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An antidote

Article in the Irish Examiner today with excerpts from an interview I did on the Irish language. I include here some fuller answers.

What changed in your relationship to Irish?

I think I changed. I used to view life in a capitalist way; I put monetary values on things. I resented Irish because it wasn't useful for my career as a journalist. When i shifted then into a deeper understanding of life, of the more mystical and spiritual value of things, then my perception of Irish equally changed. I remember a summer solstice night, sitting around the campfire in Corca Dhuibhne with a group of men and women, they were playing music and talking gently among themselves about skills and things. Hearing Irish being spoken in that natural context, it made the whole experience that much more beautiful and meaningful.

Why do you think its important for people to re-engage with the language?

First we have to move beyond the mechanistic notion of what language is, from a means of communication into a more quantum understanding of it. We know now, that rather than being stuff or matter, this universe is largely waveforms, sound frequencies and these frequencies contain information. Language then is this, a collection of frequencies with information, you might call it a body of knowledge, you could call it a set of vibratory keys that has specific actions on our biology and on our physcology. It is also a repository of the collective conciousness of its people; what we call the national psyche. It stores the pysche of indigenous Ireland, an Irish people who were intimately connected with place, nature orientated, sustainable living, ecologically sound behaviors either by accident or design. Irish people have been speaking Irish for thousands of years and we’ve been speaking English for about 170 years. The ecological degradation of Ireland, the destruction of ecosystems and the pollution of waters has all happened in English speaking history, so the trauma of disconnection is recorded in our physce in English.In our English-speaking history, our cultural practices and traditions have been lost as have our indigenous knowledge of our native foods, trees and herbs has also been lost. So for example when you use the word darach instead of oak, you are engaging with the ancestral concept of the oak tree rather than the contemporary one. And the ancestral knowledge of an oak is much deeper because our ancestors lived in oak forests, built houses and doors from oak, used oak tannins for their hides and oak sprigs for tooth brushes and oak galls to dye their clothes. And they knew the kind of soil the oak would grow in and all of this is contained in the concept darach. The word oak represents a much shallower body of knowledge. It might sound very esoteric but this is a very scientific explanation. So Irish then offers a bridge back to that ancestral knowledge, to our native consiousness, to a time before modernisation and industrialisation. It is language that is born of this land, it emerged from this land, so in this reconnecting with nature and the land, it offers an ideal medium.

What does Irish offer Irish people in their lives?

It offers a sense of identify and a sense of connection and belonging and uniqueness and nationhood. And all those things are antidotes to the feelings of isolation and homogenisation and globalisation that make us suffer so. Its a medicine for a society where human beings are treated as commercial entities rather than spiritual and cultural beings.

What role does Irish play in your life today?

I am a carrier of Irish. I am a revivalist. I am a guardian of it. I inspire its use in others. I didn’t set out to be that. Certainly not and not being a native speaker, i’ll always trip a little bit over claiming that title but I know from what Life and people are feeding back to me that this is my part of my role. I can feel the difference that it makes in the room when i perform in Irish or in English, comprehension is lost always, which is a difficult thing for a poet whose raison d’etre in many ways is to be understood, to make things more understandable. But i do it, i sacrifice comprehension on the altar of emotion really. The emotional response to the Irish is huge. ‘I love to hear it spoken.’ Every stranger within ear shot will tell you the same thing. It’s like a balm for people. There is this extraordinary response, resoundingly positive. A deep yearning and gratitude in Irish people for their native language.

How can people introduce more Irish into their lives?

Start with a beannacht; a sheoladh, a sloinne, decorate your life with Irish. I liken Irish to wild food. You don’t have to feed yourself entirely on wild edibles to be in health and harmony, you need only garnish. There are five tastes, sweet, sour, salty, astringent and bitter; (and the sixth umani which seaweed and msg are) and our cultivated foods are either sweet, sour and salty. In a holsitic diet all tastes should be present, a small amount of astringent and bitter foods aids the digestrion of the bulk foods and allows assimilation of the meal. So in this magnificent metaphor a small amount of Irish with its hard to prounounce, mouth drying astringency will assist in the asimiliation of our English reality.

Describe the work you do at Wild Irish Retreats?

You could call these retreats spiritual and cultural re-wilding. We create conditions for people to reclaim their relationship with Irish in a natural setting. In experiential and creative ways, through wild food foraging, poetry and craft and hurling. With ourselves and the volunteers, we create a core of Irish speakers, then the participants with their broken Irish, can learn from that core but also converse with one another in that painful way, without fear of judgement. The aim is to push through that lack of confidence and shame which is the primary block to the flow of Irish.

What is your favourite Irish phrase and why?

‘Tá sé lán le ceol.’When the children were babies, I’d bring them in to some imeacht áitúil, they’d be exclaiming and all the rest down the back. And I remember the self conciousness of a first time mother, feeling uncertain of the propriety of the child’s exclamations. Deliberating whether to go out or not. But always, somebody would remark: ‘Oh, tá sí lán de ceoil,’ and it was the sweetest way to reassure a mother that her noisy child and herself were accepted in the public sphere. And the commonality of the phrase alludes to the acceptance of children in Irish-speaking cultural spheres. Ours was a culture where children were part of the public events, instead of being banned like they are now for reasons of ‘child safety’ and ‘insurance’. She is full of music shows the kindness inherent in the Irish-speaking perception of child that could as easily be interpreted as noisy.

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