and post-national approach to perceiving the Irish landscape and
particularly the North, Would be to construct the landscape in a
form that complements its multi-cultural character rather than to
mimic and internalize foreign, centralized ethno-political structures.
This does not ignore the fissures that compose sectarianism, rather
it proposes a different perspective from which to view these fissures.
Kearney (1988) has observed a "crisis of culture" which places the
modern four provinces of Ireland within a philosophical transition
from national constructs to supra-national constructs. Within the
context of political geography, this places Ireland as a member
of the European Union. The four provinces of Ireland (Leinster,
Munster, Connaught and Ulster), however, still demarcate the body
of the island. Post-modernism does not ignore this 'crisis of culture.'
As Brandes (1994) notes, "Ireland in its post-modern condition
is a state still torn apart--North and South, rural and urban,
Catholic and Protestant, employed and unemployed, and man and woman."
However within the context of post-modern
thought, Kearney (1997) attaches one more province within the post-modern
conceptual model, that of the 'Fifth Province'. He states:
"Modern Ireland is made up of four provinces. And yet, the Irish
word for a province is coiced which means fifth. This fivefold
division is as old as Ireland itself, yet there is disagreement
about the identity of the fifth.... The obvious impotence of the
various political attempts to unite the four geographical provinces
would seem to warrant another kind of solution...one which would
incorporate the 'fifth' province. This province, this place, this
centre, is not a political or geographical position, it is more
of a disposition." He further adds, "The fifth province is
to be found, if anywhere, at the swinging doors which connects the
parish to the cosmos...the fifth province can be imagined and reimagined;
but it cannot be occupied. In the fifth province it is always a
question of thinking otherwise."
The excavation and re-examination
of cultural archetypes is a fundamental aspect of this 'Fifth' province.
The 'cultural crisis' which Kearney (1985) observes perhaps is best
understood by the exposition of constituent cultural archetypes
buried within the chorological and chronological layers of the Irish
landscape. What undergirds this 'cultural crisis' particularly in
the communities of the north of Ireland is a tribalism that has
its roots in the ancient Celtic/Gaelic culture, which existed before
the modern transpositions of political, religious and social structure
upon the landscape. Therefore it is important to understand that
a shared collective unconscious exists between the communities within
this cultural crisis, despite being buried by decades and centuries
of sectarian conflict.
To utilize the phenomenology of the
collective unconscious defined by the psychiatrist Carl Jung (1936)
as 'an aspect of the human psyche, which unlike the personal
unconscious, is not acquired by experience, but by heredity
and culture,' is to wade deep into the stream of Irish cultural
mythology and fish out archetypes (from the Greek, arkhetupon:
literally 'first molded'.)
In essence, the collective unconscious
consists of archetypes which are inherited. These archetypes
are described variously as 'elementary' or 'primordial'
thoughts. Within the realm of mythological research they are described
as 'motifs'. Wrote Jung (1936) "This collective unconscious does
not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent
forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily
and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. Jung
held that access to this collective unconscious was found through
dreams and what he termed the 'active imagination' Kearney
notes that (1997) "In Celtic culture, unity was an imaginary
concept to be safe guarded by Fili (poets) rather than political
leaders." The use of the texts of poets and writers to explore
the perceptual phenomenology creating the cultural morphologies
of the landscape is an avenue to explore the constituent components
of this morphology.
Two 'Fili' come to mind immediately
when one speaks of contemporary Ireland. They are both writers whose
works emanate from the largely Catholic border town of Derry (Londonderry).
This city, situated close to the fissure that has split Ireland
since the 1920s spawned both Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel. Their
words have more repercussion than any semtex ever had, for it is
through their works that the semantical foundations of the emerging
Peace Process in the North was perhaps first recognized. Notes Welch
(1993) "There is a conflict between Ireland and England; it often
seems insoluble to the mind trained in the discourses of politics,
negotiation and opposition. It may in fact be insoluble. But a poem...witnesses
to a space human creativity can create where history is set aside
and the problem is viewed objectively. The 'affect' [of the conflict]
to use Jung's term, is there, but viewed from a 'higher level of
consciousness', poetry." Heaney is the poet, While Friel is
the dramatist. Both their works exemplified here offer on a journey
through the Cyclop's eye to the 'otherwise' of the Fifth
In his poem, "The Tollund Man," Heaney approaches the
cultural landscape of Northern Ireland as a sort of poetic archaeologist.
As in a previous poem, "Bogland," Heaney walks
in the step of a pioneer, "Striking inwards and downwards...".
The poet, influenced by the Danish Archaeologist P.V. Glob's text,
The Bog People (1969) (which described the bodies of Iron-Age
Celtic ritual killing victims found remarkably preserved in a peat
bog in Denmark), visited the bog-site. Both the book and the visit
to the peat bog, where he gazed upon the preserved body of the Tollund
Man, had a profound and insightful effect upon him. Recalls Heaney
(1994) "The unforgettable photographs of these victims blended
in my mind with photographs of atrocities, past and present, in
the long rites of Irish political and religious struggles."
Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.
In the flat country nearby
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,
Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,
She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint's kept body,
Trove of the turfcutters'
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.
I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate
The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Laid out in the farmyards,
Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.
Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names
Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,
Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.
Out there in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.
'excavation' of "The Tollund Man" and the subsequent resurrection
of him upon the page weaves in a 'sectarian' murder committed by
Northern Ireland's auxiliary police force, the B Specials. The murder
takes place in the 1920s and in "The Tollund Man," Heaney
is explicit in his comparison of the body of "The Tollund Man,"
a victim of ritual sacrifice and the bodies of 'four young brothers'.
The brothers were dragged by a train, their 'Tell-tale skin
and teeth/Flecking the sleepers'. Heaney's theme in this poem
is ritual murder, perpetrated both in Iron-Age Denmark and in 20th-century
Ireland. He admits at the end of the poem that "In the old man-killing
parishes/I will feel lost, /Unhappy and at home."
The ritual of murder has expressed
itself throughout Celtic history, especially among tribal groups
indigenous to the northern European landscape. In visiting the gravesite
of the Tollund man, Heaney connected figuratively the ritual murder
stemming from the Celtic Iron-Age cultures to his own contemporary
Northern Irish culture. Notes Vendler (1998), "The bog bodies
[such as the Tollund man]...persuaded [Heaney] that ritual killing
had been a feature of Northern tribal culture in a wide geographical
swath: that immediate history alone did not begin to explain the
recrudescence of violence in Northern Ireland."
Heaney himself comments on this connection
in a 1979 interview in Ploughshares magazine by J. Randall:
"The Tollund Man seemed to me like an ancestor almost, one of
my old uncles, one of those moustached archaic faces you used to
meet all over the Irish country side. I felt very close to this.
And the sacrificial element, the whole mythological field surrounding
these images was very potent. So I tried, not explicitly, to make
a connection between the sacrificial, ritual, religious element
in the violence of contemporary Ireland and this terrible sacrificial
religious thing in The Bog People. This wasn't thought out.
It began with a genuinely magnetic, almost entranced relationships
with those heads..."
One can surmise that Heaney's collective
unconscious was presenting itself into his active imagination. Jung's
'primordial' thoughts were asserting themselves...an archetype was
being extracted and recognized. Continues Heaney in the 1979 interview,
"And when I wrote that poem, I had a sense of crossing a line really,
that my whole being was involved in the sense of--the root sense--of
religion, being bonded to something, being bound to do something.
I felt it a vow; I felt my whole being caught in this..."
Heaney had crossed the border from
the collective unconscious to the consciousness of his poetic 'active
imagination'. This is not say that the insight was imagined. Far
from it. What Heaney recognized and inscribed into text was the
hereditary strand that culture produces regardless of political
or social boundary. The Iron Age ritual killings and the sectarian
landscape of murder were embodied within different transpositions
of history, yet the outcome was the same...murder, whether under
the guise of a Celtic goddess, a Christian religious creed, or a
sectarian political assumption. The landscape did not provide abstract
justifications for these killings, it merely provided the repository
archetype, which defined the cultural and historical borders transposed
The next two selections of Heaney's
poetry form a couplet that express an awareness of the fatal complexity
of these inner and outer borders upon the northern Irish landscape.
They also describe the supranational tendency inhabiting the human
character to cross the artificial and politically imposed borders
both at the cost and creation of life itself.
He would drink by himself
And raise a weathered thumb
Towards the high shelf,
Calling another rum
And blackcurrant, without
Having to raise his voice,
Or order a quick stout
By a lifting of the eyes
And a discreet dumb-show
Of pulling off the top;
At closing time would go
In waders and peaked cap
Into the showery dark,
A dole-kept breadwinner
But a natural for work.
I loved his whole manner,
Sure-footed but too sly,
His deadpan sidling tact,
His fisherman's quick eye
And turned observant back.
To him, my other life.
Sometimes, on his high stool,
Too busy with his knife
At a tobacco plug
And not meeting my eye,
In the pause after a slug
He mentioned poetry.
We would be on our own
And, always politic
And shy of condescension,
I would manage by some trick
To switch the talk to eels
Or lore of the horse and cart
Or the Provisionals.
But my tentative art
His turned back watches too:
He was blown to bits
Out drinking in a curfew
Others obeyed, three nights
After they shot dead
The thirteen men in Derry.
PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said,
BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday
His breath and trembled.
It was a day of cold
Raw silence, wind-blown
Surplice and soutane:
Coffin after coffin
Seemed to float from the door
Of the packed cathedral
Like blossoms on slow water.
The common funeral
Unrolled its swaddling band,
Till we were braced and bound
Like brothers in a ring.
But he would not be held
At home by his own crowd
Whatever threats were phoned,
Whatever black flags waved.
I see him as he turned
In that bombed offending place,
Remorse fused with terror
In his still knowable face,
His cornered outfaced stare
Blinding in the flash.
He had gone miles away
For he drank like a fish
Swimming towards the lure
Of warm lit-up places,
The blurred mesh and murmur
Drifting among glasses
In the gregarious smoke.
How culpable was he
That night when he broke
Our tribe's complicity?
'Now, you're supposed to be
An educated man,'
I hear him say. 'Puzzle me
The right answer to that one.'
missed his funeral,
Those quiet walkers
And sideways talkers
Shoaling out of his lane
To the respectable Purring of the hearse...
They move in equal pace
With the habitual
Of a dawdling engine,
The line lifted, hand
Over fist, cold sunshine
On the water, the land
Banked under fog: that morning
When he took me in his boat,
The screw purling, turning
Indolent fathoms white,
I tasted freedom with him.
To get out early, haul
Steadily off the bottom,
Dispraise the catch, and smile
As you find a rhythm
Working you, slow mile by mile,
Into your proper haunt
Somewhere, well, out beyond...
Plodder through midnight rain,
Question me again.
A PEACOCK'S FEATHER
days ago the water fell
To name and bless your fontanel
That seasons towards womanhood,
But now your life is sleep and food
Which, with the touch of love, suffice
You, Daisy, Daisy, English niece.
Gloucestershire: its prospects lie
Wooded and misty to my eye
Whose landscape, like your mother's was,
Is other than this mellowness
Of topiary, lawn and brick,
Possessed, untrespassed, walled, nostalgic.
I come from scraggy farm and moss,
Old patchworks that the pitch and toss
Of history has left dishevelled.
But here, for your sake, I have levelled
My cart-rut voice to garden tones,
Cobbled the bog with Cotswold stones.
Ravelling strands of families mesh
In love-knots of two minds, one flesh.
The future's not our own, we'll weave
An in-law maze, we'll nod and live
In trust but little intimicy-
So this is a billet-doux to say
That in a warm July you lay
Christened and smiling in Bradley.
While I, a guest in your green court,
At a west window sat and wrote
Self-consciously in gathering dark,
I might as well be in Coole Park!
So before I leave your ordered home
Let us pray: may tilth and loam
Darkened with Celts' and Saxons' blood
Breastfeed your love of house and wood.
And I drop this for you, as I pass,
Like the peacock's feather in the grass.
two poems hint at the recognition and crossing of both internal
and external borders placed upon and within the northern Irish landscape.
"Casualty" is an elegy for a fisherman, a modern "Tollund
Man," who at home on the sea, where the only boundaries are
physical, will not be limited by social boundaries when he places
his feet upon the land. The poem speaks of a time frame surrounding
'Bloody Sunday'. On January 30th 1972, paratroopers from the British
Army killed thirteen unarmed civil rights marchers in Derry. The
IRA reprisals consisted of a series of bombings, which included
Protestant pubs. The fisherman in Heaney's poem, despite warnings
to stay within the social boundaries of his own tribe ('But he
would not be held at home by his own crowd...'), travels for
his nightly drinking session to a pub where a sectarian bomb has
been planted. The cost of admission is fatal, as he has crossed
the social/sectarian boundaries and his fate becomes a casualty
of the 'troubles'. Heaney muses upon this strictly social ordering
that has come about due to the political situation imposed upon
the landscape. He questions the ethos of this ordering, 'How
culpable was he, That night when he broke, Our tribe's complicity?
Tribal geographies are characterized
by the non-linear. Cartesian ordinances do not effectively map out
the ebb and flows of tribal existence or thought, To recognizes
that tribalism was an effective social ordering during the time
of the Celts (Kearney, 1997) is to recognize its de-centralized
character, which is completely incongruous with the political superstructure
imposed upon the landscape of northern Ireland. The mentifacts and
social structures of tribalism remain despite this political imposition
and in the case of the poem, "Casualty," delineates invisible
yet deeply ingrained cultural boundaries which are not in synchrony
with the superimposed political sectarian geography of Northern
Heaney, it seems yearns for a freedom
from both the claustrophobic tribalism and the nihilistic superimposed
sectarian political geography. Towards the end of the poem he reflects,
'I tasted freedom with him. To get out early, haul steadily off
the bottom, Dispraise the catch, and smile as you find a rhythm
working you, slow mile by mile, Into your proper haunt somewhere,
well out, beyond...' Heaney yearns for a freer existence as
exemplified by the life of the fisherman. It is no coincidence I
believe that a fisherman was sacrificed in "Casualty,"
much like the 'Fisher of Men', Christ was sacrificed at Golgotha.
Heaney despite his yearning for the freedom of the supra-national,
still unconsciously allows his tribal, Catholic roots to appear
within his poetry.
The second poem, "A Peacock's
Feather," describes the crossing of cultural borders. The serenity
of a christening is framed in a poem as a gift to his 'English'
niece. He describes 'tilth and loam' as 'Darkened
with Celt and Saxon blood'. This intermingling of his Celtic
family with a Saxon family describes the crossing of cultural borders.
It also recognizes that Irish blood contains traces of Viking, Scots,
Norman and Anglo DNA, Which is the tiny vessel that carries
the cargo of the collective unconscious, allowing for the shared
human experience despite the divided furrows upon the face of Ireland.
This supranational metaphor hints at the crossing of deeply ingrained
internal borders as
an avenue to create a Peace Process on the outer landscape. This
recognition is emblematic of the visionary landscape of the 'Fifth'
Brian Friel's play, Translations, examined the linguistical
contours of the northern Irish landscape by exploring the tension
provoked by the inner dissonance created by the transposition of
English upon an Irish linguistical landscape. In doing so Translations
offered a passageway to the 'Fifth' province where roots of the
contemporary 'troubles' were exposed and allowed to be critically
enacted, so as to provide a mirror on the social and cultural rituals
being re-enacted between the differing tribal communities in the
streets and rural areas of Northern Ireland.
Translations, The Field Days'
first production also fulfilled the ethos of the Fili (poets)
in Celtic culture: to bring unity. To quote from The Irish Press
(26 Sept. 1980, pg. 8), the opening of Translations
in the Guildhall, Derry, on Tuesday the 23rd of September
1980, crossed sectarian lines in its appeal: "It was in
every sense, a unique occasion, with loyalists and nationalists,
Unionists and SDLP, Northerners and Southerners laying aside their
differences to join in applauding a play by a fellow Derryman and
one moreover with a theme that is uniquely Irish."
States Joe Dowling, a director of
many of Friel's plays, in an article in the Sunday Independent
on January 3rd, 1999, about Translations and the
Field Day Theatre Company: "Although Field Day did not survive
to see the current optimism about cross-Border connections, many
of the questions it raised in its productions and pamphlets have
become part of the political discourse that led to the Good Friday
Agreement (Peace Agreement between Nationalists and Unionists
signed on Good Friday April 1998.) ...'Translations' was the
first production of a novel company that saw itself as an intellectual
bridge between North and South...it also explained the origins of
the discord and continuing disenchantment of nationalist Ireland
to British audiences."
Translations concerns itself with
an English Army Ordinance survey of Northwest Ireland in the year
1833. Gaelic names of places are being Anglicized. A Lieutenant
Yolland is conducting the survey with the aid of a Irish man named
Owen. The crossing of linguistical borders affects Yolland so much
that in the end he runs off with an Irish girl, abandoning his post.
In this excerpt Lieutenant Yolland
demonstrates his isolated journey through the Anglo/Irish linguistical
Yolland:...Where's the pot-een?
Yolland: Poteen-poteen-poteen. Even if I did speak Irish I'd
always be an outsider here, wouldn't I? I may learn the password
but the language of the tribe will always elude me won't it? The
private core will always be...hermetic, won't it ?
Owen: You can learn to decode us.
Another character in the play is Hugh, Owen's father. He helps teach
at the hedge school and describes access to the Irish language and
culture to Lieutenant Yolland as follows:
Hugh: Indeed, Lieutenant. A rich language. A rich literature.
You'll find, sir, that certain cultures expend on their vocabularies
and syntax acquisitive energies and ostentations entirely lacking
in their material lives. I suppose you could call us a spiritual
people...Yes, it is a rich language, Lieutenant, full of the mythologies
of fantasy and hope and self deception--a syntax opulent with tomorrows.
It is our response to mud cabins and a diet of potatoes; our only
method of replying to inevitabilities...To return briefly to that
other matter, Lieutenant. I understand your sense of exclusion,
of being cut off from a life here; and I trust you will find access
to us with my son's help. But remember words are signals, counters.
They are not immortal. And it can happen-to use an image you'll
understand--it can happen that a civilisation can be imprisoned
in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of
It is within this landscape that the
linguistical border between Gaelic and English reduces language
to a barrier. A barrier that is transposed upon the landscape and
becomes a cultural feature. Notes Andrews (1995): "Where
the 'Gaelic' view embodies a logocentric notion of cultural rootedness
and centredness, the utilitarian 'English' view has no time for
the etymologist's reverence for language as remembrance of the hidden
origins of meeting or community. The danger with the 'Gaelic 'model
is that it can imprison a community in the past and lead to political
stagnation; on the other hand, the 'English' model, taken to the
extreme, reduces language to a mechanistic totalised and ontologically
depthless system of arbitrary signs (a map) for the attainment of
certain and certifiable knowledge".
It is within the dissonance created
by these two interpretations that the linguistical, cultural and
thusly the social ambivalence between communities in Ulster can
be fleshed out in the text of Translations. Observes Dantanus
(1988): "Translations makes a comprehensive statement
on the nature of linguistic communication in general and on the
conflict between the Irish and the English in particular. Without
going into any great detail Friel is able to suggest certain
basic differences between the two languages in the way they perceive
reality. The most important intimation is the well-known contrast
between linguistic and imaginary wealth and material dearth that
seems to be accepted as part of the Irish consciousness."
Furthermore the dissonance upon the
outer Irish and English landscape is emblematic of the linguistical
dissonance created by the transposition of one language and therefore
cultural cue upon a landscape that is inhabited by another language.
States Andrews (1995): "The 'Gaelic' view of language sees
it as the means to express an essential privacy, the hermetic core
of being, to divine origins and etymologies, thus enabling a community
to recollect itself in terms of its past. It is opposed by the technological
'English' view of language, which sees it as a system of signs for
representing, mapping and categorizing-for 'colonizing' the chaos
Celtic culture as previously stated
in this text, tended to be de-centralized, characterized by a loose
structure, whereas the English culture emanated from Britain, whose
structure reflected the influence of the linear structure of Greco-Roman
society. The linguistical contour provided by both these cultures
matches the organization of their specific cultures. In Translations,
Friel sketches out the subtle influence of language on the forming
of communities and cultures and subsequently the perceptions formed
by these cultures about their own identities.
The deadly precision of language was
fully evident in the negotiations conducted by Senator George Mitchell
that led to the Good Friday Agreement. Reports from the negotiations
made it clear that virtually every word of the agreement was first
agreed upon by a quorum from each side before it was framed into
the agreement. The differing perceptions of the landscape constructed
by differing uses of language was made apparent nearly 19 years
before by Friel's prescient work Translations.
Elmer (1995) The Art of Brian Friel. St. Martin's Press.
Brandes, Rand (1994) The Dismembering Muse: Seamus Heaney, Ciaran
Carson and Kenneth Burke's "Four Master Tropes" in
Rickard, John (ed) Irishness and (Post) Modernism Bucknell
Carpenter, Andrew. Fallon, Peter (1980) The Writers: A Sense
of Ireland. George Braziller.
Dantanus, Ulf (1988) Brian Friel: A Study. Faber & Faber.
Dowling, Joe (1999) Dancing to Friel's Rhythm Sunday Independent,
3rd January 1999.
Friel, Brian (1981) Translations. Faber & Faber.
Glob P.V. (1969) The Bog People. Faber & Faber.
Heaney, Seamus (1990) Selected Poems 1966-1987. The Noonday
Jung, Carl, G. (1971) The Portable Jung. Penguin Books.
Kearney, R. (1997) Postnationalist Ireland: Politics, culture,
Kearney, R. (1988) Transitions: Narratives in Modern Irish Culture.
Manchester University Press.
Kearney, R. (1985) The Irish Mind: Exploring Intellectual Traditions.
Randall, J. (1979) Interview with Seamus Heaney Ploughshares
The Irish Press, 26 Sept. 1980, pg. 8.
Vendler, Helen (1998) Seamus Heaney. Harvard University Press.
Welch, Robert (1993) Changing States: Transformations in Modern
Irish Writing. Routledge.