each night Peig would draw the ashes over the peat-embers to preserve the fire till morning, reciting her customary prayer: ‘I preserve the fire as Christ preserves all. Brigid at the two ends of the house, and Mary in the centre. The three angels and the three apostles who are highest in the Kingdom of Grace, guiding this house and its contents until day.’

 

Her home there on Blasket was now little more than rocks piled on one another for walls with more rocks added to make the roof (I understand it has been made into lodging for a small hostel now). Peig’s home contained a single room in which she spent most of her life.
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Peig in her cottage.

 

Beyond the village, exposed to the fierce winds off the Atlantic, the island was covered in a thick mat of furze, Irish gorse, and heather, with peat (or bog or turf) beneath. When walking on it, although it supported my weight, it felt as though I was walking on a springy mattress.

There were no trees or bushes to be seen anywhere. I climbed part way down a steep incline towards the cliffs on the island’s north side where the residents would scramble down to pilfer the eggs of the shorebirds that nested there. I did not go further than perhaps 10 feet or so because the cliff quickly became much steeper. It was on those steep cliffs according to Peig that Blasket’s citizens often met their death trying to secure enough food to carry them through the winter storms.
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The north side of Blasket Island and the cliffs.

 

As hard as life was on Blasket, during the Irish persecutions and famines several mainland families settled on the island, “Because life was better there.”
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A Better Life?

Perhaps the most astounding thing about Blasket was that Peig was not the only one from there who authored a Gaelic literary classic. Two others, Twenty Years a Growing and The Islandman, were written by Blasket natives also.

How hard was life on Blasket? Tomas O’Crohan in The Islandman wrote the following about his children:

“Ten children were born to us, but they had no good fortune, God help us! The very first of them that we christened was only seven or eight years old when he fell over the cliff and was killed. From that time on they went as quickly as they came. Two died of measles, and every epidemic that came carried off one or other of them. Donal was drowned trying to save the lady off the White Strand. I had another fine lad helping me. Before long I lost him, too.”

 

 

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Blasket Island Today.

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On Pythonism

Interesting chronological confluence: Recently finished reading “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern” by Stephen Greenblatt. It’s about the rediscovery of Lucretius”s poem “On The Nature of Things”, after over a thousand years, by Poggio Bracciolini around 1417, who was a former pope’s secretary and enthusiast for ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts, and the poem’s contribution to and impact on Renaissance and later thinking. Lucretius was a disciple of Epicurus. the poem articulated the radical (for the late middle ages) view that the universe and all things, human and otherwise, consist solely of atoms and the void, that there is no afterlife or resurrection or heaven and hell, God doesn’t exist let alone run things, and after all the right approach to life is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Find joy in what you can now, ‘cause there ain’t no heaven. Works for me. Monte Python in a Roman toga.

 
On coffee get-togethers in the Enchanted Forest

Sounds more intriguing than Leisure World or stumbling down Collins Avenue sidestepping doggie do. Do they wear purple hair in the Enchanted Forest? Boy toy sounds like some exotic Asian dish (just watched Anthony Bourdain in Viet Nam eating some fabulous soup in Hue); but cannibals probably wouldn’t eat geriatric boy toy.

 
On the contention, that beauty can bore

Interesting: Suggests that wandering is a cure for the ennui or boredom of salubrious settlement. Thus, commuting from Heaven to Purgatory to Hell and back, and onward. Or at least to New York and Sacile. Forever seeking beatitude or a good pastry. Unless, of course, one is totally absorbed in one’s obsession, whatever it is: Putin’s grabbing and disrupting others, Van Gogh’s painting and agonizing, Scrooge McDuck’s diving into his money bin….

 
On negative news about negative people

Years ago I read something about news, and how history shows that people always want to hear/read/see the bad news, disaster news, negative stuff. What I read referred back to news and pamphlets. And whatever back two-three hundred years. So there’s a psychological basis to take advantage of for slanting the news.

Given US history, as shown e. g by “Fantasyland,” the US is both a testing ground for new corporate-driven forms of domination and, together with its predilection for violence and fantasy, a retrograde movement backward toward more primitive and difficult times.

 
On corporations and oligarchs

Ultimately, the world corporate oligarchical/dictatorial concentration and continued climate change impacts will result in continued and enhanced mass migrations and consequent population redistributions, and as a byproduct, a reduction of “guns in America” as counter-productive. The beauty of the Veneto will provide an oasis in which the “ho-hum, another day in paradise” ennui will be reluctantly deemed the tolerable alternative to hemlock or standing on line at the Louvre to gape at the Mona Lisa or joining a futile, isolated white-armed resistance cell whose membership includes — by that time — a senile Michael Caine, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Sean Penn, Samuel L. Jackson, Benicio Del Toro, Russell Crowe, and Angelina Joli.

 

 

On “the cradle of civilization”

Now, China’s new Road (whatever they call that) essentially recreates the old Silk Road by rail and highway from China to the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The Russians are already building up Kazakhstan with their space program (and even Trump was trying to get some business there!). Iran will be a key, as it was back then, in spite of the Saudi/Sunnis. The US will have a lot to learn from the Italians’ sense of history via “Catch-22”

 

 

Wisdom from the Kabbala

“Travels With Epicurus”. Has its benefits.

Do the swallows return to Compostello?*

Thus the wheel of Karma turns; what’s new?

How do you spell Medicare in Italian?

 

Note: The T&T referred to can be found in: https://wordpress.com/view/josephpetrillo.wordpress.com

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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN MENDOCINO:

 

Well, I am off to spend the weekend in Mendocino. While there, I will attend a concert by Patrick Ball a native Californian who is perhaps the greatest Irish harpist and storyteller living today. I am looking forward to it. It should be an interesting evening.

After a pleasant drive to Mendocino on Friday, we attended the Patrick Ball concert. It was mesmerizing. He plays a type of brass stringed Celtic harp that had disappeared for about 200 years until the art of making them was rediscovered by a musician and instrument maker in Santa Rosa California. In between the musical pieces, Ball told the humorous and engaging tale of Jim and Ellie, two elderly married couple who accompanied him on a tour of the Ireland of W. B. Yeates — a magical story interlaced with the poet’s words.
03_ballPatrick Ball and his original Santa Rosa Irish harp with strings of brass and a sound that, even without electronic augmentation, filled the theater.

The following evening we attended an entirely different sort of concert. A local musician running for election to the County Board of Supervisors decided to hold a fundraiser and concert highlighting the music of John Fogarty. The concert was held in a converted old Portuguese Church.
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The woman on the left was not a musician or a singer. She was a comedian. She was not very funny.

The concert featured many local musicians and singers including one of my favorite Druid Sisters, a musician, and member of the Daughters of Albion, a local lesbian community. Proud Mary and Bad Moon Rising were some of the audience favorites. There was also a lot of dancing. Most of the people there were elderly, not old like me but certainly, most had finished their adolescence during the last century, hence the choice of music. A number of elderly women dressed in flowing ancient hippie outfits gyrated in spastic solos in front of the stage. Even I danced.
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Pookie dancing. He was not funny either. Well, maybe he was.

The rest of the weekend we went for long walks through the town and along the bluffs or remained indoors reading, playing with our computers and eating wonderful meals prepared by my sister and George.
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I do not know why everyone has to stop on their walks when someone takes a photograph.

 

 

B. BACK IN EL DORADO HILLS:

Back in the golden hills, the days went by slowly. I did not feel well, tired, my throat swollen, listless. It could have been the beginning of allergy season or something worse. I slept a lot, coughed often and experienced a return of my dizzy spells. The weather did not help. Cold, rainy, and gloomy, I started to worry about my health. It is that time in life when everything starts telling you how little time you have left while your deteriorating faculties limit you from doing many of those things that will make that time enjoyable.

On the other hand, my dreams have been florid. Last night, I dreamt I married an Italian spinster named Annalisa at a wonderful wedding. This was interesting because I hated all my real weddings. Nikki, who for some reason was there, said that it was the first time he ever heard me talk as though I was truly in love. Only in my dreams.

Speaking of grumpy old folks, I hate hearing about 105 year old marathon runners, or 85 year old champion weightlifters or 92 year old ballerinas or reading stories of some oldie with galloping halitosis who cheerfully accepts the news that he or she with die from it within two weeks and yet continues to go on washing the sores of lepers. What really makes we Vecchi grumpy is spending all day with little bits of unexplained pains hopping willy nilly about our body while feeling like we need to vomit all the time, our noses running from no discernible cause, and for some reason our glasses make the world appear even more blurry while our hearing aids are screaming a high pitched sound like an insane dentist drill and suddenly some woman’s voice intones “low battery, low battery.” All of which makes you supremely disinterested in running, lifting, dancing or washing leper’s sores. And then, some sot with a smiling face and a concerned frown says to you, “Are you OK old timer?” Grumpy indeed.

Another weekend has rolled around. It has been cold and rainy and I have been tired and under the weather if that is even possible with weather like this. Bitching a lot. Then, I received the following as a comment on one of my Facebook posts:

Neal Fishman: It’s not an uncaring universe if we care for each other. I don’t need a god to care for me. A friendly note, a kiss on the forehead, some good pot, maybe a 3D head set so I can die flying around….I’m ready to go, and happy to have been here. God isn’t supposed to give you more, except for that living forever in heaven nonsense. The universe is just fine without God.”

Petaluma Jewish, communist, chicken farmers, one of the world’s great treasures.

The next week passed in quantum time. That is, there is no time between what you recall except for a vague feeling that something must have happened. In fact, most of our lives are spent in quantum time wondering if perhaps we missed something — then after a certain amount of reflection, we relax in the not so firm belief that if we cannot remember it, it must not have happened.

Anyway, on Saturday, we went to a movie at Tower Theatre in Sacramento. We saw “Lady Bird,” a film about a young woman coming of age in Sacramento. It was one of the more enjoyable movies I have seen in years. Well, the years haven’t been that enjoyable either. I could not help thinking that it does for Sacramento in the early 2000s what “American Graffiti” did for Modesto in the early 60s except that was about boys becoming men and this was about girls becoming women. During my adolescence I probably would have been satisfied becoming anything — maybe an amphibian — that would have been nice.

It’s directing was impressive. Greta Gerwig takes her otherwise light story and makes it riveting on the screen. No scene better shows this than the one in which Lady Bird’s ex-boyfriend breaks down in her arms in agony over coming out to his family as a homosexual. Gerwig could have dragged the scene out to milk its pathos but instead, she immediately cut to an unrelated scene leaving the audience with a fleeting sad memory in Lady Bird’s rush through adolescence and me wondering if him going to an all boys school had anything to do with it. I went to an all boys Catholic High School. A number of the priests were gay. We really did not know what gay meant back then. The great gay scare had not yet begun. We only knew some of the priests used to like touching us a lot or vigorously rubbing their thighs while talking to us. We felt sorry for them but avoided them anyway.

While all the acting was great especially the leads, Saoirse (pronounced Sur-sha) Ronan as Lady Bird was magnificent. The opening close-up of this long-faced, large-eyed woman with acne scars marring her face told me I was in for a special bit of acting. Later, I read that she refused to wear makeup in order to accentuate another problem besides sex, schooling, and parents adolescents must deal with as they stumble their way into adulthood. We all were terrorized by zits growing up. I know I was. Would I be forever scarred like Father Grogan and have to join the priesthood because I could never get laid? God those were tough times.

It is Tuesday. Tomorrow is HRM’s 13th Birthday. He now passes from loved and loving to annoyed and annoying. Adrian just arrived and Nikki is expected tomorrow. All the putative fathers will have gathered. HRM did not want presents only the money. He had a clear idea how he planned to spend it and had already ordered online what he wanted. He also insisted on baking his own birthday cake. We the four fathers put on fake smiles and rolled our eyes at each other. On the weekend, he will go with a few of his friends to a skateboard park in the Sierras. He was promised that if he got B’s or higher on his report card this semester.

Bunny McGarry lives!

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On March 17, while roaming through the Amazon website, I came across a book by Frank Delaney entitled “Ireland: A Novel” about Irish stories and storytelling.

Ireland has always been a special, perhaps even magical place for me ever since that day many years ago when while sitting in a pub somewhere in Kerry drinking a half and half I noticed a man beside slumped over the bar seemingly deep asleep. Suddenly he woke up with a start — hair wild, sticking out here and there like shards of glass, face red and lumpy, watery grey-blue eyes and missing a few teeth behind a stubbled jaw. He turned towards me  and said, “De ye know how d’Irish lost da battle o d’Boyne?”,  in a brogue so thick I could barely understand him. He then launched into an hour-long tale of King Billy with his shining armor and King Jimmy who ran away — about the last minute fording of the river by the English cavalry preventing the out manned and out gunned Irish from achieving a stunning victory and changing history. I was enthralled.

Weeks later, standing on the hill at Newgrange overlooking that same Boyne winding through the green far below, I could, in my mind, see the wounded King Billy riding off after being shot by the Irish gunners, rallying his troops to victory and the silver river turning red with blood.

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I turned from that scene and entered Newgrange, the massive 6000-year-old structure older than the Pyramids, older than Stonehenge (no one claimed it was built by aliens either). Bending low, I followed the long dark tunnel (people could freely enter then) to the large room in the center where no light penetrated.

On the longest night of the year, the winter Solstice, whoever it was that may have worshiped there so long ago gathered and awaited the dawn. Upon the sun’s first breasting of the horizon. a shaft of light would flash through a passage above the tunnel and illuminate the chamber in a brilliant magical glow. How wonderful, I thought, it must have been for those from a society bereft of movies, social media, books and the like to gather here once a year and experience such splendor.

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Anyway, that and my fondness for storytelling prompted me to order the book and begin reading it on my Kindle. As strange as it may seem, it was not until later that I realized that it was also Saint Patricks Day.

I found the novel delightful. It contains a series of tales told by an itinerant storyteller. The stories about Ireland include The Architect of Newgrange, King Connor’s Comeuppance, Saint Patrick Drives the Snakes along with the Devil from Ireland, Brendan Discovers America, and Finn McCool’s Wedding.

“THE GREAT IRISH WARRIOR, FINN MACCOOL, had the longest arms and the fastest legs and the fairest hair and the bluest eyes and the broadest shoulders and the soundest digestion of any man ever living. He was a god, a leader, a warrior, a hunter, and a thinker. And he was a poet.”
Delaney, Frank. Ireland: A Novel (p. 152). HarperCollins.

(Hmm, by “soundest digestion” did the storyteller mean the ability to eat everything from rusty nails to spoiled meat or was he focused on the other end of the digestive tract, stools, neither watery nor hard as rocks?)

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In the novel, all these tales were linked  by the account of a young man’s obsession with stories and storytelling and his long search for the itinerant storyteller who when he was a child had met the storyteller, listened to his stories and was forever changed. Although the storyteller relates most of the tales in the novel, the young man does also, including an appealing story about Brian Boru.

There is also a wonderful lecture by the fictitious but delightful history professor T. Bartlett Ryle, who loved Spenser’s poetry but hated his harsh treatment of his beloved Irish. The lecture given at his first class with his new students may be one of the more amusing expositions of what the story of history is and is not. It begins:

“THE MOST DISGRACEFULLY NEGLECTED PERIOD of Irish history stretches from the year seven-ninety-five to the year eleven-seventy. Those dates are in what many people call the Dark Ages. I am not one of those people. And I sincerely doubt that any of your teachers has clearly defined the centuries of the Dark Ages, so let us strap them down here and now. Most of the stuff that’s spoken about that era is good enough to grow roses in.”

“I dislike the term Dark Ages. Day by day, ancient texts and archaeology’s finds are brightening those centuries, and it may well prove to be the case that one day the Ages won’t deserve to be called Dark anymore. The word you should be searching for is medieval. In my lectures you’ll hear only the terms early medieval, high medieval, and late medieval. Let me see nothing else in your essays. You may write about the sexing of chickens—there’s deep sympathy around here for that sort of thing. You may write about the effect of drought upon a toper. You may write about the fate of maiden ladies who work in bishops’ houses. But you may not write about the Dark Ages.”
Delaney, Frank. Ireland: A Novel (p. 229). HarperCollins.

He goes on:

“So: old Irish, Vikings, and Normans—three people on one island; my purpose here is to pick a way for you through that mixture and give you a teaching our history since the Normans that’ll render you fit to go forth, marry decently, raise a family, live to a ripe old age, evacuate your bowels no more than once daily, cultivate your garden, or if you prefer, spend your life in low dives, gambling on two flies climbing up a wall while drinking cheap liquor imported from Rumania. I hope you’re still with me—in spirit if not in spite.”
Delaney, Frank. Ireland: A Novel (p. 232). HarperCollins.

Santayana’s statement that “Those who do not remember history are forced to repeat it” is partially true. We humans, singly or collectively, seem to make the same mistakes over and over again. We also suffer from our common tendency to concentrate on the minutia we understand and avoid where we can the difficult complexities of life. For example, the introduction of the steel plow, the internal combustion engine or the transistor may have changed everything but we still went about our lives and politics obsessed with the same things we have always been obsessed with, among which was how to control and ultimately consume all the resources necessary for us live and our species to survive.

“When politicians and those who observe them consider matters, they frequently fall into the trap of assuming—hopefully or desperately, depending which side they’re on—that a status quo may last forever. They forget what changes things—events. That’s what all politics are changed by—events.”
Delaney, Frank. Ireland: A Novel (p. 234). HarperCollins.

The young man, Ronan by name, goes on to become a storyteller himself wandering the byways, homes and pubs of the country where, in return for shelter food and some Guinness and Irish whisky, he told stories of old Ireland, of its heroes and its villains, its suffering and triumphs even about Kings Billy and Jimmy at the famous Battle of the Boyne.

“We merge our myths with our facts according to our feelings, we tell ourselves our own story. And no matter what we are told, we choose what we believe. All “truths” are only our truths, because we bring to the “facts” our feelings, our experiences, our wishes. Thus, storytelling—from wherever it comes—forms a layer in the foundation of the world; and glinting in it we see the trace elements of every tribe on earth.”
Delaney, Frank. Ireland: A Novel. HarperCollins.

Pookie says, “Check it out.”

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“I am an old woman now, with one foot in the grave and the other on its edge. I have experienced much ease and much hardship from the day I was born until this very day. Had I known in advance half, or even one-third, of what the future had in store for me, my heart wouldn’t have been as gay or as courageous it was in the beginning of my days.”
Peig Sayers, Peig.

Peig Sayers’, Peig, is considered one of the classics of Gaelic literature as well as all literature. She lived much of her life on Great Blasket Island off the Western Coast of Ireland. The island at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula is bleak and barren. It housed between 100 to 150 souls until in the 1940’s the Irish Government in a fit of uncharacteristic responsibility removed the remaining twenty-two of them and resettled them in other parts of the country. As far as I know, none of the islanders objected to the relocation.

Peig was an old woman when approached by a representative of the Irish Folklore Commission and asked to write the story of her life on that forlorn island.
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Peig in her cottage

40 years ago I travelled to Blasket. I ferried there from the mainland in one of those tar covered little leather boats that used to be common in the western part of the country.
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Drying the boats

I met the ferry-man in the pub that stands on the bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and persuaded him (for a few dollars) to row me there. There is a regular motor ferry now.

Although the passage between the islands is no more than a couple of miles wide, it was too stormy and impassable during much of the year for the small traditional row boats available at the time the island was inhabited. So, the residents of Blasket were often marooned and had to live exclusively on what they could glean on the island.

The tiny village on the lee of the island lay in ruins and deserted. I climbed through the ruins and into Peig’s cottage. It was little more than rocks piled on one another for walls with more rocks to make the roof (I understand it has been made into lodging for a small hostel now). Peig’s home contained a single room in which she spent most of her life.
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Peig’s cottage today

Beyond the village exposed to the fierce winds off the Atlantic a thick mat of furze, Irish gorse and heather, with peat (or bog or turf) beneath much of it covered the rest of the island. When I walked on it, it supported my weight. It felt as though I was walking on a springy mattress. There were no trees or bushes. I climbed part way down the cliffs on the island’s north side where the residents would scramble down to pilfer the eggs of the shore birds that nested there. I did not go further than perhaps 10 feet or so because the cliff quickly became much steeper. It was on those steep cliffs according to Peig that several of Blasket’s citizens met their death trying to secure enough food to carry them through the winter storms.

As hard as life was on Blasket, during the Irish persecutions and famines several mainland families settled on the island, “Because life was better there.”

Perhaps the most astounding thing about Blasket was that Peig was not the only one from there who wrote a Gaelic literary classic. Two others, Twenty Years a Growing and The Islandman, were written by Blasket natives also.

How hard was life on Blasket? Tomas O’Crohan in The Islandman wrote the following about his children:

“Ten children were born to us, but they had no good fortune, God help us! The very first of them that we christened was only seven or eight years old when he fell over the cliff and was killed. From that time on they went as quickly as they came. Two died of measles, and every epidemic that came carried off one or other of them. Donal was drowned trying to save the lady off the White Strand. I had another fine lad helping me. Before long I lost him, too.”

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Blasket Village ruins. Ireland in the distance.

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I have roamed through Ireland several times on extended trips of three weeks or more. In about 1980 or 81, I travelled with a group that took part in traditional Irish folk dancing in pubs throughout the country. Irish folk dancing or ceilthe consists of jigs, reels, quadrilles and the like set to traditional Irish tunes such as “The Walls of Limerick”, “The Waves of Tory” and “Antrim Reel.” On Saturday evenings in the remote villages when they stop serving alcohol in the pubs, they clear away all the tables and chairs, the musicians come in and the people of the village dance until the early hours of the morning.

One Afternoon, while on this particular trip, the group stopped at a pub in a little village in County Clare. There we met Junior Crehan one of Ireland’s greatest fiddlers and storytellers. Sitting with him was the Irish singer and composer Tommy Lenihan and a representative of the Department of Irish Folklore, Tom Munnelly.

Crehan and Lenihan were relatively elderly, in their late seventies or early eighties. We spent the afternoon and evening with them, buying them beer and listening to their music and stories.

Most of the stories described what it was like in the early days when they played their music at remote crossroads before the authorities and the priests found out and chased them away. At one point, however, after playing a tune, Crehan put down his fiddle, took a long swig of his beer, leaned back and said, “There was the time Diarmuid met the Queen of the West Indies.” (Diarmuid Ua Duibhne was a warrior of the Fianna and lover of Fionn mac Cumhaill’s [Finn MacCool in English] betrothed, Gráinne). He proceeded then to relate an elaborate tale about when Diarmuid and Fionn leader of the Fianna travelled to the West Indies and how Diarmuid tricked Fionn, bedded the beautiful but terrifying queen and got away with it. The telling, in obvious poetic rhythms, was mesmerizing and took the the better part of an hour. Later Tom Munnelly told me that he had been following Junior around for ten years recording his music and hundreds of stories of the old Irish heroes and legends and had never heard that one before. The story also does not appear in the traditional canon of Irish myths and legends.

Tom Lenihan lived with his wife Margret in a farmhouse in Knockbrack, a few miles outside Miltown Malbay. He was a farmer and also the local butcher as well as a well-known Irish traditional singer. His most well-known album is entitled Paddy’s Panacea

Lenihan, had just come from working at his farm nearby. When he was not farming he composed songs and sung them in the fields as he worked and at the local pubs. He had composed about seven hundred songs and recorded many of them. He sang a few of them for us. One of those songs was called The American Wake, a beautiful and melancholy tale about a father during the time of the famine seeing off to the US his daughter on one of the immigration ships knowing he would probably never see her again.

The American Wake has been recorded by Irish musicians and singers several times since then but I do not know if they are renditions of Tommy’s original or separate creations. Perhaps someday I may get around to listening to them.

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Tommy Lenihan, Tom Munnelly and Junior Crehan on that day at the pub in Miltown Malbay

A few days later we traveled to Spiddal a Gaeltacht (Gaelic Speaking) village on the shore of Galway Bay a few miles northwest of Galway city. There we met with Mary Bergin and her husband at their Gaelic musical instrument shop. Mary Bergin is perhaps the foremost penny whistle virtuoso in Ireland. The penny whistle became an instrument of choice for Irish musicians because it was easily hidden. That was a necessity during the several centuries of English occupation when after failing in their attempts to kill all the Irish so that the land could be settled by the English they resorted to the interesting tactic of making the playing of music a capital offense. They did succeed in killing all the Irish Harpers. It was during this time that the Irish bagpipes (uilleann pipes) were developed so that the musician could sit down in a cottage and play pipes that were not as loud as Scottish bagpipes and hopefully could not be heard by a passing solider. The pipers escaped the fate of the Harpers because the Ascendancy (Irish Protestant aristocrats) brought some of them into their homes as in-house musicians. Also, at this time Irish step dancing acquired that strange rigid arm at the sides form it is now noted for. It allowed dancing in the tiny cramped cottages where flinging ones arms about would be difficult.

We spent the day talking with Mary and listening to her and her husband play music. Her husband was a well-known craftsman of flutes and an excellent flautist in his own right.

That evening we went to a local pub where we sat with a man who was introduced to us a Ireland’s premier Gaelic tenor. I do not recall his name and although he was relatively young by the standards of Junior Crehan. He only spoke and sang in Gaelic. Although we could not understands the words, it appeared clear that many of the songs were of unrequited love of some sort or another and suitably heart rendering.

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