Lisa Hannigan :: Knots

‘Knots’ le feiceáil anois ar chainéal de chuig Lisa Hannigan ar You Tube

Amhrán is déanaí le Lisa Hannigan óna halbam nua Passenger a bheas á eisiúint i Meiriceá Thuaidh ar an 20ú Meán Fómhair, agus in Éirinn ar an 21ú lá de Dheireadh Fómhair. (Caithfidh mé a admháil gur chuir sin as dom, go raibh sé ag teacht amach i Meiriceá i dtosach, ach tá ag éirí go maith léi i Meiriceá i gcomparáid le hÉirinn, de réir cosúlachta!)
Tá blas Meiriceánach tar éis teacht ar a cuid ceoil, ceart go leor, mar is léir leis an amhrán ‘gormacha’ seo. An bhfuilim liom fhéin nuair a mheasaim go bhfuil tionchar Nick Drake le blas san amhrán seo?
Scannánaíodh an físeán seo ar bhád, a chuireann in iúl go bhfuil Lisa ag leanacht le híomhá leitheadúil na farraige a bhí ar a halbam Sea Sew.
Tá stíl na mná aoibhne seo ag dul ó neart go neart – agus cúis bhróid dom a rá go bhfuil gúna agam cosúil lena ceann sa bhfíseán seo. 😛

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Dhá dhream atá scoilte ag an teanga chéanna

Táim ag scríobh an bhlag seo th’éis dom dá halt a léamh i nGaelscéal, an buncheann ag Colm Ó Broin agus freagra scríofa ag cara maith liom, Scott de Buitléir. Tá siad beirt ag plé le ceist na hathbheochana Gaeilge, agus an fhadhb atá againn leis na canúintí agus le foghraíocht na teanga. Seo fearann contúirteach, agus conspóideach! Nílim ach chun cúpla smaoineamh agus mo thuairimí fhéin a roinnt ar an ábhar seo.
Ní dóigh liom go mbeidh an Ghaeilge ina príomhtheanga sa tír seo go deo, ar an drochuair. Caithfidh muid a bheith réalaíoch faoin bhfiric sin. Sin ráite, tá seans ann go mbeidh sí ina mionteanga bheo bhríomhar, agus ceapaim go bhfuil sin le feiceáil anois, ar bhealaí. Beidh orainn a thuilleadh iarrachtaí a dhéanamh chun í a chur chun cinn i gceart, agus buailfidh muid le constaicí gan amhras (.i. mar gheall ar an gcúlú eacnamaíochta seo, le Gaeilgeoirí ag dul ar imirce agus rialtas gan spéis sa teanga nach bhfuil chun airgead a thabhairt don chúis.)
An rud a chuireann faitíos go mór mór orm ná an deighilt seo atá rí-shoiléir i measc lucht na Gaeilge. Is cuimhin liom ráiteas ag Yeats faoi Éirinn, rud eicínt mar “an tír chomh beag sin, ach an iomarca fuatha inti”! Tá an ceart aige! Is mionphobal é pobal na Gaeilge, agus ba chóir go mbeidh muid aontaithe agus ag réiteach lena chéile! Ach níl sin mar atá, faraor. Braithimse i mo shaol é, caithfidh mé a admháil, sa méid is nach mbím ar mo chompord i measc mhuintir na Gaeltachta. (Tá sé go dona a rá, ach táim níos compordaí agus mé ag caint le Gaeilgeoirí Meiriceánacha!) Bíonn faitíos orm go ndéanfaidh mé botún, agus nach mbeidh mé in ann duine Gaeltachta a thuiscint. Bíonn faitíos orm a bheith sa nGaeltacht, óir nach cuid den phobal mé. Is outsider mé. Ar an ollscoil, cuireadh béim ar theanga, stair agus chultúr saibhir na Gaeltachta. Agus cuireann sin an-bhrú ar an nGaeilgeoir uirbeach, agus tugann sé coimpléasc dó a chuireann isteach ar a chumas teanga. Tá an grá céanna (nó b’fheidir níos mó, i gcásanna áirithe!) ag lucht Ghaeilge na gcathracha don teanga agus don chultúr, ach beidh muid lasmuigh den scéal go deo. Beidh muid íochtarach ó thaobh na Gaeilge dhe go choíche. Tá muid chomh éagsúil óna chéile. Is pobal réasúnta dúnta í an Ghaeltacht, óir go bhfuil siad ar a gcosaint fhéin, is cosúil. Táimse in ann sin a thuiscint, gan amhras. Tá siad chomh iargúlta sin, agus is cuma leis an rialtas atá suite i mBleá Cliath. Is coimeádaithe an traidisiúin iad muintir na Gaeltachta, agus tá cuid againn sna cathracha ag iarraidh ár gcultúr a fháil ar ais dúinn fhéin. Feictear dom, áfach, nach bhfuil an Ghaeltacht réidh leis an eolas rúndiamhair seo a roinnt linn. Ach nach Éireannaigh muidne freisin? Nach Gaeil muid freisin, óir go bhfuil an teanga againn? Ach an bhfuil? Agus an bhfuil an teanga againn i ndáiríre, fiú?? Is fuath liom an pholaitíocht a bhaineann leis an teanga! Actually, tá faitíos orm leis seo a rá, ach feictear dom go bhfuil lucht na Gaeltachta níos oscailte roimh dhaoine ó thíortha eile ag teacht isteach chun an teanga a fhoghlaim. Ní dóigh liom gur rud Gaelach sin, ach rud Éireannach sa méid is nach mbaineann sé leis an nGaeilge amháin…

Is Gaeilgeoir Bhleá Cliathach mé, agus tá difear idir an cur amach atá agam ar an teanga ná mar a bheadh ag duine as an nGaeltacht. Dá bhrí sin, ní bheidh an teanga céanna againn. I dtosach, d’fhoghlaim mé an teanga, níl sí agam ó dhúchas, agus ní labhraíonn éinne de mo mhuintir í. Bhí múinteoirí scoile agam as Ciarraí, ach roghnaigh mé Gaeilge Chonamara nuair a shroich mé an ollscoil óir go raibh mo dhaideo as Gaillimh. Mar sin, tá mo chuid foghraíochta measca; caithfidh mé a bheith comhfhiosach leis an mbealach a fhoghraím mo chuid focla. Agus tú i mbun comhrá nádúrtha, áfach, imíonn sin as an bhfuinneog! Tá tú ag triail lena bheith liofa, chun tú fhéin a chur in iúl. Freisin, nílim chun mo réimse focla a leathnú de réir na canúna atá roghnaithe agam – bainim leas as an bhfrás “go hainnis” nuair a bhíonn rud eicínt really go dona. Thaitníonn an fhuaim liom chun an bhrí a chur in iúl! Go hainnis! Táimse fós ag iarraidh an chanúint Chonnachta a bheith agam, ach le mo bhlas Bhleá Cliathach fhéin a choimeád – nílim chun a bheith ‘bréag’ dom fhéin, sin m’ fhéiniúlacht. Éiríonn rudaí níos casta fós: táim i mo chónaí i gcontae Lú anois, agus tá nasc anseo le Gaeilge Uladh. Freisin, óir go bhfuilim ag foghlaim na Gàidhlige, tháinig an smaoineamh chugam gur chóir dom aistriú go Gaeilge Uladh. Ach táim ag leanacht le Gaeilge Chonnachta mar gheall ar mo dhaideo. Sin mo stair pearsanta.
Is foghlaimeoir mé. Beidh mé i m’ fhoghlaimeoir go deo, ach chun an fhírinne a rá, nach bhfuilimid uilig inár bhfoghlaimeoirí nuair atá mionteanga i gceist? Ní bhíonn an réimse teanga chomh leathan sin ag cainteoirí mionteangacha, is cuma cén sórt duine nó cé as tú. Tá stór focal éagsúil againn atá ag brath ar na spéiseanna atá againn. Mar shampla, tá ainmneacha na n-éanacha ar eolas agam, agus níl siad ag cúpla daoine ar a bhfuil aithne agam, ollaimh ollscoile ina measc. Agus ní drochrud sin; níl tuairim dá laghad agam maidir le spórt as Gaeilge, óir nach bhfuil spéis agam ann! Is cuimhin liom nuair a chuaigh mé chuig an nGaeltacht don chéad uair, i gCorca Dhuibhne, agus chuir muid mearbhall ar bhean an tí nuair a d’iarr muid uirthi cá háit a raibh an cuisneoir. “Cuis-neoir? Cad é sin?” adúirt sí, agus nuair a mhínigh muid é di, dúirt sí “Ó! An fridge!” 
Okay, chun díriú anois ar an teanga, ar na canúintí agus ar an bhfoghraíocht. Táim chun Gaeilge Bhleá Cliath a chosaint anseo (ar ndóigh!). I dtosach, aontaím le Scott nuair a deir sé gur rud nádúrtha é go bhfuil canúintí éagsúla Béarla ann i mBÁC, agus go gciallaíonn seo go mbeadh canúintí éagsúla Gaeilge ann freisin. Is cathair iltíreach í BÁC, agus tá meascán de chuile rud ann. Tá Bleá Cliathaigh dúchasacha ann, tá daoine ann as an tuaithe, tá daoine ann as tíortha eile. Chuile dhuine uilig measctha lena chéile. Mar sin, tá blasanna, nósanna cainte agus teangacha de chuile shórt ann. Agus cruthaíonn sin rud nua, comhtháthú de shórt eicínt. Mar a dúirt mé cheana, beidh an Ghaeilge in ann maireachtáil sna cathracha óir go bhfuil siad i lár na nua-aoise. Tá an Ghaeilge ag athrú sna cathracha, tá sí in úsáid ag daoine ar bhealaí éagsúla. Ní mór do Gaeilgeoirí an t-alt ag teangeolaí Brian Ó Broin, ‘Schism fears for Gaeilgeoirí‘, a léamh. Deir sé
The language is being spoken in all corners of the country (and abroad), and while it might be changing radically, particularly in this current generation, there is no evidence of it dying out. …we can only wait to see what sort of Irish the next generation of urban speakers will have. Will the urban variety become its on dialect of Irish, or grow further apart from its Gaeltacht cousin, becoming a creole or new language?

Nach fianaise mhaith í seo, go bhfuil an Ghaeilge ag athrú? Nach gciallaíonn sin gur teanga bheo bhríomhair í an Ghaeilge? Athraíonn teangacha an t-am ar fad, agus is rud nádúrtha sin. Tá an Ghaeilge á cur in oiriúint don shaol nua-aimsire seo, agus is comhartha seo de theanga shlán. Le gairid, tháinig mé ar fhocla ar hibrid nó cros-síolach atá iontu: dáiríríously?! agus dochreideable! Fuaireas an chéad ceann ó craoltóir Bhleá Cliathach, agus an darna cheann ó chailín Gaeltachta i Rann na Feirste (mar fhreagairt don leas a bhain mé as an bhfocal dáiríríously ar Twitter). Chuala mé céard-ever freisin agus mé sa gcéad bhliain de mo bhunchéim! Píosa spraoi atá sna focla seo nuair a cruthaíodh iad, ach cuireann siad in iúl go bhfuil daoine ag éirí níos compordaí leis an bhfiric go bhfuil an Ghaeilge agus an Béarla taobh le taobh lena chéile sa tír seo agus go bhfuil sé nádúrtha go mbeadh siad sórt ‘ag labhairt lena chéile’. Ní hamháin go raibh, go bhfuil agus go mbeidh focla Béarla ag teacht isteach sa nGaeilge, ach chonacthas gur chruthaigh tionchar na Gaeilge leagan nua den Bhéarla (.i. Béarla Éireannach) ó thaobh comhréire, foghraíochta agus nathanna de. Tá focla ‘ar iasacht’ ón nGaeilge agus ón nGàidhlig le feiceáil sa mBéarla (breathnaigh ar an leathanach seo de chuid Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, thar a bheith spéisiúil!) Nuair a léigh mé na freagraí don alt sin faoi Americanisms ab fhuath le daoine, chonaic mise tionchar na Gaeilge ar Bhéarla Meiriceánach.

Tá muid uilig ar an domhan seo le chéile, ag roinnt ár gcultúir lena chéile chun comhtháthaithe a chruthú agus ciníochas agus seicteachas a scriosadh. Ceart go leor, tá teangacha ag fáil báis chuile lá, agus tá sé scanrúil go bhfuil sin ag tarlú. Ach níl an Ghaeilge ag fáil báis – go fóill. An fhadhb is mó atá againn ná go bhfuil daoine de lucht na Gaeilge ró dáiríre agus ró choimeádach. Dúirt mé seo cheana fhéin – beidh an dán céanna ag an nGaeilge ‘s a bhí ag an Laidin mura bhfuil muid cúramach. Caithfear na srianta atá curtha ar an nGaeilge ag na híonaithe a scriosadh. Is mithid dúinn teacht chun cinn na teanga a scaoileadh agus saoirse a thabhairt di ionas go mbeadh sí ina teanga bheo. (Ní hé sin le rá go scriosfar struchtúr na teanga nó go n-éireoidh muid leisciúil faoin ngramadach, ach díreach na hathruithe teanga a ligean isteach.) Is cuid den phobal í an teanga, agus cuirfear sí in oiriúint don phobal dá húsáid. Athbheochan atá i gceist againn, nó athbhreith – ciallaíonn sin go mbeidh tréithe nua ag teacht isteach sa teanga, a chabhróidh léi maireachtáil sa gcomhthéacs nua-aimsire. Mac leinn na Gaeilge Clasaicí agus na Sean-Gaeilge ag caint anseo! Is aoibhinn liom na sean-fhoirmeacha de focla agus an sean-chóras gramadaí, ach athraíonn teangacha le riachtanais an phobail dá n-úsáid. Ná bígí piúratánach, tugaigí saoirse don Ghaeilge agus sábhálfaidh sí í fhéin!

***Nuashonrú***

Chaill mé amach ar alt eile ag plé leis an díospóireacht seo i nGaelscéal, le Aonghus Ó hAlmhain. Is fiú é a léamh. 18/8
 

Translations

The Yeats Summer School was as inspiring as ever this year, not least because I took part in my first poetry workshop with Peter McDonald. The first step into the workshop was to send some of my poems to Peter via the Yeats Society in Sligo, and I was faced with the dilemma of providing translations for my poems written originally as Gaeilge. I decided not to think too much about it or I’d drive myself mad, so I read and translated my poems fairly swiftly and sent them off. The poems in question are ‘Caoimhín Naofa agus an Chéirseach’ and ‘Béaldath’.
I wasn’t sure how we would approach the reading of my poems in an English-language medium workshop, but as Peter is well-acquainted with the question of translation himself, there was little discomfort! I read the poems in Irish, and he read the translations in English. It must be said that Peter read them in such a way as to make them sound pretty amazing! ‘Caoimhín Naofa agus an Chéirseach’ didn’t present us with any trouble in its English guise, though the words céirseach, glinn, lomán (‘hen blackbird’, silvery-noted [of voice], ‘bare, stripped branch’) to me lost their singular strength when they required more than one word to be translated. (Also the double-meaning of the word comaoin, but I didn’t go into that at the time.) This doesn’t seem to have been a problem in Peter’s or anyone else’s eyes. However, we did come across a puzzle in ‘Béaldath’. Firstly with reference to ‘youth’ in the phrase ‘teas na n-óg‘, which I had translated at the time as ‘the heat of youth’ (when really it’s ‘the heat of the young’). ‘Youth’ as a concept in English has different connotations, of which I’m not sure that I’m aware. [Ooh, clásal coibhneasta deas as Béarla ansin!] In Irish, I think the connotations of Tír na nÓg will always come to mind when you hear the genitive na n-óg! Or maybe that’s just me? I like it, anyway. The real sticky issue we encountered was with the word smál, in the line ‘ach d’fhág tú smál orm‘. I had translated this as ‘but you left a stain on me’, with a note under the poem explaining the connotation of ‘sin’ in the Gaeilge, i.e. Muire gan Smál. Peter informed us that Mary was referred to as ‘Mary without Spot’ in Medieval English texts. (This I didn’t know, even though I studied Medieval English.) ‘Stain’ as a word just didn’t seem to work though, and this was our dilemma. I had to go away and think about it. I looked up a thesaurus for the word ‘stain’ – ‘mark’, ‘blemish’, ‘blotch’, ‘spot’, ‘smear’, ‘soil’, ‘smudge’. Hmm, we already had ‘smear’. ‘Mark’? I’m still uncertain. But out of them all, ‘mark’ is the best of a bad lot. The complexity of the Irish word can’t work in English. What to do??
Anyway, the bilingualism of my contribution to the workshop made for interesting debate. When asked why I found it so difficult to see my poems translated, I said that I was sick of seeing the Irish and Scottish Gaelic languages undermined by English translations accompanying them. To me (and to others), it suggests that the minority language can’t stand on its own, that it can’t be justified to be published on its own merit. I insisted that it wasn’t a political thing, but it’s a politico-linguistic thing, I suppose. Biddy Jenkinson came up as an example, of course. Joan McBreen said that Biddy refused to provide an English translation to one of her poems in an anthology that Joan was compiling, but agreed to provide one in French. When I heard this, I realised how silly it all is, really. French is a major language just like English, so it’s the English the Biddy has the problem with, which is political. I’m not interested in that. I opened up when Peter put it something like this: you’re killing the language by cutting it off from other languages, which are other life-sources. One poem in one language is a river flowing into the sea. It has been seen by some friends and colleagues of mine in Irish-language academia that this cutting off of Irish from other language cultures is doing the Irish-language studies more damage than good. To give the Irish and Scottish Gaelic languages a voice in modern literature, perhaps we need to be realistic and grow up. We all know the translations are not the same, but they offer a window in to the culture. Also, more readers may seek to learn the language if they can relate to the sentiment found in its translation. (For example, I’d like to learn German, so I can appreciate Goethe more.) 
Speaking of German, I was very grateful to be directed to Paul Celan amidst our discussion, whose parents died in labour camps during WW2. His use of German in his writing has been seen as an attempt to break the language, or remake it. He said “There is nothing in the world for which a poet will give up writing, not even when he is a Jew and the language of his poems is German.” Wow.
Then there’s the question of whether to use cúpla focal in an English-language poem. Why not? People put in French words all the time. Yeats started it, in a way – he was the one who brought in the Irish placenames into modern poetry. If you want to be political, you could say that the Irish words have a chance to invade the English! 
As Peter put it, creating a poem in one language and then translating it is ‘a labour of birth and a labour of grief.’ I like this analogy. It reminds me of the Mór Ríon, goddess of fertility and death. Bilingual Irish existence is a reality. Ireland will never again be lán-Ghaeilge, alas. So our language has to make friends, and stop alienating herself. This realisation has made it easier for me to be an Irish writer, and I’m sure it will make my writing more interesting too.

The Bard, the Misty Island, and the Gàidhlig

Somhairle MacGill-Eain, © Cailean MacIll-Eain
I couldn’t miss out on this, with me being one of Somhairle MacGill-Eain‘s biggest fans. The conference Ainmeil Thar Cheudan (translated as “famous through the centuries”), organised by the Gaelic college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and the University of the West of Scotland, was a centenary celebration of the bard’s birth in 1911, fittingly set against the backdrop of Eilean a’ Cheò, an t-Eilean Sgitheanach (the Isle of Skye). The centenary comes at an apt time in the world of Gàidhlig and Gaelic studies, as this seems to be a crucial time to work for and set an agenda for the Scottish Gaelic language and culture, as we are trying to do currently in Ireland for Gaeilge. There seems to be a rising spirit amongst the Scots for the promotion and preservation of Gaelic culture, and this was apparent to me through the course of the conference. This was no doubt spurred also by the recent overwhelming success of the SNP in the elections, arousing a sense of national pride in the Scots.
To put this fervent spirit into a broader context, only recently BBC Alba was made available on Freeview in the UK, and I was able to catch some of it when I stayed with my relatives in Glasgow after the conference. At the start of the year, there was a campaign to get the Gaelic band from Leòdhas (Lewis), Mànran, to the top of the charts on iTunes with their catchy song in Gàidhlig, ‘Làtha Math’ (‘A Good Day’). Mozilla Firefox and its email client Thunderbird is now available in Gàidhlig, as is Open Office. Linguist Michael Bauer has contributed to these translations of modern technology, while also working on the Gàidhlig online dictionaries Dwelly-d and Am Faclair Beag. He has created a very useful web page, Akerbeltz, and recently published a book, Blas na Gàidhlig, to aid learners and Gàidhlig speakers alike with a guide to finely-tuned pronunciation of the language and explanations of grammar. (Might I also add that he has an unusual knack for making these subjects very approachable for everyone!) There is a definite push for Gaelic Medium Education, and Bòrd na Gàidhlig is offering funding for the training of Gaelic teachers. These efforts seem to be gathering momentum this year, and I wonder if this is more than a coincidence; perhaps the guiding spirit of Somhairle is still in our midst.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
The conference took place on 15-17th of June on the distinctive campus of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, with its nautical white towers and huge windows that offer an unrivaled view out to the sea and the mainland mountains. At this time of year swallows reel about these towers, as do the numerous local gulls. Very dramatic and very poetic. And luckily, we had the good weather! The journey for me was an epic one, rising at 4am to get my flight to Glasgow, remaining here until I could embark on the scenic train journey north-westwards, that takes five and a half hours. Then the Caledonian ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on Skye. A true Hogwarts-bound journey indeed. Despite my early rise, the first evening offered too much distaction that was better than caffeine. Firstly, I was graced with the company of Prof. Alan Titley of University College Cork (UCC), an actual legend, who kept me laughing with his sharp wit and introduced me to the liquid of the gods that is Laphroaig whisky. Secondly, there was an oidhche bhàrdachd is chiùil (a night of poetry and music) in the Talla Mòr, with poetry readings from the distinguished and impressive Aonghas Dubh MacNeacail and Meg Bateman, the piping and singing (together!) of Allan MacDonald, new musical arrangements of Somhairle’s poetry by musicologist John Purser and Màiri Anna NicUalraig, and a wee session from students of the National Centre for Excellence in Music. There was a true sense that Gaelic culture is alive and well, with conversations combining Gaeilge and Gàidhlig in my circle, excellent whisky and impromtu piping from a whole gang of youngf’llas showing off to the youngwans. Above all of this was a magical moon, and I later found out that there had been an eclipse that night!
I had a bit of a sore head the following morning (unfortunate for the first day of lectures), but this was swiftly eased by the lectures of Alan Titley and Peter MacKay. Alan spoke stirringly on Somhairle and the ‘Imagination of Excess’, appealing for the appreciation of his poetry through sound, image and his revitalising use of the Gaelic language. He put Somhairle into context with comparison to the Gaelic tradition that came before him, in song and poetry. He insisted that imagination is not just some ghostly presence that hovers around us, but it is fed by writers past, reading and everything around you. Alan stood up for poetry and creative writing for its own sake, as opposed for tearing it apart for criticism, observing that “deductionism is reductionism.” On ‘Coilltean Ratharsair’, he said “I just want to walk through it [the woods], not understand it.” Peter MacKay’s lecture (‘Coilltean Ratharsair: Temptation in the woods’) really struck me as it entered the realm of mythology that was so close to conversations I had the previous night. The White Goddess by Robert Graves had come up in talk, and here he was referring to more goddess myths! Peter drew our attention to the similar setting in ‘Coilltean Ratharsair’ to that of the Diana/Artemis myth, and Somhairle’s reference to three goddesses, Actaeon and dogs. In the myth, Diana is bathing naked in a stream, and the huntsman Actaeon comes across her, and watches her, captivated by her beauty. When Diana sees him, she fears that he will boast about what he has seen, and she immediately turns him into a stag, which his own 50 hounds then hunt and tear him apart. The poem depicts a fall from grace rather than from paradise. Let’s remember that Somhairle set his own poem-hounds after the deer that was his love so that he could hunt for his expression; here, the object of love has turned his own dogs on him, and has damned him to eternal silence.
I was pretty excited at the prospect of musicologist John Purser‘s lecture on Somhairle and ‘the music of the bards’, and it was a real treat indeed! It was a feast of fine oratory, music and recitation, as John shared with us the gems he has accumulated on CD that relate to Somhairle and the Scottish tradition in general. He made the point that modern poets don’t allow time for their audience to react; the performance in delivery given by the bards past, mimicked by Somhairle, was to allow for their audience to get the full meaning and power of the poetry and for their reaction. John urges modern poets to slow down, to think of waves, think big! Gaelic poetry should function like a pibroch, which Somhairle aspired to and achieved. The multi-media experience continued with Margaret Bennett, who spoke about her son Martyn Bennett, a musical genius and wee friend of Somhairle, who was 15 when he wrote a piece called ‘Somhairle’s March’ in honour of the bard! He also put the poem ‘Hallaig’ to music that lasted 9 minutes – Margaret told us that Martyn and his friends used to mimick Somhairle and would have his poems off by heart in the manner that the poet delivered it. Wee heroes worshipping a big hero.
The highly anticipated 1939 edition of ‘An Cuilithionn’ and unpublished poems by Christopher Whyte was launched at the conference, and he gave us a preview in a lecture on the poem, in the context of ‘Choreography, Oreography and Political Responsibility’. Oreography means ‘a branch of physical geography dealing with mountains’. A new word for me! Somhairle did not want this version of the Cuilithionn published, but it offers us a clearer insight into his intention with the published version, as it is considered not to have been properly completed. From examining the text, Christoper says that Somhairle was aware that the poem wasn’t going to come across in English, and he insists that it is a mistake to treat the Gàidhlig and the English as equivalent (by placing them side by side). Political revolution is the subject of this poem, which Somhairle wanted to emanate from the Highlands outwards to the world. The lecture prompted some pretty heated political debate, but we were reminded not to judge Somhairle’s left-wing politics too harshly, as we have the gift of hindsight.
The Storm, William McTaggart (1890)
On the Friday, Murdo MacDonald treated us to a colourfully illustrated history of the relationship between Scottish art and Scottish literature/poetry in the context of the Gàidhealtachd. He used Carmina Gadelica agus Somhairle’s Dàin do Eimhir as two bookend works to this historical timeline. As Douglas Young noted, there seems to be an old Celtic habit of integration of words and image. While I was listening to Murdo’s accounts of early ‘Celtic Twilight’ authors, Dwelly and Somhairle seeking image to accompany their texts, I could only think of Yeats striving for the same marriage with his family’s Dun Emer/Cuala Press. This talk coincided with the opening of the ‘Uinneag dhan Àird an Iar’ (‘Window to the West’) mini-exhibition on the campus of SMO, with works that had been part of the original exhibition in the City Art Centre in Edinburgh. Murdo noted how the banners that hung outside on the gallery walls were a great achievement, for the size of the Gaelic words in such a prominent location! What a proud, modern Gàidhlig contrast to William McTaggart‘s painting The Storm, which depicts the disaster of emigration and loss of language and culture.
Sandra Byrne was a woman after my own heart with her discussion of Somhairle and the role of the bardic poet in the twentieth century. This is my main academic interest in Somhairle’s poetry, his relationship to the Gaelic tradition that came before him, mixing his modernist voice with the voices of those bards long hushed under the soil. The restrictive bardic forms offered Somhairle some structure to the chaos of modern life, and his success as a poet was his ability to contain explosions of honest anguish in such self-restricting bardic practice. Máire Ní Annracháin, my supervisor and the woman who introduced me to the world of Somhairle and Gàidhlig, highlighted how an image can linger in the mind of a poet when it is equated with some strong emotion or memory. One such recurring image that Maire explored was that of the honeysuckle. In the early poem ‘Abhainn Arois’, Somhairle lingers not on the words or talk of his love, but the scent of honeysuckle that surrounded him and her. Fifty years later, Somhairle reflects back on this in ‘Iadhshlat’ (‘Honeysuckle’), calling the flower’s scent ‘ìomhaigh chùbhraidh a bòidhche‘ (‘a fragrant image of her beauty’). In the first poem, the honeysuckle is an association that sparks a memory; in the second, it has transformed into a metaphor, ‘ròs is iadhdhlat a’ ghaoil‘ (‘the rose and honeysuckle of love’).
Not only did I digest all of this luscious academic food for thought, I also philosophised through the mediums of Gaeilge and Gàidhlig in a field with Alan Titley as we followed pheasants; talked about haiku with Rody Gorman and Aonghus Dubh MacNeacail; listened to stories about Somhairle from people who knew him; I heard a tawny owl and lesser redpolls; I got eaten alive by midges; we had the most epic sing-song session anns a’ Talla Mhòr; and I bought all of the five books that were launched at the conference. Yes, five books at one conference! I think this just shows the acceleration of the interest in Somhairle and Gàidhlig. The Eilean Sgitheanach and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig does feel like another world, and never fails to inspire me. I always feel very welcome, and they are so encouraging of anyone who has an interest in Gàidhlig. Though this wee area is the hub for Gàidhlig on a now English-speaking western isle, it feels like a stronghold for the language and culture; no matter how small it is and no matter how hard the English-language world presses in around it, the devotion to Gaelic is so staunch here that no threatening force could sway it. I like to think of Gàidhlig as being hardy and defiant like the thistle in Ted Hughes‘ poem:

Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men
Thistles spike the summer air
And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.

Every one a revengeful burst
Of resurrection, a grasped fistful
Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up

From the underground stain of a decayed Viking.
They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects.
Every one manages a plume of blood.

Then they grow grey like men.
Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear
Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground.


W.B. Yeats – Daire Mhór na Filíochta

W.B. Yeats in New York in the early ’20s
[Scríofa 13 Meitheamh 2011]
Rugadh Yeats ar an lá seo sa mbliain 1865. Breithlá sona, a Gheataigh! 🙂
Tá ‘fhios ag mo chairde uilig go bhfuil ról tábhachtach ag Yeats i mo shaol – is mór an tionchar atá aige orm, go háirid ó thaobh mo chuid scríbhneoireachta dhe. Eiseamláir amach is amach é dom. Tháinig mé air don chéad uair nuair a cheannaigh mé leabhar dá chuid, cnuasach dá dhánta roghnaithe, sa siopa leabhar Chapters nuair a bhí siad suite ar Shráid na Mainistreach. Níl ‘fhios agam cén fáth a bhraith mé tarraingthe dá shaothar, ach is cosúil gur thaitin na híomhánna a bhí á léiriú ós comhair shúil m’intinne nuair a léigh mé cúpla dán sa siopa roimh an cnuasach a cheannach. Bhí draíocht ag baint lena chuid focla… Tá sé deacair dhom a mhíniú, ach bhí sé ar nós go raibh láimh dhíchollaithe ag cur greama orm as na bileoga! Bhraith mé an rud ceannann céanna nuair a chuaigh mé i dtaithí ar litríocht na Gaeilge. Anamacha a bhí marbh le fada ag caint liom, dom’ impí, agus bhraith mé coibhneas nó aifinideacht leo… Pé scéal é. Ansin, chas mé ar Yeats aríst nuair a rinne muid staidéar ar a chuid filíochta le haghaidh na hArdteiste, agus b’shin an uair a thosaigh an oibseisiún seo i gceart! Bhí spéis ag Yeats sa ndraíocht agus san osnádúr, agus measaim gur seo an príomh-rud a tharraing mé dá shaothar. Agus mé i mo dhéagóir, bhí sórt spreagadh nádúrtha ionam chun na págántachta; d’aimsigh mé mo chreideamh ionam fhéin, agus as sin amach deimhníodh mo fhealsúnach sa domhan mórthimpeall orm trí smaointeoireacht agus fealsúnach daoine eile. Ach ba Yeats an chéad duine a aontaigh liom beagnach go huile ‘s go hiomlán.
Léigh mé chuile leabhar ar Yeats a raibheas in ann a aimsiú chun a thuilleadh eolais a fháil, ag lorg mé fhéin oiread agus mé ag iarraidh dul in aithne ar Yeats féin! Cuireadh tús le mo shaol acadúil i gceart nuair a fhreastal mé ar an Scoil Samhradh Yeats i Sligeach sa mbliain 2006, th’éis dhom m’Ardteist a chríochnú. D’fhill mé ar ais chuile bhliain, ar nós fáinleoige. (Chaill mé amach ar an scoil anuraidh, óir go raibheas i mbun mo thráchtais Mháistreachta.)

Chas mé ar chairde agus smaointeoireacht den chéad scoth ag an scoil sin, agus caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuilim go mór faoi chomaoin na scoile, agus murach í ní bheinn mar atáim inniu. Tá an-chuid deiseanna ag baint le hinstitiúid dá sórt do dhaoine acadúla óga. Ní raibh sé chomh deacair dul isteach ar an ollscoil i ndiaidh taithí caite agam don chéad bhliain sa Scoil Samhradh Yeats; ní raibh faitíos orm mo chuid smaointí a roinnt leis na ranganna i UCD óir gur bhraith mé go raibh siad deimhnithe agus spreagtha i measc acadóirí a thaistil ó chuile chúinne na cruinne thuas i Sligeach.
Bhraith mé, agus braithim fós, go bhfuilim go mór faoi scáth Yeats agus mé ag déanamh iarrachta ceird na filíochta a chleachtadh. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil meán na Gaeilge agam chun mo ghuth a scaoil amach, nó bheadh na focla tachta i mo scornach! Is deacair an rud é a bheith i mbun scríbhneoireachta agus tionchar mór ort ag scríbhneoir cáiliúil eile. Bíonn an-chuid scríbhneoirí ar fud an domhain ag dul i ngleic le Yeats. Mar a dúirt an file Austin Clarke,

“So far as the younger generation of poets are concerned, here in Ireland, Yeats was rather like an enormous oak-tree which, of course, kept us in the shade, and did exclude a great number of the rays of, say, the friendly sun; and of course we always hoped that in the end we would reach the sun, but the shadow of that great oak-tree is still there.” (Rodgers [ed.], “W.B. Yeats” in Mikhail [1977], W.B. Yeats: Interviews and Recollections, pp. 316-33, at p. 330)

D’éirigh mé sórt scartha ó Yeats nuair a thosaigh mé ag leanacht bhóthar na Gaeilge. B’fhéidir gur maith sin, chun mé fhéin a fheabhsú lasmuigh de scáth na darach móire sin! Ar ndóigh, tá sé tábhachtach teorainneacha do goirt a fhairsingiú. Bhí sé i gcónaí ann, áfach, i gcónaí ar chúl m’intinne cibé a bhí ar siúl agam. Feictear dom go raibh tionchar ag traidisiún na Gaeilge air, agus cé nach raibh sé in ann an teanga a fhoghlaim (rinne Bantiarna Gregory cúpla iarracht an teanga a mhúineadh dó!), rinne sé a seacht ndícheall spiorad an traidisiúin sin a chur chun cinn, agus é a spreagadh ar stáitse an domhain. Sílim go bhfaca mé an spiorad sin ina shaothar, agus sin an fáth nach mbraithim gaol ceart idir mé fhéin agus scríbhneoirí Béarla eile, seachas eisean. Ba é Yeats duine de na chéad scríbhneoirí a chur aird ar thábhacht an bhéaloidis, agus cuireann sé as dom nach dtugann lucht an Bhéaloidis in Éirinn meas dó mar gheall ar sin. D’aithin Yeats an chumhacht atá ag baint leis na scéalta agus deas-gnáthanna a bhí (agus atá, in áiteacha) ag “na gnáthdhaoine”, agus b’ionann dó creidimh seo na ndaoine agus an nóisean aige de spioradáltacht choiteann ag an gcine daoine. Chonacthas dó go raibh siombailí agus móitífeanna i neamhchomhfhios an chine dúchais (tagtar orthu i mbrionglóidí), agus go raibh siad ar fáil d’ fhilí agus do scríbhneoirí chun litríocht “náisiúnta” a chruthú ar son na tíre. Sin a bhí ar láimh aige nuair a bhunaigh sé Amharclann na Mainistreach le Bantiarna Gregory agus Edward Martyn. Mhol sé nach mbeimis in ann fíor saoire na tíre a bhaint amach gan dul ar ais i dtaithí ar chultúr na tíre chun spiorad agus dearcadh dúchais an chine a mhúscailt. Agus b’shin roimh chritic an iar-choilíneachais!
Ní raibheas ag plé le Yeats le fada, áfach, óir go raibheas ag díriú ar an nGaeilge agus ar an nGàidhlig, go dtí mí nó dhó ó shin nuair a chuaigh Tile Films i dteagmháil liom mar gheall ar chlár teilifíse ar TG4, Cé a Chónaigh i Mo Theach-sa?, clár ina dtugtar cúlra dúinn de thithe cháiliúla ar fud na tíre. Nílim chun mórán a rá faoin tionscadal sin go fóill, ach abraimis gur bhraith mé ag an am go raibh an file mór ag dul ar ais i dteagmháil de shórt eicínt liom, go raibh sé ag teacht ar ais i mo shaol, ach i gcomhthéacs na Gaeilge ar an mbabhta seo. Ba mhór dom an deis sin a tharraing Yeats agus an Ghaeilge le chéile; tá sé i gceist agam an nasc sin a spreagadh sa todhchaí. Táim ag filleadh chuig an Scoil Samhradh Yeats i mbliana chun ceardlanna teanga na Gaeilge a thabhairt do na mic léinn eile, agus beidh mé ag freastal ar an scoil agus na hócáidí uilig. Rud suntasach freisin ná go mbeidh Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill i láthair i mbliana, file a ndearna mé iniúchadh ar dhánta dá chuid dom’
thráchtas. Is cinnte go mbeidh mé bainteach le Yeats aríst amach anseo…

Ted Hughes – “Imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it.”

Ted Hughes
I’m currently reading Ted Hughes’ Poetry in the Making, a collection of the talks that he wrote for and read on the BBC series “Listening and Writing”, which was directed towards an audience of schoolchildren (and no doubt the big children who are writers and poets!).
I LOVE Ted Hughes’ poetry, because he has think knack of capturing the sensuality of the subject in his words, and his images are always striking. He’s on a par with the Old Irish nature poets with his gift for portraying landscapes, animals, birds and the elements. It’s pretty cool of him to intimate his secret to poetlets/poetlings through his talk entitled “Capturing Animals”. I’m going to share a lengthly quote from this chapter in the book:

How can a poem, for instance, about a walk in the rain, be like an animal? Well, perhaps it cannot look much like a giraffe or an emu or an octopus, or anything you might find in a menagerie. It is better to call it an assembly of living parts moved by a single spirit. The living parts are the words, the images, the rhythms. The spirit is the life which inhabits them when they all work together. It is impossible to say which comes first, parts or spirit. But if any of the parts are dead… if any of the words, or images or rhythms do not jump to life as you read them… then the creature is going to be maimed and the spirit sickly. So, as a poet, you have to make sure that all those parts over which you have control, the words and rhythms and images, are alive.


[I]magine what you are writing about. See it and live it. Do not think it up laboriously, as if you were working out mental arithmetic. Just look at it, touch it, smell it, listen to it, turn yourself to it. When you do this, the words look after themselves, like magic. If you do this you do not have to bother about commas or full-stops or that sort of thing. You do not look at the words either. You keep your eyes, your ears, your nose, your taste, your touch, your whole being on the thing you are turning into words. The minute you flinch, and take your mind off this thing, and begin to look at the words and worry about them… then your worry goes into them and they set about killing each other. So you keep going as long as you can, then look back and see what you have written. After a bit of practice, and after telling yourself a few times that you do not care how other people have written about this thing, this is the way you find it; and after telling yourself you are going to use any old word that comes into your head so long as it seems right at the moment of writing it down, you will surprise yourself. You will read back through what you have written and you will get a shock. You will have captured a spirit, a creature.

                                                [Ted Hughes, Poetry in the Making (2008), pp. 17-19]

He’s a magician. But here’s a question: is he talking about purely focusing on a subject that you hold in your mind’s eye, your imagination, or does he also mean actually studying a subject in front of your eyes? I would argue for the former, as I believe the imagination is what has the power to create life through words. Yeats would agree. He argued that a poet should meditate on a subject, after a possible true encounter has happened. It needs to burn in your mind for a bit before you can process it. I find personally that the object in front of me make me mute, it steals any words from my mouth. Only when I’m away from its gaze can I string together words. The intensity of experience casts me into silence. However, I did stand on the beach with my notebook and wrote about the waves once…
Another question I have – what if you’re writing in your second language, and you work with dictionaries to hunt for the right word? That sort of kills the focus on the subject doesn’t it? A question to ponder on, I suppose.

Redstarts – living ‘wholly and enviably to themselves’

John Andrew Wright

I was watching BBC’s Springwatch last week, and Chris Packham read an extract written by ornithologist John Buxton in 1943 while he was a prisoner in a war camp in Bavaria. Apparently much of what we know about Redstarts (pictured) has been gained from this man’s observations. I was really struck by the extract, and thought I’d share it.

‘One of the chief joys of watching these birds in prison was that they inhabited another world than I. They lived wholly and enviably to themselves unconcerned in our fatuous politics, without the limitations imposed all about us by our knowledge. They lived only in the moment, without foresight and with memory only of things of immediate practical concern to them.’

Imagine being in prison, and living your life through the birds you see flying free out of your window? It would keep me sane, I can tell you. I often do it from my own bedroom window! I can’t explain why I love birds so much, but I would say it is because they seem to have this sort of philosophy as described above. Philosophy is the wrong word here, as Buxton has just said that it is in fact our ‘knowledge’ and ‘love of knowledge’ that imposes the limitations on us… Their way of life then, the way they live only for the moment, and deal with things as they happen. To take every day as it comes, and to enjoy it. To sing, to fly, to eat!

Basic functions, but so delightful. We don’t take delight in these basic functions ourselves, not really. We think too much for our own good, and we’re always in a hurry to get to something that is always ahead of us. I think we should take a leaf out of the Redstart’s book, and enjoy every day, and concern ourselves only with our own little patch. If everyone looked after their own patch themselves with patience and dedication, the whole world would be a much better place.
See this blog by Squeak’s Wheel for another meditation on the same extract.