Friday, December 23, 2011

One of the main dilemmas we face as "consumers” is the straight jacket that the word implies. With the domination of the assembly line of the factory, and the relative disappearance of craft and bartering; we are left almost devoid of options when we choose our food and products. As regards bartering, many of us now find we have nothing to offer in our skill set to barter with, just the same products we began with. It's a vicious circle. The race of technology towards its goal reminds me of the Red Queen of Alice in Wonderland, where exactly does she think she is going?  Of course, we are all thankful for the comfort and wonder that much of technology brings. I'm not advocating an Amish way of life; I'm typing these words, happily, on a Mac Book Pro. The problem lies with the dominance of convenience and disposability, and the concurrent abandonment of craft. Everything is weighed in monetary terms, all value is monetary. Beauty is being traded for blandness and our modern society promotes a blinkered mentality.

The picture above is of an American style shopping center in Tralee. Note the perennial mountains looking down, uncaring.

I'm writing these words Christmas week in Killarney, during the "Christmas in Killarney" festival. "Christmas in Killarney" is a trite, stereotypical, plastic paddy song from 1950's America. Any culture which chooses another's most stereotypical representations of it to promote itself must surely be in trouble. For the month of December Killarney town is rigged up with loud speakers playing Christmas music. Nowhere can you escape from Bing Crosby, Mariah Carey, Westlife, and their likes. I had a cup of coffee in Murphy's yesterday. Murphy's is a great little coffee shop and ice cream parlour situated in the middle of Killarney town. While sipping my coffee I was listening to "Frosty the Snowman," just then, a group of goth kids came in: straight out of America, but born in Ballyhar. I got a cold blast of Mariah Carey wailing "I don't want a lot for Christmas" down on me from the loudspeakers outside. The kids spoke with more of a Californian accent than an Irish one. To be fair, I am actually fond of that Mariah Carey song, and I don't want a lot for Christmas myself. I'm not advocating a scrooge mentality, or wishing to destroy Christmas. But when your town is little more than a shopping mall, there is trouble ahead. The reason I'm waffling on about all this, is because it highlights the vulnerability and susceptibility of people. It is so hard to see another way when you are constantly being bombarded by forces telling you to buy this, or buy that, or act this way or that. It's the same in the case of the Irish kids with their American accents and dress, and the same for the shoppers with Christmas music shoved down the chimney...... sorry, auditory canal of their waiting ears.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Domhnall Mac Carthaigh Mór, Paddy Power and National Geographic

Domhnall Mac Carthaigh Mór "The Last McCarthy King"


I started writing this post after reading an article in National Geographic; the piece concerned the King James Bible. The article's references to Scotland (and cultures in General) are often quite condescending and facile - "Scotland was one of the poorest Kingdoms in Europe, with a weak and feeble Crown. England by comparison was civilized and rich." Scotland indeed had a Weak and feeble Crown when viewed from an Anglo perspective. The article, though enlightening in many ways, has a very particular view of empire and culture. The Isle of Lewis is considered a backwater, a "remote corner" of Britain. England, by comparison, is the home of the civilized. To the Gael, Lewis was an integral and unique part of their own distinct world.
The article quote's from the 1611 King James Bible's preface: "that it may be understood by the very vulgar."   According to the article's author, The King James Bible allows for a certain Cowboy preacher (who is referenced in the beginning of the piece) to connect easily with his flock. That is, the King James Bible can be understood by the most base or "vulgar" (the preacher's flock we presume), as well as by the most exalted, like King James himself!
I was reading - this net article - an hour previous to reading the article in National Geographic magazine; the net article was about Gaelic road signage (or lack of) in contemporary Scotland. Most of Scotland's place-names are of Gaelic etymology. The prejudice and ignorance with which the author met with is saddening, especially in the supposedly enlightened and progressive times we live in. The article follows an Irish scholar to Scotland to complete a course on the importance of Gaelic Road Signage in Scotland. The main culprits, as regards prejudice, are the course instructors : two Englishmen, of all people! One of the comments of the instructors to the author was: "Oh, so you can make sense of the crazy Gaelic place-names, can you?"  The author ended up leaving the course after a few days.



Ireland, or more succinctly perhaps: the Gaelic lands of Éiru, Alba and Ellan Vannin didn't feel the full effect of European renaissance. While the renaissance was in full bloom on the continent, the clock was ticking on the old Gaelic order. Although the Gaels enjoyed much contact with Europe, they danced to the beat of their own drum for almost two millennium. As Seatrún Céitinn said, Ireland was: "Domhan beag inti féin" (a little world onto itself) until the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. Just preceding this time, in the ancient Kingdom of Mumu, Mumhan; or the modern Munster, there was a king called Domhall MacCarthaigh Mór. He presided over a most turbulent era, including the Geraldine Wars and the beginning of the 9 years war. The 9 Years War ended with the Battle of Kinsale and changed Ireland forever.
After the Geraldine Wars, Domhnall's Kingdom was a wasteland. "Her Majesty had many countries forsaken of people but well stocked with hares" one contemporary commentator remarked. Sir Warham St. Leger, in the aftermath of these wars, used the awful state of the land as a ruse to insult Domhall's prowess as a leader, even though it was St. Ledger's own countrymen who put Domhall's lands in the terrible state they were in.
Domhnall was a beautiful composer of verse. "Ochón a Mhuire Bhúidh" is one of his poems; it is in the form of a lament.  The piece could be classed as regally ornate, Irish blues, if such a genre existed!  In the Gaelic world the difference between a poem and song is often hard to ascertain.  This song/poem takes the form of a heart-felt petition to the Virgin Mary to save Domhnall from his wife, who has him destroyed.
Domhnall, as well as being a venerable and astute leader, was also known as a gambler, poet and a drinker - a curious combination in this day and age. I cannot imagine him composing much in the likes of Paddy Powers, one of modern Ireland's most frequented gambling establishments.
Domhall was known as "An Chéad Iarla" or the First Earl. He had a great loathing for this title and was known to become sorely irate at any of his own people who addressed him in this manner. Domhnall was threading on thin ground politically, for most of his life. In 1565 he reluctantly ventured with Owen O'Sullivan Bear to Queen Elizabeth to accept their relevant (to the crown) English titles. Domhnall was the first Earl and the last chieftain of his Clan, though, there is a man (Terence MacCarthy) now living in Tangier who claims to be his direct descendant. Terence McCarthy's claims are quite controversial and seem to have been debunked, though the story is long and winding like manys a good tale!

Muckross Abbey, Killarney - Part of Domhnall's Demesne

Och! Och! A Mhuire Bhúidh,
A Bhuime Dé,
Tugas grá m’anma do mhnaoi
Ler marbhadh mé.

Atá an toil, a Muire mhór,
‘na tuile thréin;
do mharbh sin do láithir mé,
a Mháthair Dé.

Tugas grádh mo h-anma do mhnaoi,
Ach! A Dhé,
‘s ní ráinig liom a innsin dí
gur milleadh mé.

Grádh dá geilchígh is gile gné,
mar lile ar lí,
‘s dá folt dulach druimneach dlúth
is ualach dí.

Grádh dá gealghnúis chriostail mar rós,
Nár chiontaigh re haon,
‘s dá dhá gealghlaic leabhra lúith
ler mealladh mé.

Rug a haolchorp sleamhain slán
Mo mheabhair uaim;
Milseacht a gotha ‘s a glóir,
Mé im othar uaidh.

Atáim ‘na diadh, ochán, och!
Im bhochtán bhocht;
Truagh gan an sluagh-sa ar mo leacht
Ag cruachadh cloch.

Truagh gan bráithre ag mianán orm
Re siansán salm,
Ó tharla mé, a Mhuire mheirbh.
Im dhuine mharbh.

Amhrán a béil, bile mar rós,
milis mar thúis,
do chuir mé ar buile báis,
cá cruinne cúis?

A ógh ler cheanglas mo chruth,
Do cheanglais mo chorp;
Féach do réir chéille agus chirt
Ar n-éiric ort.

Fóir mé, ós féidir leat,
a ghéag gan locht;
fóir mé le comhrádh do chuirp,
ochán, och!