Irish Step Dance v. Tap Dance

Between kindergarten and ninth grade, one of the central focuses of my life was dance. My mom, who had been a ballerina through high school, enrolled me in classes at the age of five, and my passion grew from there. Of the many types of dance that were offered at my dancing school, I—along with a group of friends who still dance to this day—was enrolled in two: jazz and tap. While my limited flexibility made me a slightly subpar jazz dancer, I fell in love with tap, practicing it as often as I could; even outside of the studio, I could be found clicking my feet on any hard surface I could find (needless to say, my mom was not thrilled with the number of times I scuffed up her hardwood floors).

During my first year at Haverford, nearly four years after I had stopped dancing to pursue other extracurriculars at my high school, I went to a dance concert on campus in support of my friends and classmates. There, I was thrilled to watch ballerinas, hip hoppers, jazz dancers, and, of course, tappers. Even as I enjoyed the tap dancers, another group—the Irish step dancers—also caught my attention. As I watched them prance across the stage, arms-locked, circling up, their feet tapping against the ground, I wondered: what was the difference between tap and Irish step dance?

In doing more research, I learned that Irish Step Dance is part of a long tradition of dance in the region, dating as far back as 400 BCE: even as the former pagans of the region were proselytized and converted to Christianity, syncretic tactics allowed them to retain the music and dance that were pivotal within the Celtic culture. By the eighteenth century, even as Norman tradition and song had begun to permeate into that of the Celts, the notion of a “dance master” allowed for the tradition of dance to be passed down to younger generations, as standards were high and soloists became highly esteemed. It was in this moment—at the end of the eighteenth century—that step dancing appeared. To this day, the worldwide success of performance troupes and shows such as Riverdance has allowed for the continuity and appreciation of Irish step dance throughout the globe (IrelandsEye).

Tap dance, on the other hand, emerged in America, as a fusion of “several ethnic percussive dances, primarily African tribal dances and Scottish, Irish, and English clog dances, hornpipes, and jigs” (Britannica 1). Effectively, the tap dance, then, embodies a form of unifying rhythm that draws from Irish step dance, highlighting the reasons why they appear to be so similar. Though there is some debate as to the origins of tap dance, it is believed to have emerged from urban environments such as the Five Points District of New York, where a variety of groups mingled and brought their dances together to create a wholly new form of dance (Britannica 1).

Interestingly, the primary difference between tap and Irish step dance seems to stem from both the ways in which the body is utilized and the ways in which the feet actually work. Unlike tap dance, which allows for the syncopation of the entirety of the body and calls upon a person’s whole being to fall into the rhythm, Irish step dance emphasizes a sense of rigidity—that is, in the jig itself, straight lines are emphasized such that the arms and legs seem to remain almost perfectly still. Likewise, tap dance tends to move across space more freely, whereas certain patterns exist within Irish step dance to propel individuals from one space to another.

The costuming of Irish step dance is also unique: unlike tap, which does not mandate a certain form of dress beyond the shoes, Irish step dance (at least in performances) requires a specific type of costuming and attire. Because it is more deeply rooted in Irish tradition and culture, the costumes in Irish step dance typically recall the clothing of the past, the dresses, kilts, and jackets characteristic from two hundred years ago (Ireland’s Eye). Effectively, there seems to be a way in which Irish step dance—because it carries the markers of tradition—tends to be more regulated than tap dance such that it can continue to imbue Celtic culture on the whole.

Recently, both tap and Irish step dance have been popularized throughout the world. For example, in 2014, an Irish step dance group caught global attention with their performance on Britain’s Got Talent:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOz_bNVY7OA

Likewise, the Syncopated Ladies captured national attention with their tap performance of Beyonce’s “Formation” and, more recently, their response to the election of President Donald Trump:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9T2BH8KQ-A

Overall, even as both tap and Irish step dancing seem to correlate, each maintains the tradition, rhythm, and appearance that underscores their individuated beauty and allows for viewers and dancers alike to foster a profound sense of appreciation for both forms of dance.

Works Cited

Frank, Rusty. “Tap Dance.” Dance Forms. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

“The History of Irish Dance.” Ireland’s Eye. Ireland’s Eye, 1994-2004. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

All videos courtesy of YouTube. P.S. Sorry they didn’t get properly embedded… something went wrong with the links!

St. David

When I was in middle school, I had gone to a school named after St. David.  One thus would have thought that St. David’s feast day would have been a big deal for the school, but most people would be more excited about bedazzling themselves in shamrock themed outfits on St. Patrick’s Day instead.  Finally, in my last year, we got an art teacher who recognized that St. David’s Day actually existed.  For our assignment, we were asked, simply, to draw a picture of St. David.  We were admittedly given very little to work with: all the teacher mentioned was that St. David was the patron saint of Wales, and we were given a badly photocopied image of the Welsh flag to go along with that information.  Naturally, as middle schoolers are wont to do, many included an image of St. David riding a whale.  It was such a clever and original idea that approximately half the class did so.  I went the other route and drew a saintly looking old dude in front of the dragon from the Welsh flag because dragons are awesome.

When involving saints, pretty sure only images of St. David or St. George can include dragon themes without being slightly blasphemous.

Since my knowledge of St. David is obviously lacking in spite of my old school, I figured it would be fun to do some research on St. David for this blog post.  What I learned is… that we actually don’t know that much about him.  Indeed, most of St. David’s background seems to be shrouded in legend.

Even his genealogy appears slightly strange, as many writers, including Geoffrey of Monmouth, refer to him as either the nephew or uncle of King Arthur.

And even if we call him the uncle/nephew of King Arthur, it’s always better than being the uncle/father of the former King Joffrey.

At the same time, St. David appears to have done some normal, saintly deeds as well.  One of his biggest contributions was acting as a missionary to the British, while establishing 12 monasteries along the way.  He eventually became associated with ascetic monks, as he formed these monasteries with the intention of them adhering to such values.  At one of these monasteries, St. David was betrayed by a group of monks, who attempted to poison him.  Luckily—and here is where things get a bit more legendary in nature—St. Scuthyn informed St. David of their evil intentions after traveling to him from Ireland on a sea-monster.  With this knowledge in hand, St. David performed a miracle by blessing the bread to hinder the effects of the poison.

In addition to this story, St. David also did a couple other cool things.  For example, at the Synod of Brefi, St. David raised the earth beneath him for the purpose of being heard from greater distances.  Hopefully, he did not create these hills too often, but, if he did, I guess we now know why Wales looks like Maud’s crumpled up syllabus from our first class.

St. David also became associated with leeks due to his involvement in a battle of the Welsh against the Anglo-Saxons.  For this battle, he insisted that the Welsh warriors wear leeks in their hats, so that they would not be confused as to who was fighting for which side during the battle.  In this battle, the Welsh were victorious.

Farfetch’d later became the second to know the value of a leek in battle.

With regards to St. David’s feast day itself, it is not recognized as a bank holiday in the UK.  Even so, many still celebrate it in Wales.  This holiday appears to be one in which the Welsh celebrate their own culture, as many wear daffodils and leeks, along with traditional outfits, on this day.  Some cities, like Cardiff, also include parades.

So, St. David Day is coming up on March 1st. Get ready to turn up like it’s St. Patrick’s Day!  On the plus side, the bars will be far less packed. 😀

Bibliography

Eysenck, Juliet. “St David’s Day 2016: everything you need to know about Wales’ patron saint.” The Telegraph. 2 Mar 2016. Web. 22 Feb 2017. <www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/wales/12179304/Happy-St-Davids-Day-Who-was-St-David-patron-saint-of-Wales.html&gt;.

Toke, Leslie. “St. David.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. New Advent. Ed. Kevin Knight. N.d. Web. 22 Feb 2017. <www.newadvent.org/cathen/04640b.htm&gt;.

Image URLs

Welsh Flag: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/59/Flag_of_Wales_2.svg/2000px-Flag_of_Wales_2.svg.png

Jaime Lannister: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2016/06/01/22/34D5B3DE00000578-0-image-m-9_1464818159424.jpg

Farfetch’d: http://cdn.bulbagarden.net/upload/thumb/f/f8/083Farfetch’d.png/250px-083Farfetch’d.png

 

Picau ar y maen: an authentic Welsh cake recipe!

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From my Instagram! #foodporn

So…here’s my attempt at interpreting my great-grandma Watkins’s beautiful but illegible handwriting. The more readable writing at the bottom of the note is from my grandpa Jim, who inherited this recipe from his mother and makes these bad boys like no one else.

4 cups flour

1.5 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2.5 tsp. nutmeg / 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 box of currants or raisins

1.5 cup shortening

Makes 48 cakes.

Mix all dry ingredients. Then, add 2 beaten eggs. Fill cup with milk. Then [flavored? illegible] currants. If sticky, add a little bit of flour. Roll out to about 5/16″ thick; cut to about 2.75″ diameter (in my opinion, the thinner the better, but tastes vary). Fry on electric skillet until golden (don’t bake them! Grandpa Jim was wrong!) at about 300 degrees. 

Traditionally, the recipe calls for lard instead of shortening, but my family tries to be a bit more cruelty-free.

What I’ve given you here is basically the standard variety of Welsh cake, but traditional recipes vary based on region. My family originates from the coal fields of Glamorgan and cwm Rhondda, which is in the extreme south of Wales, and there, homemade berry jam is added on top of the cake as a teatime staple!

What I love about the concept of a “Welsh cake” is that, in reality, it’s pretty similar to most griddle cakes made in the U.K., but Welsh people are so insistent that this is a Welsh thing, and literally call it a *Welsh* cake — it’s a pretty wonderful assertion of identity through food.

Baseball in Ireland

So, initially I wanted to post my full paper about Irish society hindering the growth of baseball in Ireland on here that I wrote for a class last semester, but the file is too large. Instead, I’ll post the highlights of the paper.

My Personal Experience:

My experience with Irish baseball began in November of 2015. Both of my paternal grandparents were born and raised in Ireland so I was proud when I finally became an Irish citizen and learned of the potential opportunity to represent Ireland on the National Baseball Team. They did not recruit me by any stretch of the imagination. The only reason I was even aware that there was an Irish National Baseball Team was because the players on the British National Team told me about the Irish team during a post-high school European baseball tour. Following the news that I had become an Irish citizen—two years after my time in Europe—I spent a few hours on the Internet attempting to learn how I could play for the ‘Boys in Green,’ and eventually settled on simply emailing the head coach after coming across the Baseball Ireland website. I sent Coach Sean Mitchell an email telling him that I was interested in playing for the team and followed up by sending a recruiting video to him. He responded a few weeks later and informed me that I had made the team. Six months later, in June 2016, I arrived at my first National Team practice at the International Baseball Centre in Ashbourne with absolutely no idea what to expect. While it was, and still is, a small operation, I was impressed with the time and energy that was put in to make the National Team competitive.

 

Hitting and Throwing:

One societal difficulty standing in the way of the growth of baseball in Ireland are the sports that Irish children grow up playing. Hurling, an ancient Irish sport, is a sport that is somewhat similar to lacrosse in the sense that each player has a stick that must be used to advance the ball up field. The catch, however, is that the ball must be hit up and down on the stick while running. Although the form of hitting in hurling is different than baseball, this aspect of the game is actually beneficial to helping Irish children learn how to hit, because hurling cultivates hand-eye coordination. This helps young children to have success when first learning to hit a baseball. That being said, hitting is only half of the game. The other half, throwing and catching, provides serious challenges to Irish children because hurling, Gaelic football, soccer, and rugby are all prominent Irish sports that do not include any overhand throwing motion. During my five weeks in Ireland, it became very clear that this is the skill that the Irish struggle with teaching. Baseball Ireland has had difficulty teaching pitching, and the youth clinic that the National Team ran in July brought the struggles with throwing to the forefront. Children as old as fifteen were on the same throwing skill level as six or seven year olds in America.

On another note, there was a documentary made about the founding of the Irish National Baseball Team. It is pretty entertaining, and gives some insight into the initial struggles they encountered PLUS it’s on youtube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFlUQfZr3MA

 

 

Fun Facts About Harps

Last time I was in Ireland (summer 2014) I got this cute little Irish harp (known more broadly as a Celtic or Gaelic harp, since indigenous Scottish harps are pretty much the same) necklace:

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In Irish this instrument is called a cláirseach. The Irish harp is a national symbol of Ireland and appears on the Irish Euro and the Guinness logo. It was also used as a symbol by Irish nationalist organizations, including the Repeal Association and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. A flag showing a gold cláirseach on a green background was flown above Liberty Hall in Dublin on Easter 1916 and was displayed last year at the centennial celebration of the Easter rising.

The dude is the President of Ireland, Michael Higgins.

The dude is the President of Ireland, Michael Higgins.

The earliest known possible depictions of harps in Ireland date to the 8th century but we don’t know if those are the type of harp that came to be known as the “Irish harp” or if they’re even harps at all. At the very latest, Irish harps had appeared by the 11th century, as shown by this cute little guy on the Breac Maedoc shrine:

Irish_harp-Maedoc

Early harps were made of four pieces of wood held together not by glue but by the tension exerted by the strings on the joints between the pieces of wood. Only three Celtic Harps from the Middle Ages remain. Two of these are Scottish: the Queen Mary Harp (Clàrsach na Banrìgh Màiri) which was allegedly a gift from Mary Stuart, and the Lamont Harp. The third is the Irish 14th or 15th-century Trinity College Harp also known as the “Brian Boru Harp.” A legend has arisen around this harp claiming that after Brian Boru’s death, his son brought the instrument to the Vatican where it remained until a 16th-century pope gave it to Henry VIII. In reality, the harp postdates the death of Brian Boru by about 400 years, but I think the existence of this legend shows that the harp is a powerful symbol of Irishness, if it’s considered worth connecting to one of Ireland’s most famous kings. Made of oak and willow, the Trinity College Harp has been reconstructed at least twice, first because it was falling apart from age, next because it had been taken apart for examination, so it might not look now like it did in 1500.

220px-Trinity_College_Harp

The modern “Irish Harp,” while it looks like the medieval harps, is actually the 19th-century invention of John Egan, though it draws on the ancient Irish harping tradition. Egan took the shape of the medieval Irish harp but altered the instrument with elements of the orchestral harp: gut strings instead of metal strings and, to quote Simon Chadwick, Honorary Secretary of the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, “mechanical semitone-fretting mechanisms.” As I can figure out, that gives you more versatility in terms of the notes you can play.

This summer in my class on Irish mythology, folklore, and music I got to hold and play an Irish harp. I wish I had a picture but it looked something like this:

I wasn't dressed like that though.

I wasn’t dressed like that though.

It was the kind you can hold on your lap, not the huge kind that you have to set on the floor. I don’t know how to play the harp but it’s such a cool instrument that all I had to do was touch some strings and it sounded beautiful. At the time, I knew nothing about the long history of Irish harps. If I had, I might have pretended I was the cute little guy on the Breac Maedoc.

Bibliography

“1916 Easter Rising: Irish Citizen Army flag returned to Dublin by Enniskillen museum.” BBC News, 22 March 2016, www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-35875676.

Chadwick, Simon. “The Early Irish Harp.” Early Music, vol. 36, no. 4, 2008, pp. 521–531., www.jstor.org/stable/27655252.

Dooley, P. (2014). “Reconstructing the Medieval Irish Harp.” The Galpin Society Journal, vol. 67, 2014, pp. 107-142, 267-268, 271. search.proquest.com/docview/1534494343?accountid=11321.

“Mary Louise O’Donnell discusses the Brian Boru Harp.” YouTube, uploaded by Patricia O’Callaghan, 16 March 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0ccbVqH8O8.

“Queen Mary Harp.” National Museums Scotland. www.nms.ac.uk/explore/stories/scottish-history-and-archaeology/mary-queen-of-scots/mary-queen-of-scots/queen-mary-harp/.

 

Celtic Hair History

I’ve had an interest in intricate hair styles pretty much since I’ve had hair long enough to braid. After I’d exhausted the books I’d been given on the subject, I turned to other forms of media. The braids in faux medieval fantasy movies where always the best: ridiculous amounts of both braids and hair, pinned and woven in ways which were a struggle to figure out – and a great triumph once I did so. Because of this interest, I decided to research the history of hair keeping and styling among the ancient Celts and then recreate any styles I found described as well as styles which are currently considered “Celtic.”

Generally, the Celts wore their hair long. Soldiers were sometimes an exceptions; they also wore their hair in rounded, bowl cuts. The Celts were usually described as blond, whether naturally or through the use of chalk or lime-water to lighten the hair. Both those substances change the texture of the hair as well, which would allow soldiers to shape their hair into spikes or tufts as a form of intimidation. Upper class men wore both mustaches and beards, which were usually forked or squared, while lower class men wore simply long mustaches, often curled at the ends. Both men and women wore their hair long, often braided or in curls. Women also wore their braids pinned to the head and also incorporated knots and buns in their hairstyles. Decorative pins, golden beads, ribbons, and precious metals and stones were also incorporated, with the materials differing throughout the classes. Both men and women sometime wore bands of cloth or metal across the forehead, and women sometimes wore similar bands across the crown of the head. Combs were made out of bone or horn.

I’ve decided to recreate three hairstyles: one involving a Celtic knot, one described in a primary text, and one with the numerous braids and adornments which characterized ancient decorative Celtic hairstyles. I’ve used modern tools in all but the first one, like bobby pins, corkscrew pins, and hair elastics, but they would all be possible with the Iron Age tools described above, especially for hair more textured than mine.

The first is a recently popular half-back style called a Celtic knot, which is, as far as I can tell, completely unrelated to any actual historic Celtic hairstyles depicted in art or literature. However, the design is reminiscent of traditional, interwoven patterns portrayed in Celtic art, and women were described as wearing their hair knotted.

Celtic Knot

The second is derived from a description of a beautiful woman in the Irish prose epic Táin Bó Cúlaigne. She wears three braids wrapped around her head, with a fourth hanging down her back to her ankles. There is not a description of the configuration of the braids, and obviously my hair doesn’t reach to my ankles, but I’ve taken my best shot.

Táin Bó Cúlaigne

The third is based on a totally untraceable picture from the internet. Despite my best reverse image searching skills, I couldn’t find the original creator of this style. It’s one of many similar styles which are usually described as Celtic or elven. I apologize for the lighting; the sun went down as I was braiding this one, and I had to take the picture indoors.

Celtic Braids

(Please excuse the messiness. I only got one go at this, and some of the braids came out slightly uneven.)

I hope y’all have found this informative and interesting – and maybe even aesthetically pleasing! I really enjoyed the research and the braiding.

Work Cited

Riley, M. E. “Clothing of the Ancient Celts.” 1997, www.marariley.net/celtic/SentToKass/Cosmetic.htm, 15 February, 2017.

Sherrow, Victoria. “Celts, Ancient.” Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, Greenwood Press, 2006, pp. 77-8.

 

 

 

My Goodness My Guinness

Let’s talk about beer.  At some point, we have all probably enjoyed a pint (or four) of Ireland’s iconic “black stuff”.  If you have, you’re not alone – in fact, over 10 million glasses of Guinness are consumed, around the world, every single day.  Even the Obamas love a good pint! Guinness has indeed become both an iconic, and wholly beloved aspect of Irish culture.  So how did Irish nectar reach this storied cultural status?  

http://philly.thedrinknation.com/images/articles/obama-fl.jpg

Source: philly.thedrinknation.com/images/articles/obama-fl.jpg%5B/caption%5D

In 1759, Arthur Guinness, then 34, signed a 9,000 (yes, 9,000) year lease on the property that was to become the world-famous St. James Gate Brewery, where the vast majority of Guinness Stout enjoyed around the world is still brewed today.

[caption id="attachment_1009" align="alignnone" width="970"]Source: http://stjamestearoom.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Arthur_Guinness-2.gif Source: stjamestearoom.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Arthur_Guinness-2.gif%5B/caption%5D

In its fledgeling years, the St. James Gate Brewery only produced a variety Arthur called “Guinness Dublin Ale”.  By 1794, however, darker porter brewed in London had become the newest trend, and Arthur, luckily, decided to try his hand at the new style.  Over the years, this experiment would come to be the Guinness Draught we know and love today, introducing “stout” a completely new beer variety, to the world.  

[caption id="attachment_1010" align="alignnone" width="584"]Source: http://themanagementshop.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/StJamesGate.jpg Source: themanagementshop.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/StJamesGate.jpg%5B/caption%5D

So what makes Guinness so special?  A pint of the black stuff only contains four unique ingredients: water (from the nearby Wicklow mountains), hops, yeast, and roasted barley, which gives the beer its iconic dark color.  Nitrogen is then pushed through the liquid to create the iconic creamy head and smooth taste.

[caption id="attachment_1012" align="alignnone" width="584"]Source: http://hostels-ireland.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/92/2016/10/guinness1.jpg Source: hostels-ireland.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/92/2016/10/guinness1.jpg%5B/caption%5D

To enjoy your pint like a true Dubliner, however, you first have to master the art of the perfect pour.  Here’s a handy guide:

[caption id="attachment_1006" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Source: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/ByToPA5CMAAmTql.jpg Source: pbs.twimg.com/media/ByToPA5CMAAmTql.jpg%5B/caption%5D

Make sure to wait the full 119.5 seconds for your glass to settle before topping it off (or worse, drinking it) or you will get some very judgmental glances from the Irish folk around you.  Don’t worry, though, foreigners can definitely get it with practice.

[caption id="attachment_1013" align="alignnone" width="720"]15741169_10209447339874787_6008963228955217235_n My dad, on step 5

Now that you have poured the perfect pint, sit back, relax, enjoy, and don’t forget: Guinness good for you.  Slainté!

Source: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/6d/1a/66/6d1a66ae32ab12ec82cb6b2b37b5d61d.jpg Source: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/6d/1a/66/6d1a66ae32ab12ec82cb6b2b37b5d61d.jpg%5B/caption%5D

Works Cited:

“Arthur Guinness Biography: The History Of Guinness Beer.” Astrum People. Astrum People, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.

Cowden, Adam. “The Man Who Invented Beer: All About Guinness.” Heave Media. Heave Media, 13 Mar. 2013. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.

“Our Story.” Guinness® – Beer Made of More™ | Guinness®. Guinness and Co., n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.

A Reflection on Family and My Own Irish Origins

If first asked, I would describe my family as something dilute. I picture ink drops in water, which, over time, have spread green and purple fingers out far from one another. What marks us as the same is not location, or even physical appearance, but rather an innate, shared stubbornness, a mile-wide independent streak that has, oft as not, left us a bit in trouble and a bit isolated. This self-containedness, combined with the fact that I have grown up with a Polish-Canadian stepmother, has often made me feel separated from my own geographical origins. While I have known people who speak proudly of their heritage, who instinctively lay claim to the countries of their ancestors, I have rarely reflected on my own identity in the context of nationhood. For me, family has always been something behavioral and (sometimes) genetic–that is, a unit defined by learned and mimicked behaviors, similar personalities, and similar traits. Even my concept of place–childhood haunts, for example, or vacation spots–has centered around the people I met there. Yet this class, and especially the way physical Ireland, its landscapes, its ruins, its traditions, factors into language, and, by extension, heritage, has made me reflect on my own identity in the context of nationhood. I realize that my Irish origins, just as they colored Yeats’s poetry, have also left threads running through my own life, and that I am perhaps not as independent of nationhood as I first thought.

There is, most obviously, my nickname and its Gaelic roots. Rory, generally considered a male name, means “red king”, and is an anglicization of the Gaelic name “Ruaidhr,” the Irish name “Ruar” and the Scottish name “Ruaraidh”. This is no accident; my grandmother on my father’s side was Irish,  and I believe the nickname, for all its masculinity, fits the tomboyish aspects of my personality. Moreover, though I gave it little thought at the time, my dad has told me I am “Irish” in my moods, making reference to my tendency to be morose, reflective, and (more than slightly) cynical. Though undoubtedly this statement is an oversimplification of what it means to be Irish, I think it does relate to the poetry we have been reading, as often the lines seem to echo with distant sorrow, with melancholy. Arguably, these are the same emotions that can be evoked by the stark and bare beauty of Ireland’s stony shores.

I recall now, too, that as a child I loved watching Riverdance on VCR. For those unfamiliar with the show, it consists mainly of Irish folk music and dance, although the music, besides featuring an Irish folk band, also makes use of electric bass, drums, and horns. While Riverdance was far from the only thing I watched (Spongebob and documentaries on marine biology also made regular appearances), there is a part of me that jumps–if ridiculously–to associate the pull of Riverdance with some innate Irishness. It is that same part of me that would like to somehow equate coastal Maine, one of my favorite vacation spots, with coastal Ireland, even though, as someone who has never actually been to Ireland, I will be the first to acknowledge this is an overly romanticized, overly trite notion. Yet what drives me to make this connection is that the Maine I am thinking of is not the tourist-trapped lobster-state, but rather the fog-swathed, wide-skied coast, whose nights are edged with salt, the low croon of foghorns and the memory of unpeopled rocks. This is, in my mind, somehow similar to the Ireland I have heard described to me, although I would have to visit to truly find out.

Morning in Acadia, ME

 

A foggy day at Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

In high school, James Joyce’s Dubliners was one of my favorite books. I found it to be darkly humorous, and the challenge of decoding his language, of culling meaning from such resistant and tricky prose, was one that in and of itself made me grin. Yet there was also some underlying poignancy, something watchful, still, and serious, in Joyce’s writing that pulled at my heart. Here I think especially of an excerpt from Joyce’s short story, “The Dead”:

A few taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly on the Bog of Allen and, further westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. 

Although as readers we are viewing this scene directly through one of Joyce’s characters, and are thus, arguably, more displaced from it than if the narration were third-person omniscient, the pure poetics still elicit chills instead of the wry, dry satisfaction of mental chess. Thus, even as Dubliners pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to become a more analytical reader, it also touched me in ways that were more emotional than intellectual. Though secretly I am not a very critical reader, and enjoy most books, Dubliners remains one of my favorites.

With all this said, I am still aware that my connections to my own Irishness are tenuous, and perhaps mostly contrived or coincidental. A cynic could observe that The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock and Hamlet left as deep an impact on me as Dubliners, that I have spent most of my life ignorant of my nick name’s Irish roots, or that I never met my Irish grandmother–and he would be right. I am not trying to claim that my own Irish blood has played an especially formative role in my upbringing; rather, I am trying to mark the places where my genetic origins have intersected with my life. This line of thought, besides being convenient fodder for a class blog post, or an interesting intellectual exercise, has made me reflect that my sense of family is neither as dilute nor as unmoored and nationless as perhaps I first thought. I won’t argue that this has made me feel closer to my family, or even closer to my own origins; but perhaps it does allow me to climb a little more securely into the poetry we are reading, to recognize and validate my own relationship to these poems.

There you are. I can say to them. There you are. There are small parts of you, your notions of melancholy, your raspy notes and stone shores, that run into me.

Citation:

1. www.apogeephoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/aug2013/Juergen_photos/Misty-Acadia-National-Park-Seacoast.jpg

2.pixdaus.com/files/items/pics/0/47/66047_7fbf66dfee6632a81166c276929c4725_large.jpg