Sunday, January 15, 2012

W.B. Yeats. Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1865. Died in 1939.

W. B. Yeats up to 1900. His early work.

W. B. Yeats family moved to London when he was two years old and he lived there until he was sixteen. His mothers traditional Irish songs and stories and his frequent holidays in County Sligo to his mothers relations kept the connection to Ireland strong. His first collection of poetry published in 1889, The Wanderings of Oisin and other poems already showed themes that would remain central to his writing, Ireland, myth, spiritualism, folklore and love.

Yeats 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. Yeats never learned the Irish tongue yet he was to draw extensively from the language and the ancient myths, legends, and folklore to reveal the connection between these traditions, the individual, and the nation. It was through the understanding of this connection that 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 first poems in the Dublin University Review and in directing Yeats 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 Irish literature was in danger of being lost as a 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 (Kelly, 2003). He wanted writers to translate the tales of the history and heritage of Ireland into English while retaining the best of ancient Irish literature that was represented in its style and rhythm. He wanted to build a bridge between the two and write about the histories and the romances of the great Gaelic heroes and heroines of the past. He wanted to make these tales known to the people believing that although the Irish tongue was an important part of our heritage we should not base our hopes of nationhood upon it. He said it was the tales that were immortal and not the tongue that first told them (Kelly, 203). W. B. Yeats became a 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 and he believed that as an Irish poet he could look to his own people for his best audience and to express the things that may interest them and that through this make them care for the land in which they lived.

Yeats was devoted to Irish nationalism, something that he shared with the love of his life, Maud Gonne. He believed in a non violent means of achieving this but she held the view that it was only through violent struggle that Ireland would gain her freedom. It has been suggested that it was this difference of opinion that led Yeats to compose the poem The Rose, and the fact that she married a military man may confirm this. Devotion to Irish nationalism and the promotion of Irish heritage is seen through his use of material from the ancient sagas within his poetry. The publication in English in 1889 when Yeats was twenty four of The Wanderings of Oisin which was based on the legend of the Fenian cycle brought Irish mythology to the Irish people –‘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 died in 1939 and although buried in France his body was eventually returned to Ireland and is now buried in Drumcliff, County Sligo. Ironically the person in charge of this operation for the Irish government was Séan MacBride, son of Maud Gonne MacBride.

Top image W. B. Yeats.
Middle image Maud Gonne.
Lower image John O'Leary.

Collectors of Irish folk songs

Edward Bunting and Thomas Moore: Their role in Irish Traditional Music.

Edward Bunting 1773-1843. Born in Armagh.

He was an organist employed to notate the music played at the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival. There he lived with the McCracken family and associated with many of the members of the United Irish Society who had initiated the event. The purpose of the festival was to preserve the remnants of the Gaelic harp tradition for posterity. He was so taken with the group he decided to devote a large proportion of his time to the collection and publication of Irish music. In 1792 he toured County Mayo with Richard Kirwan founder of the Royal Irish Academy collecting a number of airs. His first publication appeared in 1796 and contained sixty six tunes (General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music 1796).

Bunting was the first that we know of to gather music from musicians in the field. He planned to include Gaelic text with his music but this was not successful. He provided tunes that lacked authenticity in relation to their original as he was aiming his publications at a particular market, the amateur musicians of the middle and upper classes. In 1809 he published the General Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland. After 1809 he does not appear to have undertaken any major tour or collection. He spent most of his time working on what he had already collected. His final collection was published in 1840 (The Ancient Music of Ireland). These collections were revolutionary for their time, although later commentators have faulted Bunting's approach to a form of music with which he was unfamiliar. He died on 21st -December-1843 and is buried in Mount St. Jerome cemetery in Dublin.

Several collectors continued and extended Bunting's work during the nineteenth century, with George Petrie's Ancient Music of Ireland (1855); and Patrick Weston Joyce's Ancient Irish Music (1873) and Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909) being the most significant.

Thomas Moore 1779-1852. Born in Dublin.

Moore was born on 28 May 1779 at 12 Aungier Street, Dublin. Moore learned how to play the piano while eaves-dropping on his sister’s lessons. He had a gift for recitation and was frequently called upon by his family to entertain in the home. He was one of the few Catholics to enter Trinity College Dublin where he associated with many of those involved in the 1798 rebellion although he was not involved. He was a friend of Robert Emmet, whom he greatly admired and this consolidated his already nationalistic leanings. Another friendship he made in Trinity was with the collector Edward Hudson, they shared an interest in politics and music. Hudson got many of his airs from harpists and would play them for Moore on the flute.

More moved to London in 1799 where he became endeared to polite society. He was a fine conversationalist and after dinner singer so he was invited to all ‘high quality’ gatherings where he was to make many useful connections. In 1808 he began publishing the first of his Irish Melodies and this proved highly successful both critically and financially. However, by 1819 he was virtually bankrupt. He was a friend of Lord Byron and was appointed his literary executor and wrote his biography (the first of many) upon Byron’s death.

In 1822 he returned to his wife’s home in Wiltshire (he had lived on the continent from 1819-22). Here in his wife’s home he was to spend the rest of his life having survived his five children. He continued to write but eventually stopped due to mental illness and was granted a government pension in 1835.

Irish Melodies appeared between 1808 and 1834 in ten successive volumes and have ensured his place as one of Ireland’s ‘National’ poets. He was often criticised for pandering to the tastes of London society which was far removed from the reality of eighteenth and nineteenth century Ireland.

. An easing of the penal laws against Roman Catholics in 1793 allowed him to enter Trinity College, Dublin, with view to a legal career. A close friend was Robert Emmet, whose death inspired him to write 'O breathe not his name', but Moore stayed aloof from the United Irishmen. Another friend, Edward Hudson, awakened his interest in Irish music, and both were moved by the Irish airs of Edward Bunting.

In 1799, Moore entered the Middle Temple in London. It was his talents as a singer and pianist, however, which made him an immediate favourite of London society; when his translation of the Odes of Anacreon was published in 1800, he was able to dedicate it to the Prince Regent. In 1803, through the influence of Lady Moira, Moore became admiralty registrar in Bermuda, but soon appointed a deputy and returned to London.

In 1808, he published his first volume of Irish Melodies, with music by Sir John Stevenson; the tenth and last appeared in 1843. Many melodies, such as "The last rose of summer" and "Believe me if all those endearing young charms", were love songs, but patriotic ballads such as "The harp that once" and "The minstrel boy" were acceptable to the English as to the Irish. Moore had a regular income from the melodies, in return for his willingness to perform them, but his other writings proved less enduring, even though seven editions of his long oriental poem "Lalla Rookh" (1817) were published within a year.

In 1819, Moore fled to France to escape a debtor's prison after his deputy in Bermuda had stolen £6,000, but was able to return in 1822. He published biographies of Sheridan in 1825, Byron in 1830, and Lord Edward Fitzgerald in 1831, and an unusual novel-cum-history, Memoirs of Captain Rock (1824). His latter years were spent in the village of Sloperton, in Wiltshire where he died on 25 February 1852.

Top image Thomas Moore.
Lower image Plaque to Edward Bunting, St George's Church, High Street, Belfast, October 2009.

John Bush Travel Writer 1764.

Romantic view of Ireland during the 18th century.

During the 18th century Britain began to see the spread of towns, cities and industrialisation and society’s influence was often seen as corrupt. As a result a new movement began as a reaction against the materialism of the age which was already showing signs of making workers the slaves of machinery and of creating squalid urban environments. This movement became known as Romanticism and it inspired both writers and artists to seek out places that they believed represented areas of unspoilt nature.

Topographical artists such as George Barret Senior and James Arthur O’Connor painted romantic views of Ireland that showed the picturesque and sublime beauty of the landscape. Topographical writers such as Edmund Burke and John Bush wrote of the awe and wonder of nature in all her glory. Britain has many areas of natural beauty, the lake district of Cumbria, the Highlands of Scotland etc but from 1750 onwards it was the picturesque regions of Ireland that became increasingly popular and it was through the works of artists and writers that the scenery and landscape they depicted and in fact nature herself was to become a provider of entertainment.

John Bush wrote Hibernia Curiosa and it is from within the pages of this book that I have chosen descriptions to illustrate this. This book is written in the form of a letter to a friend in Dover, England. It appears to me that Bush has undertaken this journey in order to allow his friend to view Ireland through the eyes of another. Bush writes with a sense of wonderment as he travels around Ireland, the time is 1764 only twenty years after the famine of 1740. When he reaches Killarney, County Kerry, he is struck with a sense of awe as he views the landscape for the first time and he wonders at nature’s majesty. His friend in Dover has asked that he visits this place in particular and Bush attempts to describe the beauty of the lakes as best he can but assures his friend that even then he fails to do it justice.

He writes about the journey that immediately preceded his arrival there, he suggests that “Nature has neglected the rest of the countryside on purpose to lavish beauty on this her favourite spot” (Bush, p90). He then takes us further on his travels to the west end of the lake where he is struck with the sublime as he looks upon “A range of the most enormous mountains” (Bush, p91). Bush writes in a style that is reminiscent of Edmund Burke in that he describes the sublime force of nature and how he regards the terror of certain places. When you read Hibernia Curiosa you can almost feel his sense of emotion as he guides you through his use of words to an understanding of the sublime and the beautiful and he demonstrates through his writing the effect that they may have upon your emotions.

This comes through in his description of the Salmon-leap at Leixslip. He describes it as “One of the greatest beauties, of its kind, perhaps in the world” (Bush, p66). He describes “The verdant hills, this sylvan amphi-theatre” (Bush, p66). He refers to the way the waterfall hits the rocks below, how the water flies off in a thousand different directions with the sun shining on it and how it gives off all the colours of the rainbow (Bush, p69).

I feel that having read Hibernia Curiosa that central to this romantic vision was the belief that the further west you travelled, the more you came into contact with the ‘real’ Ireland uncontaminated by the influence of the city and its new industrial society. It gave me a new understanding of landscape, in some ways to me it has come to mean ‘an escape to the land’.

Extracts from Hibernia Curiosa (1764).
Top image Salmon-leap Leixslip
Middle image Lower lakes Killarney
Bottom image Title page of Hibernia Curiosa.
The importance of travel writer's led to the birth of the holiday industry. Thomas Cooke eventually started his package holiday company in 1841.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tree Zodiac. Birch. Beith gheal.

Listen closely and you will hear whispers of rebirth and growth within your soul.
Birch. The Acheiver.
December 24 – January 20.
If you were born under the energy of the Birch you can be highly driven, and often motivate others they become easily caught in your zeal, drive and ambition. You are always reaching for more, seeking better horizons and obtaining higher aspirations. The Druids attributed this to your time of birth, which is a time of year shrouded by darkness, so consequently you are always stretching out to find the light. Birch signs (just like the tree) are tolerant, tough, and resilient. You are cool-headed and are natural-born rulers, often taking command when a situation calls for leadership. When in touch with your softer side, you also bring beauty in otherwise barren spaces, brightening up a room with you guile, and charming crowds with you quick wit. Celtic tree astrology Birch signs are compatible with Vine signs and Willow signs.
To the Druids, the Birch (often referred to as the "Lady of the Woods" due to its grace and beauty) represented renewal, rebirth and inception, since it was the first tree to come into leaf after the Winter Season. The Birch along with the Elder were said to stand on either side of the one "Nameless Day" (December 23). This slender but determined tree, which represented the seed potential of all growth, is hardier than even the mighty Oak and will thrive in places where the Oak will fail to flourish. It also signifies cleanliness and purity.

 The Birch once fulfilled many purposes...from providing handles for brooms and axes to the manufacture of cloth and children’s cradles. It is particularly well-known for its use in making writing parchment and oil from the bark was often used to treat skin conditions and depression. People were once "birched" in order to drive out evil spirits, while twigs were given to newlyweds to ensure fertility. Witches would use Birch twigs bound with Ash for their broomsticks or "besoms." Birch has been known to cure muscular pains and the sap used in the manufacture of wine, beer and vinegar. It is the rod of a Birch that Robin Red Breast used to slay the Wren in a furze or gorse bush on Saint Stephen's Day. In Wales, the Birch is a tree of love and wreaths of Birth are woven as love tokens. Its trunk was frequently used to form the traditional maypole and boughs were hung over cradles and carriages to protect infants from the glamour of the Little People.

There are two distinct types of Birch individuals (a division which relates to all Celtic Tree Signs). The "new moon" character is associated with the first two weeks of a sign and the "full moon" character is associated with the last two weeks.
The "new moon" Birch individual has a more impulsive and emotional nature, but is inclined to be subjective and/or introverted. The positive traits of these people are displayed by their resolve or faith in themselves in overcoming all obstacles, thereby being more tenancious in pursuing their objectives in life. The "full moon" Birch individual possesses a clarity of purpose combined with a visionary nature. Such people are inclined to be more objective and/or extroverted. The characteristic negative traits, however, hinge upon a lack of reality which can sometimes cloud the judgment.
In general, Birch individuals are determined, resilient and ambitious. Being goal-oriented, they make for excellent leaders, good organizers and supreme strategists. Usually undeterred by setbacks and possessed of an intense need to succeed, Birch individuals believe that hard work, patience and persistance will eventually triumph. Birch people are loyal, reliable and trustworthy, but prone to be reserved in displays of affection...although they are sociable with those they choose to socialize with. Personal limitations are not readily accepted by Birch individuals and due to their drive and ambition, there is sometimes a tendency to grow cynical. These people thrive best under a well-regimented lifestyle and are often known as the "workaholics" of society. Serious by nature with a somewhat droll sense of humor, Birch individuals sometimes aim to become less serious, which can lead to identity problems.
 There is a tendency for Birch people to become obsessive about health, but they are unlikely to be affected physically or mentally, having developed a powerful resistance. They prefer to keep a low profile, even in high office, preferring not to flaunt their successes, and have an acute sense of money, having worked hard to acquire their financial status. On the more negative side, Birch individuals can have a pessimistic attitude at times and may impose upon themselves a large amount of self-discipline. There is a tendency for the Birch individual to experience loneliness and successful marriages frequently occur later in life, since it is often difficult for such people to easily find someone willing to fit into their strict routine. Divorce is rare for those governed by the Birch...separations being more likely or the premature death of spouses. Birch people need a goal in life in order to avoid becoming depressed and pessimistic. They possess much individual potential but must cultivate great persistence in order to overcome personal setbacks.

A Happy New Year to all who follow this blog.

I am studying for my exams at the moment and this is why I am a little quiet (Blogwise) at the moment. My next post will be ready shortly.