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Through the Cyclops' Eye:
Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel & The Fifth Province of Ireland

by C. Bartlett Travis

A post-modern 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 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 Province.

Seamus Heaney

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'
Honeycombed workings.
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,
Stocking corpses
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.

     Heaney's '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 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 upon it.
     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
Everybody held
His breath and trembled.

It was a day of cold
Raw silence, wind-blown
Surplice and soutane:
Rained-on, flower-laden
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,
Lapping, tightening
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
Nightly, naturally
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.'

I 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
Slow consolation
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...
Dawn-sniffing revenant,
Plodder through midnight rain,
Question me again.


Six 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.

     These 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 Ireland.
     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' province.

Brian Friel

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 also explained the origins of the discord and continuing disenchantment of nationalist Ireland to British audiences."
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 boundary.

Yolland:...Where's the pot-een?
Owen: Poteen.
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 ...fact.

     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 of reality."
     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.


Andrews, 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 University Press.
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 Press.
Jung, Carl, G. (1971) The Portable Jung. Penguin Books.
Kearney, R. (1997) Postnationalist Ireland: Politics, culture, philosophy. Routledge.
Kearney, R. (1988) Transitions: Narratives in Modern Irish Culture. Manchester University Press.
Kearney, R. (1985) The Irish Mind: Exploring Intellectual Traditions. Wolfhound Press.
Randall, J. (1979) Interview with Seamus Heaney Ploughshares 5.
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.

C.Bartlett Travis used to write a column for the BG News (Bowling Green State University, B.G. Ohio-1989-1991) entitled Word Up. C.Bartlett Travis is his attempt at a pen-name. (Please call him Charlie.) He possesses a Psychology and an M.A. in Geography from the University of Toledo and an M.A. in Mass Communication from Bowling Green State University. He studied Irish at Oides Gael in Glencolumbcille Co. Donegal, Ireland. He will begin his Ph.D. studies in Geography & Anthropology at Louisiana State University in January 2000. He play the guitar and sings his own songs.


Electric Acorn


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