Memory & Archives Aibreán 21, 2018 ag an Huntington i bPasadena, California.
Bhí orm caint faoi mo smaointe ar an scannán Song of Granite as Béarla. Seo’d iad na nótaí a bhreac mé síos roimh chaint faoi. Béarla ag teacht. GML.
Thoughts & notes about the film: time, place, identity, sean-nós, Irish, Seosamh etc.
Mícheál Ó Confhaola dochreidthe maith mar Joe Heaney!
Gaeltacht & Suffering
I asked what I should talk about and the themes of memory, place, and identity were mentioned. In a great hurry, I jotted down what I could before rushing off to a Celtic retreat where there were music, dance, and language workshops. Here are those rough thoughts.
The film Song of Granite brought back memories. I felt ancient. Because I understood. Because it was familiar. I saw it in a cinema in Santa Monica. In the darkness, I heard the words of the most moving song and the tears fell. There were no subtitles. What astounded me was that when I looked around was that other people were crying too even though they didn’t understand the words.
l often hear people describing Irish an ancient language and I cringe. It is ancient and we should be proud of that. But that is often said to dismiss it as if it has no relevance to the modern world. Song of Granite made me feel ancient. The film felt like it must have been about a time long before I was born. Still, for a time, I lived this life.
Back in 1973, in the middle of winter, I spent three months as an 11-year-old on a Gael-Linn scholarship. Going from Mullingar in the center of Ireland to Leitir Móir back in 1973 was like stepping into the history books. I landed in one of the most westerly regions of The Gaeltacht (the Irish-speaking region).
When Song of Granite showed the young boy walking across the rocks in a long shot, I knew how he felt. I had walked landscapes like this. I had seen women in clothes that should only have been in the history books but I saw them with my own eyes. It shouldn’t have been. I’m not old enough. I saw old women by the bridge to Leitir Mealláin dressed in black with big hoods around their heads. The memory stayed with me because the brakes had failed on the bus and we went past the church to where the women were before stopping. They seemed like they were from an older time.
Back then, I would bring a sod of turf for the fireplace when I went to school in Leitir Móir. Something that never happened in Mullingar. There were no fireplaces in classrooms and students were not required to bring a sod of turf in with them. The schoolhouse in Leitir Móir was full of life and mischief back then. The local children pestered me with questions because they wanted to know about my world because I was from a different world. When I went home, I was part of two worlds.
I am part of this world of Song of Granite. Part of me then and part of me now. There is a lot of parting going on. In the cinema, part of me felt connected on a deep level and part of me resented being made to feel so old. It messed up my sense of time and place. Joe Heaney had a lot of parting going on in his life too. It is the way of the west: to emigrate. It is the way of Ireland now. His roots were deep but he kept on moving: a walking, singing contradiction.
Song of Granite starts in the Gaeltacht, an Irish-Speaking region. Even in this example I give you of what it is, there is treachery. It suggests that no one else in Ireland speaks Ireland except in the most remote places. We were told that is what it is and we repeat that definition, that limitation of who we can be.
The Gaeltacht still needs to be understood and protected even as we realize it should never have been used to separate people by language. It is a form of Apartheid, often by very well-meaning people. Others are just more comfortable that Irish speakers are kept away in the west and don’t offend their ears in civilized parts of the country.
Some scenes in Song of Granite reminded me of a dark short film about boys drowning: An t-Ádh directed by Colm Bairéad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgBPdWI8suA It is 21 minutes long if you wait for the song during the credits. And you should. It’s a lament. Bertie O Domhnaill sings the song at the end. Amhrán Maoinis. We have much to lament. Songs where the people in the song know they are going to die pack a punch. Even more so, if they tell their wishes in a matter of fact manner. An t-Ádh is a reworking of a classic tale by Pádraic O Conaire. Children playing on bare broken concrete in an abandoned school reminded me of clips I had seen of reservations for indigenous peoples here in the US. The boys in the short film have the most beautiful, musical Irish. It’s their language and it is alive. Very little else around them is.
They are in the designated area called the Gaeltacht. It exists to protect them and their language. This is how the Gaeltacht is explained. Part of it is real and well-meaning. You have to wonder, though; why does the place where the children play look so abandoned? Why do they play on deserted land, on broken concrete? People will claim it is all for good and there is some truth to that but it reminded me of the message of the movie Song of the Sea where Granny keeps telling the children that they must deal with suffering because it is for their own good and she reminds them, “I know what’s best for you!” The government has often failed to do the right thing for the language and the people of the Gaeltacht.
We should not forget the desire to drive the Irish “to hell or to Connaught.’ Our enemies wanted to kill our people and our language by sending people there. We should not be guilty of doing the same thing while saying we have good intentions in doing so. Our ancestors were driven to the harshest land to separate them from the richer people. To divide and conquer. When I arrived there as an 11-year-old, I saw children dying to escape from their restricted zone. They wanted a better life. We can have that. The definition of a Gaeltacht is changing. We are creating our own Irish-speaking spaces by overcoming shame. It is happening.
ARCHIVE: The Gaeltacht region is remote. Beautiful but remote. Some say there is not one Gaeltacht; there are many. I say the whole country is a Gaeltacht that has a muffle of shame. The separation to protect the language is not working. We must protect the people who have been cast aside or deprived. Ensure they have employment with the language. We must record the words and cadences of Gaeltacht speakers. Record audiobooks to ensure the music of the language is not lost. The locals get jobs and we get audiobooks so as to pass it on to future generations. Universities must do this. Archive it. Make it public. Sell it to those who can afford it. Give it away to the rest. It is urgent to do this.
3. IDENTITY and SHAME
It can be difficult to understand why people would not respect their own beautiful language but in that game of deception that is imperialism, those to be conquered are defined as in need of civilization to justify barbaric actions. To accept the false narrative is to become part of the process of killing off a culture and a language. It is not right to call this post-colonial inheritance because the colonial mentality has been planted in our heads. It is still there. It is a colony in our heads. It is difficult to shake free of the sense of shame that was passed down from generation to generation.
We try to make the whole country a Gaeltacht again. Online, it’s easy enough. Sometimes not. In 2016 I signed up for a course with Trinity College online to learn about the history of the 1916 rebellion. I posted some comments in Irish. This wasn’t allowed, I was informed, as some people couldn’t understand them. I suggested I translate them to English and post both versions thinking people would appreciate this. It wasn’t allowed. It turns out the course was run from England and the person who had to monitor comments probably was worried that I might be a terrorist saying awful things in another language. There is irony in the fact that I did a course on the 1916 fight for freedom hosted by an Irish university where English only was allowed.
In the north of the country, it can be much worse. When I started driving, I had stickers on my car that said: Scrios bóithre Chonamara an carr seo (Connemara roads wrecked this car) and Fág an Bealach (Clear the way). Because of that, I would never dare to drive across the border. The stickers would mark me as a probable terrorist to soldiers at the border and in the north. That’s how they saw us. How some still see us.
Lately, Queen’s University Belfast was in the news for not allowing signs in Irish on their campus. When these things happen we learn it is not just that we are not allowed to use our language in many places, but that people see it as threatening, offensive, and unworthy. That shames us.
As we try to use our language in everyday life, we are banned or prevented from using it again and again. We feel ashamed to speak in case we might start trouble when they have to tell us we are not allowed to speak. All this was not only allowed but is still VERY much alive. Our politicians do not speak Irish in government. They should.
We cannot be separated anymore. Irish words come flooding in my head to try to explain was I feel about the Gaeltacht: Uaigneas, Lom, Tréigthe, Caite Amach, Tost. Loneliness, Bare, Abandoned, Thrown out, Silence. There’s a lot of silence in Song of Granite. Silence between the notes, between the words, between the elements of the story. Gaps in the history of who we are. We know something is wrong with that. Irish speakers need to be accepted and part of Ireland. Our signs should not have Irish bent over in italics. We are not less and we should not be cowed. We need the same opportunities and Internet access as anywhere else. We need respect for our language from the politicians down. Speaking it.
I recently went home to my Father’s funeral. At the removal of remains (not a very poetic description), a nun who had taught me asked me if I was still using music in my life. Did I have a job in the area of music? I told her, in sight of my father’s open coffin, that I was involved with Irish now. Her eyes opened with shock and she said, with genuine horror: You haven’t gone all Gaelic on us, have you? These are the people who educated us. These are the attitudes they hold. Not all. But enough to do major damage. Most students are led to believe Irish is something you have to study but it’s really worthless. They teach disrespect and resentment. Not all, but enough to do major damage. We must change this. It is a mindset. It is shame.
Seosamh Ó hÉanaí
15 Oct 1919 Carna, Connemara – 1 May 1984 Seattle Washington. He went from Ireland to England, Scotland and the US (including New York & Seattle).
He recorded hundreds of songs. His repertoire: over 500 songs. He starting singing at 5 and singing in public at 20.
1949: Worked on building sites in London & recorded for Topic & Gael-Linn. He was married for 6 years. His wife died of TB.
1959: RTÉ & BBC recorded him.
1965: He went to Newport folk Festival, moved to US, settled in New York. He taught at Wesleyan University in Middleton, Connecticut.
1982 – 1984 Artist-in-Residence at the Universiy of Washington in Seattle.
1984: The Joe Heaney Collection of the University of Washington Ethnomusicology Archives
There is an annual festival in Carna: Féile Chomórtha Joe Éinniú
Tuilleadh eolais faoi:
Bio: 2007 Liam Mac Con Iomaire. Nár fhágha mé bás choíche
Doc: 1996 Michael Davitt: Sing The Dark Away
2011: Sean Williams & Lillis O Laoire Bright Star of the West: Joe Heaney, Irish Song-Man.
2017 Song of Granite, Pat Collins
Críochnaigh mé le caint faoi Chomhaltas agus Conradh na Gaeilge i gCathair na nAingeal. Bhí suim ag bean faoi leith sa cheangail le ceol na ndúchasach i SAM. Mór an trua nach raibh níos mó ama agam leo ach mór an onóir bheith ann.
Eolas faoin sean-nós anseo agus anseo.
Eolas faoin nGaeilge anseo.
Amhráin sa scannáin anseo
Cuid acu anseo.