A great key of being oneself is;
We have endured a great forgetting.
Forgetting ourselves as children,
forgetting ourselves as one with nature,
forgetting why we are here.
As an Irish woman there are more depths to forgetting.
Forgetting the names of the plants, the meanings of the mounds, the hill forts, the fairy forts, the rings and crannógs.
Forgetting who built them and why.
Forgetting the rituals of the folk, of the people who are the land animate.
Forgetting our dances, our stories, our neighbours, our elders, how we tend our family of animals, domestic and wild, how we grow to eat and heal, not for exhaustive yields but for responsively receiving enough.
The forgetting of the songs.
Forgetting to even sing!
Most wounding of all is the forgetting of the language.
The adoption of the tongue foreign to our mouth that twists around ‘likes’ and ‘fecks’ trying to revive the breathy guttural ‘achs’ and ‘aiths’ missing from this new language.
We forget that it is our voices that sung this land into existence from seemingly empty space. That our distinct accents, now dying, are the sonic resonances that echo back the topography of the hills of Munster to the crags of Ulster, the barren bogs of Connacht to the depth and drama of the quiet midlands. Even in Dublin, our cosmopolitan hub, our accents are to scale with the buildings, increasing in nasality as the rise highers in the periphery towns, with the center holding on to a low dockyard growl.
We’re still singing, even if we can’t seem to hear the music.
I wonder often on Irish, ar an Gaeilge. I wonder on it as, unlike many, I am competent at speaking in Irish. I was educated up until 3rd year of secondary school through the medium of Irish. I am fortunate in this. I remember much of the language. A benefit of being an empath is that one acquires languages quickly through the intense desire to understand and be understood. I felt an excitement at playing with it and enjoyed writing poetry in the almost secret seeming constellation of consonants.
I loved the language, and loathed learning it. The immersion of primary school was soon replaced by the grammatical precision of secondary and suddenly my magic words were turned to mathematical formulas. I began to feel I could not comprehend the words I had jabbered merrily in country pubs sat alongside my Anglophone parents. That along with the disembodiment experience of being adolescent began to quash my passion. I felt combative with my teachers for ruining the fun and making it appear as something so dry, so Catholic and dogmatic.
Hadn’t it predated Catholicism? Why was it so disconnected from nature when we learned it? So much of the syntax had to do with the Catholic idea of God, so many of the words related back to it’s tenets. Most interestingly when we, a gaggle of school girls, explored the word for masturbation in Irish, we were confronted with féin-thruailliú, ‘self-pollution’. As I matured into the skewed capitalist equivalent of maidenhood, I was being confronted even through Irish with the binary dogma of a language against nature. Science teachers struggled to force the language on top of Latin and Greek scientific terms that had been Anglicised and now were Hibernised awkwardly, similar enough to not be necessary translations, different enough to confuse an already confused adolescent. The forcing of a standardised Gaeilge by teachers from Munster and Connacht teaching in Dublin and insisting on assumed rural accents, the implicit humiliation that we were not truly of Eiriú.
It was a battle for meaning. For an ideology of rural modernity, for relevancy and Godliness. Learning secondary school Irish in Dublin was a total paradox.
Once again we had fallen prey to that most post-colonial of roadblocks:
We had no idea what it was that we wanted Irish to be.
Was it a political reclamation? Was it a religious duty? Was it an intellectual necessity? Was it a bridge between modernity and heritage? Was it an industrial ally?
We had so little idea that we therefore could not allow it to just be.
It had to be fixed, fussed over, made relevant, made holy, made desirable, made lucrative.
To me the story of our language is the parable of our land.
The shame with which the unknowing of our tongue, taken from our mouths young and twisted, reflects the shame of the unknowing of what Ireland strives to become, or is there even a becoming? What are we singing into existence?
What is the meaning of our words?
What do we call into being?
We’ve forgotten what it is that we wanted, and we have forgotten who it is we are.
We are no longer Catholic in anything other than contract, no longer the noble poor of Europe, no longer the dissenting colony, no longer the underdog of industry. We’ve explored these roles for the Irish and somehow they leave us wanting.
Who does the language belong to? Who does the land belong to? Who do we belong to?
Why is it that we are experiencing this incarnation of Ireland, and is what we wanted to create for ourselves? For our children?
We adopt not only awkward tongues, but awkward ideas, even the idea of parliament is not our own. Dáil Eireann is another contrivance of the oppressors in place of real sovereignty. When we claimed independence we just reassembled an Irish version of the same hierarchy.
We look to other nations for everything Education, Healthcare, Economic Policy, if it works for Finland, Germany, The Netherlands, certainly it must work domestically?
Yet we are different from our European flaneurs, different from the North American settlers. Yet this is the difference that we hide shamefully.
Someone recently asked me about the thoughts of ‘native’ indigenous peoples and their attitudes towards medicine. I asked him ‘you’re indigenous, you are native, what do you think of them?’
We do not see ourselves of this land.
If we were, we would have to admit to our not knowing.
Our farmers would have to admit that they have forgotten how to tend the earth from all the grants that steered them from small holdings to industrial animal husbandry.
Our politicians would have to admit that they can’t really remember what sovereignty means.
Our people would have to admit that they feel more connected to America than the Aran islands.
In writing this I consider anyone who considers themselves to be of a place, of that place. No matter their accent, skin pigment, passport or ‘status’.
While writing this I am certainly not talking about an ethnic purity, nor I am a talking about identity based political reform.
I’m talking about creating the intimacy and trust with this place to begin remembering.
I’m talking about realising ourselves, no matter from where we come, as being here, on this patch of earth (where ever you may be) with these beings around us, in the embrace of their bounties and limitations.
I’m talking about the intimacy of the wounds of languages, memories and meanings lost, not just here in Ireland, but everywhere, in every part of the world, in every person who finds their family in a new place, whether it is 6 miles from where they were raised or 600 miles away.
I’m talking about being grassroots in a way that remembers what we can and accepts our strengths while healing the wounds of our ancestors, human and non human, that are carried within us and scarred on the earth, smoke in the air and trash the oceans.
I’m not talking about going out and learning everything you can about this country, it’s history people and language, although sure if you want to.
I’m not shaming those of us who can’t speak our maternal tongue, or expecting us to drop what we’re doing and get into trad.
I’m talking about being here long enough to be yourself. Being present enough to feel the wind, to smile at the woman next to you, to listen to the lilt of the accents, the tinkle of the foxglove and the things that make this moment special.
I’m talking about being able to look beyond the crisis and the convulsions of the modern world and appreciate what has been lost of our rememberings by loving what is surviving.
The courage in having the patience, love and forgiveness to ask ‘why is it like this?’, rather than just dismiss here and now as inadequate.
Rather than wishing for something to be other than it is, wanting Ireland to be xyz, your ancestry to be xyz, irish to be xyz, to suit new ideals,
ask yourself; ‘how can I accept this as it is now?’
I’m talking about loving where you are and what you have.
And what I am talking about applies to almost everyone, everywhere.
Amnesia is embarrassing.
Europe has lost hundreds of languages in the past 500 years. Europe has also lost most of her forests, and Ireland nearly all, in this period. The influx of people into the cities is endless and the agricultural landscape extends to feed us.
People have lost their sense of belonging to their land for a factory and lately a laptop. To their ancestors for a presidency and now celebrity.
Many people have lost their sense of belonging to the earth, the elements and one another. They have pushed it away for the desire to win, to succeed, to be efficient. This rejection of what is for something better is what has created our forgetting.
We rarely think to ourselves ‘if it is so important to be efficient then how come no one can agree on where we are going?’
This disembodiment, disassociation and separation trauma that we all share to some degree or another is remedied first and foremost by grounding.
And with grounding comes remembering.
And when the earth of the being is grounded enough to give the psyche remembering, we give our spirits embodiment.
Until we truly ground into the tangible reality in which we are living, with presence and commitment, centered and solid, then we continue to recreate situations of suffering, by being reactionary and acting from urgency.
There is humility in not knowing what to do. In that there is also learning.
To conclude (because I could write a spiderweb around this);
Amnesia is embarrassing and remembering is humbling.
And I recall it has been said that
humble are the best beginnings.