Monday, November 28, 2011

W.B.Yeats. Father of The Celtic Revival.

W.B. Yeats and his promotion of Irish heritage, early work up to 1900.

“Whose tales seem fragrant with turf smoke”

William Butler Yeats 1865-1939

Yeats was born into a protestant Anglo-Irish landowning class; Anglo-Irish Protestant groups supported a literary revival whose writers wrote in English about the ancient myths and legends of Ireland. Most members of this minority considered themselves English people who happened to be born in Ireland, Yeats however, was adamant in affirming his Irish nationality. He lived in London for many years during his childhood and even kept a home there in his adult life but he never forgot his cultural roots.

He became involved with the Celtic Revival; this was a movement that sought to promote the spirit of Ireland’s heritage against the cultural influences of English rule in Ireland during the Victorian period. Although Yeats never learned the Irish tongue himself he drew extensively from the language and the ancient Irish myths, legends, and folklore to reveal the connection between those traditions, the individual, and the nation and by understanding this connection he came to realise the true reality that was hidden from those who failed to see it.

In 1885, Yeats met the Irish nationalist John O'Leary, who was instrumental in arranging for the publication of Yeats's first poems in The Dublin University Review and in directing Yeats's attention to native Irish sources for subject matter. Under the influence of O'Leary, Yeats took up the cause of Gaelic writers at a time when most of the native Irish literature was in danger of being lost as the result of England's attempts to anglicise Ireland through a ban on the Gaelic language.

Yeats believed that the “de-Anglicising" of Ireland did not depend on the preservation of its literature in the Gaelic language. He wanted writers to translate the tales of the history and heritage of Ireland into English whilst retaining the best of ancient Irish literature that was represented in its rhythm and style. He also wanted to build a bridge between the two and write about the histories and romances of the great Gaelic heroes and heroines of the past. Yeats said “let us make those books known to the people” it was his belief that this would do more to “de-Anglicise” Ireland than clinging to the Gaelic tongue of yesteryear. Yeats accepted that the teaching of Irish played a part in our heritage but that we should not base our hopes of nationhood upon it. He said “Remember it is the tales of Cú chulainn and of Deirdre of the sorrows that are immortal and not the tongue that first told them”.

W. B. Yeats became the champion of Celtic culture and his poetry was a celebration of all things Gaelic. Irish legend gave Yeats a way to be something more than a symbolist (Brown, 2001, p83). He wrote in a letter to the French critic and journalist Henry Davray on19th March 1896, that “I am an Irish poet looking to my own people for my ultimate best audience and trying to express the things that interest them and which will make them care for the land in which they live”.

He was devoted to the cause of Irish nationalism and promoted Irish heritage through his use of material from the ancient sagas within his poetry. The publication in 1889 when Yeats was twenty-four of The Wanderings of Osian which was based on the legend of an Irish hero was a defining moment, not only in Irish literary history, but also its political history. Yeats's book, based on the Fenian cycle, brought Irish mythology to the Irish people in English -'the language' as he pointed out 'in which modern Ireland thinks and does its business’. He also published several volumes of poetry during this period, notably Poems (1895) and The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), which also demonstrated his use of Irish folklore and legend.

Yeats knew that many Irish people of the time did not have the benefit of an education and what little they did have was heavily influenced by the Catholic church, a church that believed in the teaching of the Irish language whether you wanted to learn it or not. He also believed, as did most of the protestant writers of the Celtic Revival that the Catholic Church had no desire for the teaching of myth, legend, and folklore which they saw as promoting a belief in pagan gods. In what could be seen as arrogance, Yeats saw himself as the father of the Celtic Revival and because of this he incorporated folklore and myth into his works.

The feeling I get when I read some of Yeats poetry is sadness, as if he is lamenting a time long gone. He seems to be looking for somewhere that no longer exists, and this comes through in such poems as The Stolen Child who yearns to escape from a place that is “more full of weeping than you can understand” or The Lake Isle of Innisfree in which he yearns to escape from the chaos and corruption that surrounds him to a place of peace and tranquillity. Maybe this is symbolic of the turmoil he feels as Yeats writings are so full of symbolism. In his autobiography, Yeats writes that his poem was influenced by his reading of American writer Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854), which describes Thoreau’s experiment of living alone in a small hut in the woods on Walden Pond, outside Concord, Massachusetts. Yeats warns that failing to look at ourselves as others see us, 'we may go mad someday' (revolt?) and the English will destroy the beautiful Celtic culture and replace it with what they will. Yeats died in 1939 and although buried in France his body was eventually returned to Ireland and is now buried in the Protestant churchyard, Drumcliff, Co. Sligo. Ironically the person in charge of this operation for the Irish Government was Sean MacBride, son of Maud Gonne MacBride.

Bottom image: Yeats gravestone in Drumcliff graveyard with the inscription “Cast a cold eye on life, on Death, Horseman pass by”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Padraig Pearse. Irish Patriot.

Patrick Henry Pearse.

Born: November 10, 1879 in Dublin
Died: May 3, 1916 in Dublin

Patrick Henry Pearse (Padraig MacPiarais) is known as an Irish patriot, scholar, teacher and poet. He was a student of literature and history and wanted to free Ireland from the rule of the British. In 1908, he established St. Edna’s College to educate young Irish citizens about Irish customs, language, and beliefs. Pearse was a key figure in organizing the Easter Rising. He had been an active member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was named an affiliate of its Supreme Council. He wrote a number of position papers and poems to express his intellectual and emotional feelings about the pursuit of Irish freedom. Perhaps the most memorable of these is “Mise Éire”:

“Mise Éire” (in Irish first)

Mise Éire
Sine mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra.
Mór mo ghlóir:
Mé a rug Cúchulainn croga.

Mór mo náir:
Mo chlann féin a dhíol a máthair.
Mise Éire:
Uaigni mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra.

“I am Ireland”

I am Ireland:
I am older than the Old Woman of Beare.
Great my glory:
I that bore Cuchulainn the valiant.

Great my shame:
My own children that sold their mother.
I am Ireland:
I am lonelier than the Old Woman of Beare.

In this poem Pearse describes Ireland’s struggle using familiar themes. He sees Ireland as an old woman who once experienced the glory of having a son who stood against the invader. He was the mythical warrior Cú Chulainn who even when mortally wounded strapped himself to a rock in order to remain standing and continued to fight. However, the old woman also experienced shame as she sees her children sell her to the invaders, a story as old as Ireland herself. Our history is rife with tales of betrayal from within our own ranks.

Pearse hopes to rouse nationalist feelings by drawing on mythology and the concept of Ireland as a defenceless old woman. Pearse, by including her in Mise Eire introduces a feeling of bitterness, something that you see more and more off as you read his poetry but it is also rich in symbolism as he also uses the figure of Cú Chulainn, the archetypal Celtic war hero, as symbolic of the kind of figure that a faltering Irish culture needed to resist the occupying influences, to restore the traditional values of Irish life which Pearse would once again have experienced in Connemara.

Interestingly, the figure of Cú Chulainn was eventually used to commemorate the Easter Rising both in a statute in the Dublin GPO and on the old Irish ten shilling coin (in 1966). Mise Eire is a sad poem, raising as it does many different feelings in the reader. A story of an old mother deserted and sold to Britain who laments her loneliness.

From the cradle to the grave.

There is also a certain irony in Pearse’s life. It is as if An Chailleach Bhéarra, the old hag of mythology has reached out from the mist of time and placed a hand upon his shoulder. Perhaps on Nov. 10, 1879, at 27 Great Brunswick St., Dublin, as the mother and father looked down at their newborn son, they had an idea of what his future held. That may explain why they named him Patrick Henry Pearse. Their son would grow to be the embodiment of the words of the American patriot Patrick Henry, who said in the Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775: "I know not what course others might take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" These words would have been an appropriate epitaph on the gravestone of Pearse, the leader of the Easter Rising 1916. The final irony for Pearse was that his father was a stonemason and Patrick Henry Pearse was to end his life in the stone breakers yard of Kilmainham Prison.

The lower image is of the stone breakers yard where Pardraig Pearse was executed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Dearg-due.

The Dearg-due.

Once there was a fair maiden named Dearg-due who was so beautiful that she was known throughout the country. She could have married any man that she wanted, but fell in love with a local peasant. This was unacceptable to her father, who forced her into an arranged marriage with a wealthy man to secure the financial future of his family. This new husband treated Dearg-due very badly and she eventually committed suicide although some say it was a broken heart that killed her.

Her burial was a simple affair and she was buried in a small churchyard, supposedly located near Strongbow's Tree, in the village of Waterford. The only one to mourn her death was the young peasant boy who visited her grave everyday tearfully praying for her to return to him. The story tells us that a year after her death she rose from her grave filled with vengeance, she went to the house of her father and finding him asleep she placed her lips over his and sucked the life force out of him. She then went to the house of her husband and in a frenzied attack she not only sucked the breath of life out of him but also his blood. It is said that the surge of blood rushing through her body made her feel alive once more.

It is believed that Dearg-due rises from the grave to seduce men and lure them to their deaths by draining their blood. She is always in the form of a beautiful woman. Legend differs on how often she rises from the grave: some say she returns with every full moon, others a few times a year, while others say she rises but once a year on the anniversary of her death. Most versions of the Dearg-due story claim that she can transform into a bat-like creature, while the other versions make no mention of shapeshifting. Some legends say she does not drink blood, but sucks out the life force from men until they slowly wither and die. All thoughts of her young peasant boy long forgotten and of him we hear no more. The legend of the Dearg-due is born.

According to the legend, the only way to defeat Dearg-due is to pile stones on her grave. While this will not 'kill' her, it will prevent her from rising and hold her at bay. Although sometimes they forget and once more she will roam the night. Some legends say you can only escape if you replace yourself with another victim, thus continuing the circle of death. Some people think that "Dracula" is based upon the Dearg-due, and they argue that Stoker had never travelled to Eastern Europe, so he would only know the beliefs of the areas from travellers. They go on to say that "Dracula" was written during Ireland's great "Celtic Revival". They believe that Stoker took the name "Dracula" from Dreach-Fhoula, pronounced droc'ola, and means "bad or tainted blood" (you will find this on one of my previous posts).

The Du'n Dreach-Fhoula or the Castle of the Blood Visage is supposed to be a fortress guarding the pass in the Magillycuddy reeks in Kerry and it is believed to be inhabited by blood-drinking fairies although it has never been found and even the locals do not know of its location, and even if they do they are not telling.

On the other side of the argument are Irish mythologists who say that the recorded Celtic stories bear no mention of the Dearg-due at all. However, they can't explain the persistence of the oral stories of this Irish vampire. I’ll leave you to decide.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Reed. October 28th - November 24th.

NGETAL/REED - October 28 - November 24

People born under this sign have a powerful personal charm, some would even call it magnetic for it is found to be very attractive to a certain type of individual. However, those who are overly sensitive may not find you to their liking. You are able to overcome obstacles that would stump many others and you tend to stick to a strict moral code and this allows you to have a clear view of what you seek in life. You are imaginative and this can be a problem for it will also manifest itself in a jealousy that can even turn violent so be careful. You have powerful friends and this will help you in your lust for power both within and without and you will exhibit traits of leadership.

You are sometimes called secretive but this can be a good thing for you are able to keep secrets. It also means that you will dig deep in order to find the truth even when it has been hidden under many layers. You love a good story and will be drawn to folklore, myth, and legends. Scandal and gossip will be like bread and butter to you but these tendencies also make you a good historian, archaeologist or journalist. You have a great love of people for in them you find all the complexities of life, they interest and intrigue you. You love trying to interpret the thoughts and actions of those you meet and for this reason your sign is called The Inquisitor. You would make an excellent detective for you have the added ability of being able to coax people into talking to you and you can also manipulate others to your will. It’s a good job that you also have a sense of honour and truth so most of your scheming is harmless.

As stated previously you can make powerful friends but as in all things there is the opposite side and you must be wary of making powerful enemies. You will command respect even from your enemies but always remember respect must be earned. You are a survivor and a caring, passionate lover, you will offer a helping hand to those who need it but be careful of those who may see this as a sign of weakness for they will attempt to bite off that hand. Hostility will always surround you for you have a strong sense of purpose and a strong will and there will always be those who will be jealous and feel threatened in your prescense.

You are fearless, proud and independent with a great strength of character. You thrive on challenge and have a strong belief in your own ability, your own destiny. Temper that strength with mercy and understanding and you will go far. May the blessings of Samhain light your way.

Remember this is just a bit of craic and not to be taken seriously,

May I take this opportunity to welcome all those who have joined this blog. I hope you take a moment to look through previous posts and that you find something of interest on these dark winter nights.
Keep smiling