Saturday, July 21, 2007

Back from Ireland

Half a week in Limerick, Mary Immaculate College, giving a paper on the medieval influences & modern impacts during the 70s of Horslips to a warm reception if cool weather during the 21st Conference of Irish Medievalists. My first time at a group pursuing the Middle Ages since my graduate school days, and I look forward to studying Old Irish there. Already I have another idea for a paper next round.

Two weeks at Oideas Gael, Foras Cultúir Uladh/the Ulster Cultural Center in Glencolmcille/Ghleann Cholm Cille, Co. Dun na nGall/Donegal. I stumbled through a middle-level class by dint of previous study in book-larnin' & a bit of tape listnin' but not enough to match those lucky natives who had to sit through a dozen years of Irish classes, and now found themselves by midweek blossoming into hedge-school masters reborn. We foreigners had a harder time of it, with no such deep roots to draw from in times of rote memory or panic attacks. But, even among those beyond the nine waves, from France & Sweden & Norway & Wales & Belfast & America came diligent largely self-educated &/ tutored students in and out of colleges who determined to learn to a very high level Irish that could rival those who had the luxury (if in retrospect) to listen to it nearly daily most of their lives-- or at least see it on signs, listen to it on RTE or TnG4, or chat with their children as they did lessons.

But now, I realize as the devoted director-founder (and in my case midnight angel who brought me as if magically appearing on the spot a new key after mine snapped in the lock) Liam Ó Cuinneagáin emphasizes, we all have the radio, the Net, Skype, books & tapes, and video & TV to aid our learning. NO excuses for we foreign-born wannabees. I even met a blogger in such an advanced class, HilaryNYC, not Mrs. Rodham Clinton, who writes in Irish, and recognized her halfway up the walk to the Túr in Biofan's enchanting townland above the glen. She writes on Blogger in both languages; I had found her as gaeilge when searching for podcastannaí.

Then, up to see friends in Belfast before down to UCD for the IASIL lit-crit gathering, always an event full of fascinating people and fresh insights. There I gave another paper on Horslips that repeated but about 2% of the other, be assured. This talk examined how the band positioned itself (I did not use critical terms trendy today such as interrogate or mediate or even overdetermine) within 1970s Ireland as a cultural force for change, reflected in Pat McCabe's novel The Dead School (see Lee's site CBH for more, of course, and her HorsLit Yahoo Group), the new essay by Paul Muldoon, or the CBH site and the DVD out recently. Not enough time to do justice to the material, but I acknowledge delightedly Cheryl Herr (her pioneering work on Joyce's sermon, music-hall, advertising, and consumerism I admire greatly) the next day at her keynote lecture showed bits of Barry Devlin's 1984 film "All Things Bright & Beautiful" to support "Stories for Boys" on male adolescence post WW2 and how rock n-roll. Professor Herr taught us how this seemed to be listened to invariably by spotty boys circa 1956 in Northern climes faintly on strung wires from bedroom walls conveying Radio Luxembourg. She also used a 1980 "Late Late Show" clip of Bono looking embarassingly Mork-like singing that very song in jerkily "let's pretend we are nu-wave robots" fashion. Enough said.

Despite a letter today that accused me of being but not only a foreigner but a romantic chaser of will o' the wisps Irish, I defend myself. After or despite many years of serious study, silly fun, and combinations of the two that pull me eastward (whatever that direction's in Irish called-- this and numbering prove particularly troublesome to this gaeilgoir), my mind tries not to cloud my heart. I seek both academic rigor and pure enthusiasm. In a few inspired moments of "flow"," as with all scholarship and all pleasure, I would hope that the two do work as one.


Miss Templeton said...

Won't have time to write at length, but welcome home! (What did LockyJim say to ya there in your previous post? Inquiring minds want to know.)

Lots of news here, but some of the tone of your post makes me want to share two stories. The first: Pleasanton Highland Games competition on the hot Labor Day weekend of some year or another and here comes the mighty Class Two band from Tokyo Japan! They wailed away on those pipes. And the crowd went wild with appreciation!

The second story is about the husband, whose cousin is in the more mundane Phoenix Arizona pipe-band at those same games and nobody is gonna get too excited about yet another second-generation Scottish-American giving his all on a set of reels. But hey, I think I can at least appreciate the lunacy of rehearsing in all that tartan in a southwestern desert heat. Go, daddy, go. Anyway, the story is more about the husband actually, who has spent this summer growing beautiful birdhouse gourds, which will be dried over the winter and then given to the craftsman in our 'ohana' -- Hawaiian for family -- and they will then be painted and decorated and become the hand-shaken drums required to accompany our hula dancers. (And don't expect Trader Vics; this is the real hula of generations).

Indigenous cultures in all their tribal variety are our greatest achievements as humanity. And always, they must contend with the homogenizing forces of modernization, assimilation, conflict, diaspora, erosion of shared memory, or just the simple passage of time. To be one who recognizes this is one thing and that's good. To be someone that makes a greater commitment to learn, share, or caretake in the hopes of passing along something of the particular past to the general future: that's a person to encourage and respect.

Fionnchú said...

Well said, Miss T.! Locky Jim's comment asked me when & where I'd be in Dublin, but unfortunately I only got it when I arrived home yesterday, jet-lagged. It turns out I met a cousin who knows him, having gone to school with him at UCD; her sister-- another cousin-- helps oversee the RTÉ Authority, so I assume she and the flautist also know each other over the years under the big antenna out in Donnybrook, the radio station's mast that you can see from the (admittedly hideous Brutalist Socialist concrete 1960s) campus.

Your comments on the net that brings us together I found eloquent & accurate, reflecting the three gatherings I attended in Ireland made up of people from around the world brought into a record-setting June gloom and a July not much brighter. Not that I minded at all, happy to escape L.A.'s heat but missing my own clan. Of course, I return to find them all gone on their own respective summer camp and Santa Cruz forays. We all need a break, even from our closest ones, to bring us together more strongly.

But kilts & desert heat! Those caber-tossers'll work up a mighty sweat. Reminds me of the folly of the late June Irish Fair here invariably held in some sun-blasted furnace of an outdoor venue. Pale people stagger, ruddy drink, palest burn, drinkers dance, all collapse.

May your own contribution, as a couple of Templetons and as the CBH mistress-mind, bring us closer together virtually & in real time as well, Pacific-fringed members of the big kahuna ohana celtica!