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From Inis Fraoigh to Innisfree ... and back again? Sense of place in poetry in Irish since 1950.

 I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
 And a small cabin build there of clay and wattles made.
 Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
 And live alone in the bee-loud glade. (1)


Many generations of Irish schoolchildren have had Yeats's famous poem, 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree', drummed into them. Despite its hackneyed overexposure on school curricula and tourist brochures, and indeed despite the older Yeats's embarrassment at its success, (2) it remains a wonderful poem, particularly when recited aloud. Through the almost hypnotic incantatory use of sound and rhythm, allied to the sense of romantic relief from the filthy tide of the modern world suggested by the end syllable '--free' in Innisfree, Yeats creates an imagined space in which he discovers a real peace 'in the deep heart's core'.

Innisfree is in one sense, however, in the English version of the name, a doubly imagined space. Inis Fraoigh in the original Irish means 'The Island of Heather' and has nothing whatsoever to do with freedom. Indeed, as the name implies, it is very much rooted in a physical, tangible world through the descriptive element of the place name. Yeats, however, through in this instance the happy but coincidental added value of the transliteration (as against translation) of the original, can actually add a layer of metaphoric significance to his poem not achievable in the Irish version of the name. Thus, though Inis Fraoigh does exist in the real physical world, and has a linguistic, cultural, and cartographic or spatial meaning as island of heather, Yeats's Innisfree is at a double remove from that same reality. (3) John Montague, in his poem 'A Lost Tradition', just like the schoolmaster in Brian Friel's Translations, claims that the language shift from Irish to English, from Inis Fraoigh to Innisfree, leads to a sense of psychic, physical, and cultural loss or shattering:
 All around, shards of a lost tradition [...]
 Scattered over the hills, tribal--
 And placenames, uncultivated pearls [...]
 The whole landscape a manuscript
 We had lost the skill to read;
 A part of our past disinherited;
 But fumbled, like a blind man,
 Along the fingertips of instinct. (4)


In the Irish tradition, from the earliest literature down to the oral literature of the Gaeltacht (5) today, Dinnseanchas, topography, the lore of place-names, or as it were the 'skill to read the manuscript of the landscape' is of fundamental importance, and I will argue here that it is also a significant theme in much modern poetry in Irish. The term Dinnseanchas refers specifically to a corpus of material relating to places assembled in manuscript form in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and known as Dinnseanchas Eireann. These texts constituted a fundamental part of the body of knowledge required of Irish bardic poets and their importance is attested to in the amount of such material found in the major manuscripts.

Place-names are explained in the Dinnseanchas--indeed sometimes pseudo-etymological or fictitious stories are invented to explain names--and this naming process not only explains but also validates and vindicates the cultural, social, and indeed political environment in which it operates. Such a process is, in a sense, a foundation mythology, and landscape, and indeed the land itself, are therefore loaded with ethical, epistemological, and aestheticized meanings of deep significance for those within the tradition. Place is thus, as Yi-Fu Tuan puts it, an organized world of meaning, 'a center of felt value'.

Landscape is personal and tribal history made visible. The native's identity--his place in the total scheme of things--is not in doubt, because the myths that support it are as real as the rocks and the waterfalls he can see and touch. (6)

Sean O Tuama, identifying the familial link with their own territorial lands, common in Ireland even to this day, and alluding to the nuptial-like inauguration ceremony of an Irish chieftain, argues:

It seems that it is the sacred wedding of territory to chieftain--and by extension of territory to kin--which lies near to the heart of the passion for place in Irish life and literature. (7)

When one thinks of the Irish poetry of the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, from O Bruadair to Raftery, what O Tuama would call the literature of dispossession, allied to Daniel Corkery's assertion that land is one of the key notes of all Irish literature, (8) and when one considers much Irish writing in both languages in modern times, from W. B. Yeats to Seamus Heaney and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, and from Patrick Kavanagh and Mairtin O Cadhain to John B. Keane, there is no doubt but that the land itself, both in a physical and a political sense, and also in a psychological, cultural, and aesthetic sense, is a fundamental theme in much Irish writing.

Such a cultural, historical, and indeed aesthetic narrative gives a deep sense of rootedness and belonging in both a psychic and a physical sense. Communal, and thus personal, memory is thereby perpetuated and a definite and definable sense of both communal and personal identity established over time. This sense of identity connects the inner world of the psyche to the external world of the physical by providing as it were a complex of spatio-cultural co-ordinates for what Frederic Jameson calls the process of 'cognitive mapping'. (9) Knowledge and lived experience are thus grounded specifically in spatiality, making particular spaces, lieux sacres, both real and metaphorical at the same time. This mapping of the psyche in a spatial context is also validated over time, a process into which many poets writing in Irish over the course of the twentieth century consciously assimilate themselves for reasons which vary not only from poet to poet but also over the century of writing as a whole.

This idea of the importance of place is, of course, in no sense uniquely Irish. Indeed, as can be seen from much anthropological research in many parts of the world, it is a universal cultural and social phenomenon. As Yi-Fu Tuan states:

It is not limited to any particular culture and economy. It is known to literate and non-literate peoples, hunter-gatherers, and sedentary farmers, as well as city dwellers. The city or land is viewed as mother, and it nourishes; place is an archive of fond memories and splendid achievements that inspire the present; place is permanent and hence reassuring to man, who sees frailty in himself and change and flux everywhere. (10)

One cannot exist outside of, or independent of, space (nor, indeed, of time) as it were in a tabula rasa. Thus, coming to terms with one's environment through the process of explaining or naming that environment over time is a fundamental human activity, a basic part of establishing a personal and communal identity. Arguing for the centrality of place in the construction of subjectivity in contemporary society, Nicholas Entrilein states:

As agents in the world we are always 'in place', as much as 'in culture'. For this reason our relations to place and culture become elements in the construction of our own individual and collective identities. (11)

Moreover, as James F. Weiner asserts of the Foi people in Papua New Guinea:

A society's place names schematically image a people's intentional transformation of their habitat from a sheer physical terrain into a pattern of historically experienced and constituted space and time [...]. The bestowing of place names constitutes Foi existential space out of a blank environment. (12)

Thus, the concept of Dinnseanchas as we know it within the Irish tradition is a unique manifestation of a universal phenomenon and the perspective offered, the symbolic universe created and interpreted, is specifically Gaelic, and moreover, I would also argue, language-specific in many ways.

The Irish-language poetry of the Literary Revival of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was, among other things, a declaration of identity, and a pro-active repossession of a tradition, culture, and language that were in danger of extinction. Though ideologically indicative of the period, most of this poetry is seriously aesthetically challenged. As I have shown elsewhere, (13) it tends to be traditionalist and backward looking, and portrays Ireland as a latter-day Gaelic utopia or Tir na nOg [The Land of Youth]. The Gaeltacht, both as the repository of the Gaelic tradition and as an idyllic rural alternative to the filthy modern tide berated by Yeats, is the symbolic representation of all that is good in the emerging new Ireland.

Many poems of this period mention Ireland in a traditional and almost generic way and project an idealized view of the country and its Gaelic traditions. While in reality perhaps having more to do with the politics of identity and the project of the construction of an Irish nation-state at the time, they also draw on the poetic tradition of Dinnseanchas, with Ireland being presented as the idyllic and idealized lieu sacre. The nation is praised and presented in general terms (its physical beauty being to the fore) and the cultural and political agenda is always in evidence. The poems and songs of the Ballyvourney poet, Diarmuid O Muimhneachain (1866-1934), while not perhaps aesthetically inspiring to the modern ear, are none the less fairly representative of the period. In his poem 'An Ait is Cui' [The Proper Place], for example, he presents Ireland as a great nation since the time Noah was freed from the ark, and a beautiful, plentiful and sporting place to boot. The poem emphasizes from the outset the essential elements of the political ideology of the period. Ireland is seen as taking its rightful 'free' place among the nations of the earth, which is her legitimate status due to the lengthy historical continuity of 'siolra Eibhir', the Gael, in the land. Both God Almighty and Christ himself underpin the legitimacy of this statement, which is also further legitimized by the ancient trope of plenty, fertility, and beauty associated with a place in which the rightful people reign:
 An ait is cui da criochaibh fearmhar',
 An ait 'na mbiodh fado,
 An ait is cui ina coilltibh craobhach',
 Clairseach bhinn a smol,
 An ait is cui do mhinghuth gleshruth,
 An ait is cui do fhir a sleibhte,
 An ait is cui do dhion a speirghlan,
 Ata a fhios ag Ri na gcomhacht,
 Lerbh athas i go soch,
 An ait 'nar shuiodar siolra Eibhir,
 'S an ait 'na suifid fos. (14)


[The proper place for its grassy lands, | The place they were of yore, | The proper place in its leafy woods, | The sweet harp of its thrushes, | The proper place for sweet-tuned streams, | The proper place for the outline of its mountains, | The proper place for its clean roofy sky, | Almighty God knows this | And is happy knowing it, | The place where sat the sons of Eibhear (i.e the Gaels), | And the place they will yet sit.]

Most poems of this nature during the period tend to be more localized, however, and almost always set in rural, invariably Irish-speaking, areas. The native place--or in some cases the adoptive home place in a cultural and linguistic sense--is perceived as being at the centre of the universe and is always praised in the most superlative of exaggerations: it is the most beautiful, the most friendly, has the loveliest rivers, mountains and the most fertile land, and is of course a most Gaelic place in language, culture, and politics. The look is, however, invariably backwards, both in time and space, as indicated by the Irish word siar which can mean both westwards in space and backwards in time. In most cases, the poet looks back to his youth and describes a place from which he is in exile, an idyllic setting which is in stark contrast to his present (usually urban) circumstances.

The poetry of this period was in the main descriptive rather than interrogative, claiming a fixity and certainty of identity and worldview more in keeping with the premodern than the modern world rather than seeing the creative literary act as a means of quest or question. Moreover, while traditionalist in aim and concept in that it was an effort at reviving the ailing Gaelic tradition, language, and culture, it is strangely ironical that, even in such a traditionalist mode as that of Dinnseanchas, much of the verse composed during the period was more influenced by English romantic poetry than native Gaelic poetry in spite of the best efforts of the poets to be anything other than English.

Despite such less than auspicious beginnings, modern poetry in Irish came of age in the 1940s with the emergence of the major voices of the mid-century, Mairtin O Direain and Sean O Riordain. While there is very little similarity between their respective oeuvres--O Direain is the stylist, the lyricist, the word-musician par excellence while O Riordain is the introverted, intellectual, disturbed wordsmith--between them they ensured that poetry in Irish would henceforth be modern in tone, outlook, timbre, and form. Both also have, in their own distinct ways, a sense of place at the heart of their work.

The lifelong focus and lieu sacre of O Direain's poetry is his native Aran island of Inis Mor. The island pervades all his work and is constantly present even in its absence. His poetry is, in many ways, driven by the typical romantic notion of seeking to recreate and re-enter the lost perfect world of his youth from his exile in Dublin city, and the island is nostalgically presented throughout the work as 'an t-oilean ruin', (15) the secret island which is an ideal(ized) antidote to what he calls 'an chathair fhallsa' [the deceitful city] in his well-known long poem 'Ar Re Dhearoil' [Our Wretched Age]. (16) Despite this centrality of the island in his poetry, (17) however, and moreover, despite the importance of the history and traditions of the island (as exemplified in his wonderful long poem 'O Morna'), (18) not to mention the formative influences of people and events on him as a child in Aran, this sense of place is still secondary to the main thrust of his writing. Inis Mor remains Tir na nOg [The Land of Youth], or paradise lost, and thus the island is in many senses more in the realm of the representative, of the imagined, rather than of the actual or real community. (19)

The quest for communing, the idea of life as pilgrimage, as journey from darkness towards some measure of light, is at the root of most of O Riordain's poetry, and while this journey is mostly spiritual, and indeed psychological, a significant element thereof is situated in what could be called cartographic real-space. As with O Direain, though in a more intellectually sophisticated way, the persona of O Riordain's poetry is a lost wanderer in utter darkness seeking deliverance from the frightening ontological freedom of the wasteland in which he finds himself. One strategy of deliverance which O Riordain develops throughout his work is the idea of rooting himself within the definable (in terms of time and space) native tradition. Eschewing his native Gaeltacht parish of Ballyvourney, where the language and therefore the culture and tradition in which he wished to root himself physically and, even more importantly, psychologically, were in danger of dying, O Riordain claims that his personal salvation was to be found through a communion with the living native tradition as exemplified in the County Kerry Gaeltacht parish of Dun Chaoin. This is the central message of one of his best poems, 'Fill Aris' [Return Again], and the location of the doorway to the core of his own mind and true self at the cliff edge in Dun Chaoin is an essential detail in the precise physical and cognitive map delineated in the poem:
 Dein d'fhaoistin is dein
 Siochain led ghiniuin feinig
 Is led thigh-se fein is na treig iad,
 Ni dual do neach a thigh na a threabh a threigean.
 Teir faobhar na faille siar trathnona greine go Corca Dhuibhne,
 Is chifir thiar ag bun na speire ag rathaiocht ann
 An Uimhir Dh,, is an Modh Foshuiteach,
 Is an tuiseal gairmeach ar bhealaibh daoine:
 Sin e do dhoras,
 Dun Chaoin fe sholas an trathnona,
 Buail is osclofar
 D'intinn fein is do chlo ceart. (20)

 [Confess and make your peace
 With your own house
 And your own people
 And do not forsake them.
 No man should forsake his tribe or habitation.
 Take the cliff edge west some sunny evening to Corca Dhuibhne
 And you will find there shoaling on the horizon
 The subjunctive and the dual number
 And the vocative case on the lips of people.
 That's your door,
 Dun Chaoin in the evening sun.
 Knock and you will find opening
 The core of your mind and feeling.]


This doorway to another consciousness, to another way of perceiving and of being, of understanding one's own inner self and perhaps even destiny, precisely located in space and time, was to become an important, sometimes defining element in much of the poetry written in Irish by the so-called Innti generation of poets who emerged in the late 1960s and revolutionized writing in Irish. Though rather lighter of spirit than O Riordain, and significantly of their own generation and global culture, many of the Innti poets--Michael Davitt, Gabriel Rosenstock, Liam O Muirthile, and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill--went the westward road by the cliff face to Dun Chaoin (21) to experience the real life of the Gaeltacht in situ rather than adhere to an outmoded construct of the idealized Gaeltacht as seen in the earlier poetry of the Revival period and later officially sanctioned in state ideology since its foundation. Michael Davitt, for example, speaks in a series of early poems of gaining a Dunquinian knowledge of himself on his Gaeltacht pilgrimage to Dun Chaoin, (22) while at the same time never rejecting his Cork city self--a notion that would have been an anathema to the poets of the early twentieth century. The Gaeltacht in Davitt's early poetry, and particularly in his first collection, Gleann ar Ghleann (1981), is the supreme lieu sacre, that significant place--again definable in both the inner and outer worlds--where one communes both with the physical place and the native tradition. In a defining early poem, 'Ar an gCeathru Rua' [In Carraroe], he describes the effect of a magical weekend in that Gaeltacht area on himself:
 Mhiosail mo chroi bit ar an gCaoran Mor
 ealaionn Muimhneach o
 ghramadach. (23)


[My heart missed a beat in Caoran Mor | a Munsterman escapes from | grammar.]

This deliberate subversion of both the grammatical correctness of the language itself and of the form and formality of the poetic tradition, situated at the same time in the place where the language and the tradition still survive, simultaneously undermines and reasserts or redefines the validity of that tradition in its continuum in time and space, and thus also validates the pilgrimage to the place.

This concept of journey permeates much of the work of Davitt and is particularly evident in his collection Scuais (1998). Many of the life experiences encapsulated in his poetry from the outset are specifically grounded in particular locations which not only resonate on the actual level of the narrative recounted but also form an intrinsic part of the inner reality described. Indeed, the function of poetry according to Davitt's fellow Innti poet, Liam O Muirthile, is 'na boithre ata ann a learscailiu chomh foirfe agus is feidir. Ni fheicimse aon bhoithre amach ach boithre isteach' [to map as perfectly as possible the roads that are there. I see no roads leading outwards, only roads inwards]. (24) This process normally takes place at specific, identifiable locations in what O Muirthile frequently refers to as 'naisiun na mbailte fearainn' [the nation of townlands]. (25) Concepts of spatiality, or what could be termed the notion of Dinnseanchas, are fundamental to any reading of his work, as the titles of his second and third collections, Dialann Bothair [Road Journal] and Walking Time, indicate. (26) Many of his poems seek to create a moment of rare intensity, a oneness with the all, a kind of epiphany or intense experience of short duration in a sense out of space and time, and yet almost inevitably grounded very specifically in space and time. He situates many poems in County Clare, drawing both on the physical landscape and on its musical and cultural heritage for inspiration. His poem 'Aois na Lice' [The Age of the Rock], for example, begins in the town of Ennistymon and describes how the whole world narrowed in an intense focus on one particular location, a packed pub, where he felt as one with the whole:
 Is tuigim duit nuair a shantaionn tu deoch
 I dtabhairne nach bhfuil puinn sli ann in Inis Diomain,
 Dearbhaionn toisi gleoite an ti
 Go bhfeadfaidh gach duine ann fein a bheith iomlan. (27)


[I understand when you want a drink | In a packed pub with no room to move in Ennistymon, | The beautiful dimensions of the house affirm | That each person can be whole in himself.]

This incident brings to mind another occasion in the Burren, that timeless megalithic stone formation in Co. Clare, where this feeling of oneness with place becomes strongly internalized:
 Uair eile sa Bhoireann istoiche
 Nior mhothaios riamh chomh teilgthe sa speir
 Bhi an mhosaic ghile thuas go leir ag freagairt
 Don chosmas fais a bhlathaigh noimead ionam fein. (p. 59)


[On another occasion at night in the Burren | I never felt so projected into the air | The full mosaic of brightness above corresponded | To the cosmos of growth that flowered a moment within me.]

On yet another occasion, while walking over the Corrib Bridge in Galway city, he felt similarly at one with a specific time and place, and in this instance the intensity of the emotion is portrayed through the common, flowing, amorphous O Muirthile metaphors of water and music:
 Ta an Choirib, an ailtireacht is an speir
 Aerach fos on suiri a bhi acu areir;
 Cloisim uaim an choisir larabhann,
 Ta tonnta consairtin ag seinm fonn
 A chuireann fuil an rince ionam ag ras,
 Is braithim mar aon leis an maidin is leis an ait. (28)


[The Corrib, the architecture and the sky | Are all still giddy from last night's courting; | Away from me I hear the mid-river concert, | Waves of concertinas are playing tunes | Making my dancing blood race | And I feel at one with the morning and the place.]

There is in these poems a conscious effort to achieve oneness with significant personal spaces and, moreover, a conscious movement from one place to another through some sort of defining boundary, normally associated with water. In both 'Aois na Lice' and 'An Cursa Buan' [Tha Abiding Course] the narrator passes over a river by means of a bridge, again specifically named and located, into the heightened consciousness of a new space and time. This pattern is replicated in the poem 'Carraig Aifrinn' [Mass Rock] when the narrator moves through a wooden gate on Muinis Beach in Connemara, and this physical movement is echoed internally through the two different modes of thought found in the poem. The rational, Cartesian mind is to the fore in the first part, and, having passed through the liminal boundary, again specifically located near water, the creative, lyrical, non-rational side of the mind takes over:
 Seachas dun dunta na soiniciulachta
 Osclaionn mo chroi amach
 Do gheata cois tra i Maoinis;
 Treoraionn se go discreideach me
 Isteach in aerspas Chonamara,
 Agus san ait nach bhfaca me fein
 Ar chor ar bith
 I locha dubha a sul
 Faighim cuireadh anois
 O gheata admhaid i Maoinis.
 Roinnim libh
 Run ciuin na maidine seo,
 Ron muinineach, ba ar dhuirling,
 Is tagann an fharraige
 Timpeall na carraige
 Mar a scuabfadh an sagart
 A lamha le cheile
 Le linn aifrinn. (29)


[Besides the closed fort of cynicism | My heart opens out | To a gate by the beach at Maoinis; | It guides me discreetly | Into Connemara airspace, | And in the place I did not see | At all | In the dark lakes of her eyes | I now receive an invitation | From a wooden gate in Maoinis. | I share with you | The quiet secret of this morning, | A confident seal, cows on the stony beach, | And the sea comes | Around the rock | As a priest draws | His hands together | During Mass.]

These personal lieux sacres where O Muirthile and Davitt, and many other poets, create heightened moments which make the journey both easier and, betimes, worthwhile are seemingly, to the reader at any rate, random and in no particular frame of time and space other than their own personal voyage. At the most simplistic level, they are real places that can be pinpointed on a map and visited in real time. However, while the poets do not normally seek to situate these places in the Dinnseanchas tradition through references to history, mythology, storytelling, or place-lore, their symbolic significance resonates far beyond what Heaney calls the mere 'daunting, consonantal noise' of the placenames in the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh. (30) Thus, while the places mentioned in the personal poetic odysseys of Davitt and O Muirthile are real at the simple level of the narrative text of the poems, they are also imagined--given image--in the interior world, in the personal symbolic universe of the poet. They are therefore simultaneously both real and imagined, thus ensuring that the real and metaphoric universes are both part of each other, both of the same world. Poetry of place in this sense is not a grid map with specific locations cartographically located and therefore defined for either the poet/narrator or the listener/reader. It is a metaphoric allusion to another reality--psychic, aesthetical, cultural--a perspective offering significance, meaning, and sustenance in a subjective rather than an objective sense. Thus, these poems trace a journey of the mind, a psychological immram [voyage], which delineates the parameters of a personal foundation myth, and each individual poem is a significant signpost along that way. If poems in the Dinnseanchas tradition contain an objective truth in a premodern world, in the work of present-day poets such as Davitt, O Muirthile, and others the voyage is individual rather than communal, questioning rather than descriptive, and while not oblivious to the tradition, (31) is not exclusively rooted therein. It is worth noting in this context that, while Davitt and O Muirthile, both natives of Cork city, have situated some poems specifically in that city, (32) and while their poetry is strongly urban and contemporary in tone and outlook, (33) neither makes a particularly deeply rooted statement as to the significance of the 'home place' as being pre-eminent among their lieux sacres. (34)

A significant number of poets, however, most of whom are either of Gaeltacht origin or descent, do turn to the 'home place' as the locus of primary significance in their work. The poetry of Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, for example, is consciously rooted in the native Gaeltacht tradition of her inherited world of Corca Dhuibhne. The idea of psychic voyage, of immram, or the process of individuation in Jungian terms, as noted by many critics, (35) is fundamental to the whole of her work from the outset. One of the coping strategies formulated in her poetry is rooted firmly in the idea of Dinnseanchas which she describes as 'the result of our emotio-imaginative involvement with the physical features and landscape of this island on which we live'.

In the oral tradition for many millennia, and in the written tradition for over 1,500 years, we have been involved with this landscape, projecting outwards onto it our interior landscape, the 'paysage interieur' which is the landscape of our souls. This has resulted in an enormous repertoire of stories about it, not just in the written dinnsheanchas, but the sort of thing a farmer taking a break from bagging potatoes in a field will tell you if you ask him what is that field called, or why is this road called such and such a thing. This is a living and vital knowledge and true for the whole length and breadth of the island, wherever there are people who have been in a place a long time. What you have is a covenantal relationship with the landscape. (36)

It is in Corca Dhuibhne that she gives form to this covenant which becomes her own personal mandala, the symbolic pattern, the internal map that will facilitate her cognitive mapping of her world as she is coming to know it, or again in Jungian terms, the universal archetype through which she images or imagines her own essence. She gives an outline of this mandala in a series of poems in her second collection, Fear Suaithinseach, and the journey is in effect a return to the place of her forebears:
 Taim chun dul ar an dturas
 go Teampall Chaitliona,
 ait a bhfuil sinsir mo chine
 is sliocht seacht sleachta
 de mo mhuintir
 curtha. (37)

 [I'm taking a trip
 to Teampall Chaitliona
 where my ancestral race
 and seven generations
 and the seed of all my people
 lie.]


This journey siar [westwards and backwards] to the native place is from the outset indicative of her physical and psychic connections with Corca Dhuibhne and illustrates her strong sense of rootedness there, as illustrated in her early, now classic, poem 'I mBaile an tSleibhe' [In (the townland of) Baile an tSleibhe]. The poem begins with the powerful musical incantation of the place-names of the area and her proud assertion of her family's (the O Duinnshleibhe) literary and cultural heritage:
 I mBaile an tSleibhe
 Ta Cathair Leith
 is laistios do
 tigh mhuintir Dhuinnshleibhe;
 as san chuaigh an file Sean
 'on Oilean
 is uaidh sin thainig an ghruaig rua
 is bua na filiochta
 anuas chugam
 tri cheithre ghlun.

 [In Baile an tSleibhe
 is Cathair Leith
 above Dunleaveys' house
 from which one time
 the poet Sean moved
 out to the Great Blasket:
 his foxy hair
 and craft of words
 came down to me
 through four generations.]


In the second verse, she illustrates her physical and almost synaesthesial response to the world of nature there, as illustrated in the local flora, to which she specifically refers by the names by which they are known in the local dialect. This place-specificity is again re-emphasized through the incantation of place-names at the end of the verse:
 Ar thaobh an bhothair
 ta seidhlean
 folaithe ag crainn fiuise,
 is an feileastram
 bui
 o dheireadh mhi Aibreain
 go lar an Mheithimh,
 is sa chlos ta boladh
 lus anainne no caman meall
 mar a thugtar air sa duiche
 timpeall, i gCill Ura, is i gCom an Liaigh
 i mBaile an Chota is i gCathair Boilg.

 [From April's end into
 the heart of June
 the wayside stream is veiled
 under conspiracies
 of yellow flag
 and fuschia;
 the yard is scented
 with mayweed
 or camomile
 as it is called
 throughout this
 commonwealth of ground
 from Cill Uraidh to Com an Liaigh,
 from Baile an Chota to Cathair Boilg.]


These elements of personal and communal heritage are drawn together in the final verse through the reference to the trout (symbol of the life force in the tradition), to the magic ships and the eagles of the storytelling tradition and the silken spancels on the contented sheep, again all building up to the final place-name, An Chathair [The City], almost an eternal city:
 Is la
 i gCathair Leith
 do leim breac geal
 on abhainn
 isteach sa bhuicead
 ar bhean
 a chuaigh le ba
 chun uisce ann,
 an trath
 gur sheol tri arthach
 isteach sa chuan,
 gur neadaigh an fiolar
 i mbarr an chnoic
 is go raibh laincisi sioda
 faoi chaoirigh na Cathrach. (38)

 [It happened too
 in Cathair Leith
 a woman leading
 cows to drink
 saw a white trout
 leap from the stream
 to land alive
 inside her bucket--
 that time three ships
 surprised the bay,
 the eagle nested
 on the hill
 and Cathair sheep
 wore silken spancils.]


The physical landscape of the native place and its associated lore and traditions thus open the door, already depicted by Sean O Riordain in 'Fill Aris', to a universe of the imagination and at the same time provide a protective talisman against the alienation, the outsiderness, the otherness of the 'real' world. Speaking in 1992 at a conference on the Irish contribution to European culture, Ni Dhomhnaill confirmed this personal and communal genesis of 'I mBaile an tSleibhe' as follows:

What I experienced in Corca Dhuibhne then can only be described as an atavistic reaction. I felt a great sense of relief, a sense of belonging, of being a link in a long familial chain [...]. I used to sit on a ditch, with my cousin Betty, and have her name out to me all the townlands we could see from our vantage point: 'Fan, Cill Mhic a' Domhnaigh, Cathair Boilg, Baile an Chota, Cil Uraidh, Baile an Liaigh, Com a' Liaigh, Imileach Lach, Baile Treasna, Rath Fhionnain' [...] and so on, a marvelous litany of sonorous phrases. This I used to make her do again and again, until I knew them all by heart [...]. This initial language experience of Corca Dhuibhne imbues everything I have ever written. (39)

Poems such as 'I mBaile an tSleibhe', and the many other poems of place Ni Dhomhnaill has written, are significantly more than mere formulaic or onomatopoeic recitations of place-names or simplistic, romanticized descriptions of the beauty of certain places as seen in the work of the Revival poets. There is an underlying voyage of discovery in her poetry, an attempt to map what she calls 'an tirdhreach inmheanach' [the internal landscape] (40) in an identifiable physical and cultural landscape. Her poetry is thus a Dinnseanchas of the soul, a landscape of the imagination, which is at the same time firmly grounded in a specific frame of time and space. The narrator of the poems thus achieves significant moments of self-awareness and understanding in the familiar known world as opposed to the strange outside world where she wanders in dark unknowable places. As Ni Dhomhnaill herself has stated, 'This feeling of being "istigh liom fein"--bien dans ma peau--the for me rare and wonderful state of not being out with myself, was something I always associated with Corca Dhuibhne'. (41) Thus, both the symbolic and physical universes of the native tradition give meaning and comfort to her on a personal and a communal level, and she declares:
 Labhrann gach cuinne den leithinis seo liom
 ina teanga feinig, teanga a thuigim.
 Nil lub de choill na cor de bhothar
 nach bhfuil ag suiri liom,
 ag cogarnail is ag sioscarnaigh. (42)

 [Every nook of this peninsula can speak to me
 in its own tongue, in words I understand.
 There's not one twist of road or little grove
 that can't insinuate its whispered courtship at my ear.]


Moreover, Ni Dhomhnaill would claim further that this tradition of Dinnseanchas into which she consciously assimilates herself through her poetry is 'not historical at all, but mythological, or paranormal [...] beyond the ego-boundaries [...] a picture of our collective soul, writ large [...] a very valid and important way of dealing with the numinous [...] a very different tradition to that of conceptual thought'. (43) It is, moreover, a significant point of entry into the non-Cartesian mode of thought that is central to any understanding of her work. (44)

As with much of the work of Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, the poetry of a group of Connemara writers-Sean O Curraoin, Jackie Mac Donnchadha, Micheal O Cuaig, Seosamh O Guairim, Joe Steve O Neachtain, Johnny Choil Mhaidhc O Coistealbha, and others--draws much of its inspiration from what T. S. Eliot would have called 'the local organic community' and speaks, as Sean O Curraoin asserts, 'le glor udarasach o gharrantai beaga Bhearna' [with an authoritative voice from the small fields of Bearna]. (45) Indeed, O Curraoin, in his book-length serial poem concerning the life, times, and world of the prototype Connemara man, Beairtle, describes that world in the following terms:
 Domhan beag ann fein e domhan Bheairtle [...]
 Talamh sleibhe, lan eascai,
 Leanta is cnocain,
 Mutai mar bhabhuin a shonraionn teorainneacha
 Leis na comharsanai a choinneail amach. (46)


[Beairtle's world is small [...] | Mountainous land, full of hollows, | Water-meadows and hillocks, | Mounds like bulwarks denoting boundaries | To keep the neighbours out.]

There is also a sense of timelessness in much of this poetry, a sense of a long continuity over time, which establishes the home place as a strong point of reference and certitude in a constantly changing outside world. Thus the oral poet, Maire Ui Fhlatharta, in a poem on her home townland, Baile an Bhothair Bhui in An Cheathru Rua, paints a word picture of the Twelve Pins as if standing guard over Connemara and its people since time began:
 Amach uaim bhi na Beanna
 Mar oglaigh i bhfeisteas catha,
 Is iad reidh le fod a sheasamh
 O re na gcloch aniar
 I gcoinne scrios no slada
 Ruaig o mhuir no o thalamh
 Ar chine Chonamara
 O Mham go Bothar Bui. (47)


[Away from me stretched the Twelve Pins | As heroes in battle gear, | Ready to stand their ground | Since the stone age | Against destruction and plunder | Attack from sea or land | On the people of Connemara | From Mam to Bothar Bui.]

Such poetry sees Connemara, the home place, as the centre of the universe, a refuge for both body and soul against which the outside world is invariably unfavourably measured. As the well-known poet Tomas Mac Eoin, brother of Maire Ui Fhlatharta, says in his poem 'Conamara' [Connemara]:
 Na labhair liom ar ailleachtai tiortha i bhfad o bhaile,
 Is cuma liom ma mholann tusa iad;
 Na radharcanna is aille, i gConamara ata siad,
 Fagfaidh Conamara thu faoi dhraiocht. (48)


[Don't speak to me of the beauties of lands far from home, | I don't care if you praise them; | The most beautiful places are in Connemara, | Connemara will put a spell on you.]

This homage to the native hearth is a fundamental, even defining, element of the contemporary oral poetry of the Connemara Gaeltacht, an art form that traces an unbroken aesthetic and linguistic continuum back into the Gaelic tradition and is almost pre-modern in many ways, as can be seen in the poetry of the likes of Joe Sheamuis Sheain O Donnchadha, the brothers Learai and Coil Phadraic Learai O Finneadha, Tomas Mac Eoin, Tomas Seoighe, and many others, which I have discussed elsewhere. (49) It is also an underlying theme in much of the contemporary 'literary' poetry of the region.

In all this poetry, both 'oral' and 'literary', Connemara is mapped in the psyche through its ever-present physical features--land, sea, mountains, streams, fields, rocks--which shape the known world and, as a direct result, its accompanying worldview. Accordingly, Beairtle is described by O Curraoin in the opening sequence of his long poem as having been hewn from his environment, as being strong and deeply imbedded like a stump of bogdeal in mountainous land, 'carcair ghiusai i dtalamh sleibhe', or later as if cut from island greenstone, 'de ghlaschloich an oileain'. (50) In the following defining sequence, O Curraoin presents Beairtle's sense of oneness with his environment, his native place, as a passionate communion both in terms of the physical environment, including its place-names, wild birds, and physical features, and also of the cultural tradition, as represented by direct and intertextual allusions to the poetic tradition, songs, and dances:
 Musclaionn na Maoilini na paisiuin i mBeairtle.
 Is nuair a bhionn se imithe on mbaile
 Bionn maolchnoc is maoilin, droim is droimin,
 Ag deanamh deibhi scaoilte ina aigne.
 Eirionn a chroi le haoibhneas mar eirionn an ghaoth ar na Maola,
 Is mar scaipeas an ceo ar Sheana Fhraochog.
 Cloiseann se aris fead naosc is grag cearc fraoigh an tsleibhe
 Ar na Maoilini cuanna caomha
 Is bionn rimead air da n-eisteacht.
 Caitheann se seapanna is eirionn se macho
 Is buaileann se cois ar sheanphoirt Chonamara.
 Titeann ceo draiochta ina chornai mine ar an nglaschloch [...]
 Musclaionn na Maoilini na paisiuin
 Is biogann an croi le morghra don bhaile.
 Bionn dionbhrat na Boirne trid an gceo
 Ar nos dilphog mna oige da mhealladh.
 Tagann vaidhbeannai aoibhnis on tir thiar chuige
 Is tig bhearsai gra chun a bheil,
 Is nuair a thiteann an codladh ceadtach ar a cheadfai
 Bionn fuadach faoina chroi
 Ag briongloidi faoi na Maoilini. (51)


[The Maoilini awaken passion in Beairtle. | And when he is gone from home | The flat hills and hillocks, the ridges large and small, | Are as loose syllabic metres in his mind. | His heart jumps with joy just as the wind rises on the Maola, | And as the fog lifts on Seana Fhraochog. | He hears again the note of the snipe and the cry of the mountain grouse | On the pleasant comely Maoilini | And he rejoices in hearing them. | He throws shapes and becomes macho | And dances to the old Connemara tunes. | A magical mist rolls gently in upon the greenstone [...] | The Maoilini awaken passion in Beairtle. | And his heart leaps with great love for home. | The great cloak of the Burren through the mist | Seduces him like the loving kiss of a young woman. | Blissful vibes from back west come to him | And love songs are on his lips, | And when heavy sleep falls upon his senses | His heart races | Dreaming of the Maoilini.]

Such an internal map, psychically and culturally grounded in the landscape and cultural tradition of the home place, creates a feeling of insiderness, of belonging to a specific place and time, which in turn leads to a sense of personal freedom. The quest for this same sense of liberation is a fundamental theme in the poetry of the Donegal Gaeltacht poet, Cathal O Searcaigh. Much of his early work depicts a gradual homeward journey, aptly expressed in the title of his first selected poems, An Bealach 'na Bhaile--Homecoming. From the outset, the native place is a touchstone for all experience in the great outside. Many of his early poems describe the life of the emigrant (mostly in London) and while there is, at times, a sympathetic depiction of city life and scapes, and in particular touching portraits of inhabitants of the underground culture of the city--navvies, prostitutes, and cruising gays--the predominant note in the poetry is a strong feeling of alienation, of outsiderness, of not belonging, with a corresponding constant backward look towards home. Interestingly, the title poem of his debut collection, Miontragoid Chathrach (1975), draws on the incantatory power of recited placenames, already noted as fundamental to Dinnseanchas, to denote a sense of not belonging to the London cityscape:

Nil me ag iarraidh go ndeanfai faobhar m'oige a mhaolu is a scrios le meirg an diomhaointis i seomra beag tais

an Uaignis, i gKilburn no i dTufnell Park, i Walthamstow no i Holloway, i gCricklewood, i gCamden Town no in Archway.

Ni mian liom mo shaol a chaitheamh anseo leis an Uasal Uaigneas gan einne ag tabhairt cuairt ar mo chroi. (52)

[I do not wish that the sharpness of my youth be blunted and ruined by the rust of laziness in the small damp room | of Loneliness, in Kilburn or in Tufnell Park, in Walthamstow or in Holloway, in Cricklewood, in Camden Town or in Archway. | I do not wish to spend my life here with Mr Loneliness without anybody visiting my heart.]

Home is seen by the emigrant persona of these early poems as a 'clai cosanta' [protective ditch] (53) from which he at first wants to escape, but the overall emotion of the poetry is a wish to return in the imagination to the native heath. His poem 'Portraid den Ghabha mar Ealaiontoir Og' [Portrait of the Blacksmith as a Young Artist] describes the city as a claustrophobic landscape, symbolized by the enclosed space that is his bedsit in the Dublin suburb of Dun Laoghaire. Such an unnatural environment destroys all creativity:
 Ait chung a chraplaionn mo chuid oibre
 mar ghabha focal
 is a fhagann me istoiche go dearoil
 ag bru gaoil ar lucht oil
 seachas a bheith ag casuireacht danta do mo dhaoine
 ar inneoin m'inchinne.

 [A pokey place that cripples my wordsmith's craft
 And leaves me nightly in the dumps
 Scrounging kindred among the drunks
 Instead of hammering poems for my people
 On the anvil of my mind.]


In complete contrast, Caiseal na gCorr, the native place, is a life-giving, vital force, both in the sense of being a meaningful place and also as the source of artistic creativity:
 A! Da mbeinn aris i gCaiseal na gCorr
 ni i mo chiotachan a bheinn, leathbheo.

 Ni h, leoga! Ach i gcearta na teanga
 bheinnse go breabhsanta
 ag cleachtadh mo cheirde gach la. (54)

 [If I were back in Caiseal na gCorr
 I'd not be awkward, half-alive.

 No way! But in the smithy of my tongue
 I'd be hale and hearty
 Working at my craft daily.]


Poetry is, therefore, the act of recreating in the imagination the absent landscape of the home place encapsulated not only in its physical features of bog and hill but also in the frequent incantation of its placenames. Thus, in 'Piccadilly: Teacht na hOiche' [Piccadilly: Nightfall], while waiting for a friend in the menacing mouth of the Underground in a bitingly cold wind, hunger gnawing at his guts and surrounded by sullen Londoners, he states:
 Ta me ag fanacht ar dhuine inteacht
 le teacht na hoiche,
 ag eisteacht i mo shamhlaiocht
 le glaoch na gcnoc is na gcaoran
 o Mhin na Lea is o Mhin na Craoibhe
 o Phrochlais is on Dunan. (55)

 [I am waiting for somebody
 in the dusk
 yearning in my imagination
 for the call of the hills and the bogs
 from Min na Lea and from Min na Craoibhe
 from Prochlais and from Dunan.]


As with the poetry of Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill which, we have noted, grounds her own personal mandala in Corca Dhuibhne, O Searcaigh also delineates the co-ordinates of his own psychic map in the home place. It is, indeed, symbolically appropriate for a returning emigrant that one of his best-known poems, 'Anseo ag Staisiun Chaiseal na gCorr' [Here at Caiseal na gCorr Station], not only fulfills the wish expressed in 'Portraid den Ghabha mar Ealaiontoir Og' above, but is actually situated at a 'station' which serves as a liminal entry point in both a physical and psychic sense to the home place. It is here that he specifically grounds a feeling of insiderness, of belonging to a personal history, to a communal sense of identity and to a creative and unbroken cultural and literary tradition. Echoing O Direain's concept, already noted above, of the sacred 'oilean ruin', Caiseal na gCorr is from the outset a timeless sacred place in which he feels at one with his surroundings, and its parameters are once more established through the incantation of the place-names. In contrast to the sterile, soulless city in which the emigrant persona is but an outsider, poetry here has meaning on many levels, from the personal effort of seeking to write out the vacuum to the sense of belonging that the native file [poet] experiences in his own community, long an essential part of the Gaelic literary tradition. This sense of intergenerational continuum is further enhanced through the perception of the land as book, poem-book and manuscript, which his people have written in the ink of their sweat and which, unlike Montague in 'A Lost Tradition', O Searcaigh has the ability to read:
 Anseo, foscailte os mo chomhair
 go direach mar a bheadh leabhar ann
 ta an taobh tire seo anois
 o Dhoire Chonaire go Prochlais.
 Thios agus thuas tchim na gabhaltais
 a briseadh as beal an fhiantais.
 Seo duanaire mo mhuintire;
 an lamhscribhinn a shaothraigh siad go teann
 le duch a gcuid allais.
 Anseo ta achan chuibhreann mar a bheadh rann ann
 i mordhan an mhintireachais. (56)

 [Here before me, open
 like a book
 is this countryside now
 from Doire Chonaire to Prochlais.
 Above and below, I see the holdings
 farmed form the mouth of wilderness.
 This is the poem-book of my people,
 the manuscript they toiled at
 with the ink of their sweat.
 Here every enclosed field is like a verse
 in the great poem of land reclamation.]


This sense of self-confident maturity is at the heart of much of the poetry written in Irish since the late 1960s and is echoed in the celebration of place that is a fundamental theme in the work of many contemporary poets. There is, undoubtedly, more signification in the Dinnseanchas element of this poetry than a mere formulaic, ritualistic incantation of musical names or the simplistic romantic notion of natural beauty and its associated tranquility as seen in the poetry of the early Revival Movement in Irish. The poetry of that earlier period is somewhat 'unproblematic' and derives from an almost binary worldview which speaks in certitudes and sees the function of poetry as merely descriptive, celebratory, or revealing of obvious truths. The consciousness of this poetry is more akin to that of the premodern world with its fixity of identity defined by a claimed continuity of unbroken tradition, strong religious beliefs, and a sense of a unitary, definable, boundaried culture. By contrast, the modern, and even the postmodern, adventure as experienced over the full extent of the twentieth century is totally at variance with such a world of absolute certitudes, and this evolution in thought from the pre--to the postmodern is reflected in the development of poetry in Irish over that same period:

The postmodern apprehension of the world emphasises the inherent instability of meaning, our ability to invert signs and symbols, to recycle them in a different context and thus transform their reference. Earlier and less commercial cultures [...] sustain more stable symbolic codes. (57)

Liam O Muirthile has written in similar terms of his own evolution in thought from the objectively external to the subjectively internal:

Mhothainn le fada go raibh an ceantar seo (Iarthar Chorcai) ina dhuiche anama, gur inti a lonnaigh na hiomhanna priomhordula sin a dtrachtann Jung orthu, leaganacha arsa aircitipeacha den neamh-chomhfhios [...]. Tuigim anois go raibh breall orm mar gheall ar an duiche anama. Istigh ata an learscailiocht le deanamh. (58)

[I felt for a long time that this area (West Cork) was a region of the soul, that it was here that the primordial images that Jung speaks about, versions of the archetype of the unconscious, were to be found [...]. I understand now that I was wrong now about the region of the soul. The mapping must be done inside.]

The focus has changed. The function of poetry now is to illustrate the internal life, the psychic voyage. The process is, thus, a Dinnseanchas of the mind and spirit in the landscape of the imaginative or the imagined, though firmly anchored in a specific location in terms of both time and space. Many poets writing in Irish today consciously draw upon the symbolic universe of the world of Dinnseanchas through a process of internalization of the previously so-called objective. As Sean O Coileain has noted of Fiannaiocht [Fenian] literature in Irish:

The places have become internalized as literature with no physical or other restriction beyond that set by the poem itself. [...] Some [...] may have never had more than a potential existence, as it were to be actualized only in the imagination of the hearer. (59)

Speaking of the same process, Rolf Baumgarten notes 'the reduction of the locative function [...] from denotation to connotation'. (60)

A central, indeed in some cases defining, aspect of the poetry of Cathal O Searcaigh, Liam O Muirthile, Michael Davitt, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, and many others writing in Irish since the Second World War is an effort to construct a systematic psycho-cultural map of their own intimate lives, or as Gaston Bachelard would have it, 'examiner [...] les images de l'espace heureux [...] la topographie de notre etre intime', (61) a process he calls 'topophilie'. This map, however, does not operate on a grid system with specific, objectively definable cartographic locations in what Ni Dhomhnaill might call 'real-time'. It is, rather, a subjective personalized read on the journey, or immram of life, a metaphoric allusion (even illusion) to another reality, another perspective or way of reading the world in order to give it some sense of significance or meaning. Moreover, there neither is, nor can there ever be an absolute, immovable, incontrovertible certainty in this process. All is flux in the modernist and postmodernist worldview, and thus identity is ultimately a sense of becoming, of movement towards something one is seeking to define, rather than a principle set permanently in stone. As Edward J. Casey has argued:

Confronted with the actual emptiness of postmodernist space, each one of us attempts to move from the discomfort of disorientation in such space to the comparative assurance of knowing our way about. We do so by transmuting an initially aimless and endless scene into a place of concerted action, thereby constituting a dense placescape that, in close collaboration with our active bodies, guides us into orientation. Unplacement becomes inplacement as we regain and refashion a sense of place.

Moving bodies on land or at sea provide us with oriented and orienting placescapes. From being lost in space and time (or, more likely, lost to them in the era of modernity), we find our way in place. (62)

This sense of dislocation, of outsiderness, of not belonging is, without doubt, at the heart of the idea of journey that pervades much of the poetry of place discussed here. It is as if the lost postmodernist wanderer in the tourist town of Dingle, described in Liam O Muirthile's poem 'Sa Daingean' [In Dingle] as 'mise im chuairteoir aimneiseach aonlae' [an amnesiac day-tripper], were seeking to get away from the tourist route with its 'eachtrannaigh liofa ag siul an bhaile seo' [fluent foreigners walking this town] (63) in order to follow the narrator of a Cathal O Searcaigh poem on his Bealach 'na Bhaile [his way homewards]--and it must be noted, in this context, that the word abhaile [homewards] is not a place but rather a state of movement towards some, perhaps mythical, baile [home] whose existence is none the less posited by the very concept implied in the meaning of abhaile.

(1) W. B. Yeats, W. B. Yeats: The Poems, ed. by Daniel Albright (London: Dent, 1990), p. 60.

(2) W. B. Yeats: The Poems, p. 437.

(3) Yeats himself was very much aware of the meaning of the place-name in Irish and claimed that the 'purple glen' referred to in the poem in fact describes the reflection of the heather in the water (W. B. Yeats: The Poems, p. 437).

(4) John Montague, 'A Lost Tradition', Collected Poems (Dublin: Gallery Press, 1995), p. 33.

(5) Gaeltacht is the generic name for the Irish-speaking regions in Ireland, mostly found on the west coast. There are three main Gaeltacht regions, in Donegal, Galway, and Kerry, with some 30,000 native speakers of Irish in these areas.

(6) Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977), pp. 157-58.

(7) Sean O Tuama, 'Celebration of Place in Irish Writing', in Repossessions: Selected Essays on the Irish Literary Heritage (Cork: Cork University Press, 1995), p. 250.

(8) See Domhnall O Corcora, 'Filidheacht na Gaeilge: A Cineal', in Eigse na Maighe, ed. by Risteard O Foghludha (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1952), pp. 7-27.

(9) Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1991).

(10) Space and Place, p. 154.

(11) Nicholas Entrilein, The Betweenness of Place: Towards a Geography of Modernity (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1991), p. 1.

(12) James F. Weiner, The Empty Place: Poetry, Space and Being among the Foi of Papua New Guinea (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1991), p. 32.

(13) 'Reamhra', Duanaire an Cheid (Inveran, Co. Galway: Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 2000), pp. 14-17; 'D'Aithle na bhFili', Litriocht agus Pobal (Inveran, Co. Galway: Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 1997), pp. 251-61.

(14) Cuisle na hEigse, ed. by Ciaran O Coigligh (Westport: FNT, 1986), pp. 56-57. See also Diarmuid O Muimhneachain, Bhearsai Dha Chich Dhanann (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1946), pp. 22-23. All translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.

(15) Mairtin O Direain, 'Bua na Mara', Danta 1939-1979 (Dublin: An Clochomhar, 1980), p. 51.

(16) Danta 1939-1979, pp. 80-83.

(17) Micheal Mac Craith, 'On Oilean Ruin go dti Run an Oileain', in Cime mar Chach: Aisti ar Mhairtin O Direain, ed. by Caoimhin Mac Giolla Leith (Dublin: Coisceim, 1993), p. 15, describes the poetry of O Direain as a movement from the real geographic Aran Island of his early work to a symbolic representation of the island in his mature poems.

(18) Danta 1939-1979, pp. 36-41.

(19) The importance of place in the poetry of Mairtin O Direain is discussed in Isobel Ni Riain, Carraig agus Cathair: O Direain (Dublin: Cois Life, 2002); see in particular Chapter 2, 'An tOilean mar Ait agus mar Inspioraid Filiochta'. See also Isobel Ni Riain, 'Poetic Place and Geographical Space: An Analysis of the Poetry of Mairtin O Direain', Irish Studies Review, 10.3 (October 2002), 267-75.

(20) Sean O Riordain, 'Fill Aris', Brosna (Dublin: Sairseal and Dill, 1964), p. 41. ['Return Again', trans. by Sean O Tuama, 'Celebration of Place in Irish Writing', Repossessions, p. 261.]

(21) Cf. 'Chuamair faobhar na faille siar ag triall ar ar gclo ceart ar ior na speire. Dhealraigh se gurbh fhior an ior' [We went west by the cliff edge looking for the core of our minds on the horizon. It appeared as if the horizon was true], Liam O Muirthile, 'Ag cur cruca in inspioraid' [Hooking Inspiration], An Aimsir Og, 1 (1999), p. 80. See also Michael Davitt's poem, 'Faobhar na Faille siar in Anglia Sheain Ui Riordain' [West the cliff edge in Sean O Riordain's Anglia], Scuais (Inveran, Co. Galway: Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 1998), p. 46.

(22) See, for example, 'Aisling ag Casadh na Graige' [A Vision at Casadh na Graige], 'Ar fhilleadh abhaile o Dhun Chaoin' [On Returning from Dun Chaoin], 'Samhradh Inion Ui Riain' [The Summer of Ryan's Daughter], 'I gcuimhne ar Lis Cearnaighe, Blascaodach' [In Memory of Lis Cearnaighe, Blasket Woman], 'Seandaoine' [Old People], Gleann ar Ghleann (Dublin: Sairseal-O Marcaigh, 1982), pp. 11, 14, 23, 46, 62.

(23) Gleann ar Ghleann, p. 39.

(24) Liam O Muirthile, 'Comhar-Ra le Gabriel Rosenstock' [In conversation with Gabriel Rosenstock], Comhar (February 1984), p. 29.

(25) See, for example, his article 'Naisiun na mBailte Fearainn' [The Nation of Townlands] in his regular Irish Times column, 'An Peann Coitianta' [The Common Pen], 29 April 1993: 'Lion is ea e a mbraithim ceangailte ann uaireanta; uaireanta eile braithim gur me fein ata a shuiomh.' [It is a net I feel caught in at times; at other times I feel it is myself being put in position.] See also 'Tir na mBailte' [The Country of Townlands] Irish Times, 29 April 1993. Selections from O Muirthile's column have been published in book form, An Peann Coitianta (Dublin: Comhar, 1991), and An Peann Coitianta 2 (Dublin: Cois Life, 1997).

(26) Liam O Muirthile, Dialann Bothair [Road Journal] (Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1992); Walking Time agus danta eile [Walking Time and other poems] (Inveran, Co. Galway: Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 2000).

(27) Liam O Muirthile, 'Aois na Lice', Tine Chnamh (Dublin: Sairseal-O Marcaigh, 1984), p. 59.

(28) 'An Cursa Buan', Tine Chnamh, p. 48.

(29) Tine Chnamh, p. 45.

(30) Seamus Heaney, 'The Sense of Place', Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 (London: Faber, 1980), pp. 140-41.

(31) As can be seen, for example, in the various intertextual references and 'nativist' techniques mentioned above.

(32) O Muirthile's long dramatic poem 'Tine Chnamh' (Tine Chnamh, pp. 87-112), for example, a dionysian celebration of Midsummer's night, although universal in outlook, is very much grounded in Cork city.

(33) Davitt claimed in an early poem that he was of a generation so removed from rural life that 'ni aithneoinnse an chopog on neantog' [I would not recognize a nettle from a dockleaf] ('Seandaoine', Gleann ar Ghleann, p. 62).

(34) It is, however, worth noting that many of their lieux sacres are city-based, laying to rest the common fallacy among some critics that contemporary Irish literature in Irish cannot deal with city life.

(35) See Briona Nic Dhiarmada, 'Immram sa tSice: Filiocht Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill agus Proiseas an Indibhidithe', Oghma, 5 (1993), 78-94; Neasa Marnell, An Bealoideas i bhFiliocht Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill (unpublished master's thesis, National University of Ireland, Galway, 1993); Padraig de Paor, Tionscnamh Filiochta Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill (Dublin: An Clochomhar, 1997); Gearoid Denvir, 'Ni Sean go Nua is Ni Nua go Sean: Filiocht Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill agus Dioscursa na Gaeilge', in Teada Duchais: Aisti in Omos don Ollamh Breandan O Madagain, ed. by Mairtin O Briain and Padraig O Healai, (Inveran, Co. Galway: Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 2002), pp. 25-58.

(36) Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, 'An tAnam Mothala--The Feeling Soul', in The Cultures of Europe: The Irish Contribution, ed. by James P. Mackey (Belfast: The Institute of Irish Studies, 1994), pp. 179-80.

(37) Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, 'Mandala', Fear Suaithinseach (Maynooth: An Sagart, 1984), p. 77, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Selected Poems, trans. by Michael Hartnett (Dublin: Raven Arts Press, 1986), p. 60.

(38) Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, 'I mBaile an tSleibhe', An Dealg Droighin (Dublin and Cork: Mercier Press, 1981), pp. 79-80, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Pharaoh's Daughter, trans. by Michael Coady (Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1999), pp. 21-23.

(39) 'An tAnam Mothala', p. 172.

(40) 'Faisneis na hAimsire Inmheanai', Cead Aighnis (Dingle: An Sagart, 1998), p. 39 ['X-ray Weather Bulletin', Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, The Water Horse, trans. by Medb McGuckian (Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1999), pp. 79-83].

(41) 'An tAnam Mothala', p. 174.

(42) 'Ag Tiomaint Siar' [Driving West], Feis, p. 119 [Pharoah's Daughter, p. 133].

(43) 'An tAnam Mothala', pp. 180-81.

(44) This notion of the importance of 'an saol eile' [the otherworld] in Ni Dhomhnaill's poetry is discussed in my article referred to in n. 34 above.

(45) Sean O Curraoin, 'Toghadh na bhFatai' [Picking Potatoes], Soilse ar na Dumhchannai (Dublin: Taibhse, 1985), p. 27.

(46) Sean O Curraoin, Beairtle (Inveran, Co. Galway: Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 1985), p. 44.

(47) Maire Ui Fhlatharta and Tomas Mac Eoin, Loscadh Sleibhe (Inveran, Co. Galway: Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 1989), p. 9.

(48) Ui Fhlatharta and Mac Eoin, Loscadh Sleibhe, p. 18.

(49) See Gearoid Denvir, 'The Living Tradition: Oral Irish Language Poetry in Connemara Today', Eire-Ireland, 24 (Spring 1989), 92-108; 'Tradition et innovation dans la poesie orale du Conamara aujourd'hui', Etudes Celtiques, 29 (1993), 147-60; Litriocht agus Pobal (Inveran, Co. Galway: Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 1997); 'Is e an saol an Maistir: Filiocht Learai Phadraic Learai Ui Fhinneadha', Leachtai Cholm Cille, 29 (1999), 161-97.

(50) O Curraoin, Beairtle, pp. 9, 65.

(51) O Curraoin, Beairtle, p. 53.

(52) Cathal O Searcaigh, 'Miontragoid Chathrach' [Minor City Tragedy], Ag Tnuth leis an tSolas, (Inveran, Co. Galway: Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 2000), p. 37. (All references to Irish versions of O Searcaigh's poems are from this latest Irish-language volume of selected poems. There are minor textual differences between these texts and some earlier versions. Translations are from dual-language versions when available or are my own.)

(53) 'Miontragoid Chathrach', Ag Tnuth leis an tSolas, p. 36.

(54) Ag Tnuth leis an tSolas, p. 75, trans. by Gabriel Fitzmaurice, Cathal O Searcaigh, An Bealach 'na Bhaile--Homecoming (Inveran, Co. Galway: Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 1993), p. 85. It is, perhaps, worth noting here that while the Joycean metaphor of forging in the smithy of the soul is glaringly obvious, and certainly not original, the secondary Joycean notion of 'literary forgery' is absent in the Irish.

(55) Ag Tnuth leis an tSolas, p. 120 ['Picadilly: Nightfall', trans. by Greagoir O Duill, An Bealach 'na Bhaile--Homecoming, p. 73].

(56) 'Anseo ag Staisiun Chaiseal na gCorr', Ag Tnuth leis an tSolas, p. 126, 'Here at Caiseal na gCorr Station', trans. by Gabriel Fitzmaurice, An Bealach 'na Bhaile--Homecoming, p. 95.

(57) Denis Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels 'Introduction: Iconography and Landscape', in The Iconography of Landscape, ed. by Cosgrove and Daniels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 7-8.

(58) O Muirthile, 'Macalla o Ghleann an Phuca', An Peann Coitianta 2, p. 107.

(59) Sean O Coileain, 'Place and Placename in Fiannaigheacht', Studia Hibernica, 27 (1993), pp. 56, 60.

(60) Rolf Baumgarten, 'Etymological AEtiology in Irish Tradition', Eriu, 41 (1990), pp. 116, 121.

(61) Gaston Bachelard, La Poetique de l'Espace (Paris: Quadrige/Presses Universitaires de France, 1957), pp. 17-18.

(62) Edward J. Casey, Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), pp. 28-29.

(63) O Muirthile, Tine Chnamh, p. 34.

GEAROID DENVIR

School of Irish, National University of Ireland, Galway
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Author:Denvir, Gearoid
Publication:Yearbook of English Studies
Article Type:Critical Essay
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Date:Jan 1, 2005
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