The beginning of the role of Sinn Fein in Irish politics was certainly unconventional. During the infamous H-block hunger strikes in Belfast in the early 1980s, the Irish public responded to the British government’s unrelenting treatment of Irish political prisoners by electing Bobby Sands, the leader of the hunger strike, to the United Kingdom government. Although Sands died during the strike, his electoral victory was indicative of a significant shift in the approach of Sinn Fein from one of guerilla force and abstentionism to one of influential political participation. Sinn Fein candidates began running for Northern elections, and further political expansion in the South was quickly undertaken. The approach of this “new” Sinn Fein included “a radical political agenda based on energetic and aggressive representational politics,” which allowed them to quickly forge “a crucial connection with the electorate that republicans had lacked since the emergence of Fianna Fail in 1926” (Feeney 8). Sinn Fein was able to play a political role that other parties failed to in the 20th century by connecting more persuasively with the people.
Sinn Fein quickly began adopting the more multifaceted approach of simultaneously employing force through the IRA and increasing political clout by gaining seats in the government. This was referred to as the “Armalite and ballot box” strategy, and was effective until it became apparent that one approach was beginning to undermine the other. The Irish population was becoming tired of perpetual violence in civilian regions, and the official ceasefire of the IRA in 1998 and the Good Friday Agreement between the Irish and UK governments were a welcome reprieve from indiscriminate killing in the North.
All of this sudden political popularity led to the rise of significant individual leaders within the party. Gerry Adams was imprisoned for his suspected involvement with the IRA in the 1970s, but after his release became increasingly involved with Sinn Fein and was elected the head of the party in 1983. However, he has remained a provocative and contested leader through the beginning of the 21st century, mainly due to his suspected violent past. The international press frequently covers his actions, and media coverage by the United Kingdom is often highly critical of both his political and personal life. Recently, Gerry Adams has come out and denounced both the IRA and claims that Sinn Fein is still an affiliate as a result of the killing of republican Kevin McGuigan in Belfast. Although the era of the Troubles has technically ended, leaders such as Gerry Adams frequently have to face the reality that the period and its significance are not so very far in the past.
Considering it began as a propaganda arm of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, the political party Sinn Fein has come a long way in terms of rebranding for the purpose of assimilating itself into the modern Irish democratic process. Since the ceasefire of the IRA in 1994, Sinn Fein has evolved into a stand-alone party that backs many prominent candidates and vocalizes positions on many significant issues in current Irish politics. Although during the Troubles (late 1960s-late 1990s) Sinn Fein mainly took stances on issues relating directly to the impact of British internment, contemporary Sinn Fein has adopted new and varying social and economic causes relating to the welfare of the Irish population as a whole. Sinn Fein has transformed itself into a democratic socialist movement, but has retained the goal of uniting Ireland as an undercurrent to more modern political issues.
Learning about Irish history, and encountering the visible results of that history on our trip to Ireland, I noticed that there were many substantial events and themes that involve walls. Walled cities, houses that form walls along the street, walled Victorian gardens, architecture that encloses buildings, separates spaces between classes, walls erected in war or in defense, Ireland has a history entangled with walls and boundaries. On our trip from Galway to Dublin to Derry to Sligo, every town or city, every castle or garden, had some physical trace of Ireland’s history of conflict, partition, and separation. In Derry, for instance—a city at the center of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants and Great Britain, looking at the city’s walls was to look at the physical embodiment of the history of violence and failed policies of the place—to tell the story of the walls is to tell of the history of the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.
Likewise, to observe the walls of Ireland, in any sense, is to observe the boundaries that come up in its history and persist into the present day, and to observe how those boundaries have been permeated as conflicts begin to resolve and change. Ireland’s particular history of divisions between classes, religions, generations, and regions (to name a few) give walls certain significance in Ireland. That is not to say that all walls in Ireland have a broad historical meaning and connections to larger issues, but simply that there are many walls in Ireland that carry historical weight, and that it will be useful to our understanding of Irish history, I hope, to take a close look at these physical boundaries that exist today in Ireland.
Sites of Opposition in Derry
In Derry, Northern Ireland, the walls provide the most obvious key to the history of the landscape, with central areas of the city painted with very visible reminders of the centuries of sectarian conflict between Catholics and Protestants and Great Britain—starting with plantation in the mid 1600s, and capped off by the Troubles in the late 20th century. Derry is a walled city on a hill—a defensive settlement, protecting English colonizers from the Irish they were attempting to colonize. According to R.F. Foster, in Modern Ireland,
“In theory, the six counties of Armagh, Colerain, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Cavan and Donegal were to be worked on, producing an ideal pattern of close settlement that would feature urbanization and segregation…Chief undertakers would be allowed 3,000 acres, on condition that they were resident, settled English or Scottish families, and undertook to bear arms and build defenses.” (61)
Essentially, the new landowners, forcing land from the Irish, set up a feudal system under plantation, in which they’d plant themselves on Irish land, take the native Irish as tenants, and extract their labor for profit. The dispossession of the Irish created widespread resentment, and an unstable social and economic order that for years created unrest and injustice.
The walls in Derry tell the story of this unrest and injustice—both the Protestant walls making up the city center and the murals walls of the homes in the Catholic district outside of the city walls tell the story of sectarian conflict and opposition, and attempts at peace after the Troubles. During the Troubles, beginning in the late 60s, the Bogside neighborhood in Derry was the site of fierce conflict between Catholics—who had been denied basic civil rights like representation in government, opportunity for housing, and the right to assembly and free speech—and Unionists, who were the minority party holding the majority of power. In order to encourage peace in the increasingly sectarian conflict, a group of artists took to the walls of homes in the Bogside, and painted murals to discourage violence and oppose anti-Catholic violence from Unionist government and police force. The murals often face the Protestant walled city, and they can all be seen from atop the city walls, as if looking into the Bogside, the conflict looks back.
The murals that decry sectarian violence and British occupation are all visible from the city walls, making the walls not only protests for peace, but spaces of non-violent but aggressive opposition, intruding into the daily lives of those who walk the walls and live above the Bogside neighborhood.
The Protestant walls themselves are also visible sites of conflict. Built during the plantation period, the walls were designed as defenses for the English and Protestant undertakers of colonization. According to R.F. Foster, “The famous walls of Derry were completed in 1618 after four years of building, making it one of Ireland’s principal fortresses…Catholics were not allowed to settle inside Derry, as a threatening majority; they colonized the Bogside outside the walls” (74). The segregation imposed under plantation remained, and though today the walls have become open to all, evidence of sectarianism remains entrenched. The houses behind the walls, on the Protestant side, have metal screens in front of their windows to prevent projectiles thrown from the Bogside from breaking their windows. The towers interspersed between the walls are splashed with paint, and the wall that overlooks the Bogside is spray painted “End British Internment,” in opposition to British imprisonment of IRA members.
The walls of Derry illustrate the continuing results of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, showing the history of the conflict in murals and on the Protestant walls. Though the Troubles have arguably ended, and Northern Ireland is coming closer to reconciliation, Derry’s walls tell of a history of sectarianism and violence, separation and exclusion, and allow us to see evidence of those conflicts continuing into the present.
Architecture of Division
Much of the architecture constructed by the Irish upper class in the 18th century has remained until the present day in Ireland. The ascendancy architecture illustrates attempts to divide the population, to create insides and outsides, to create walls in society in order to maintain the ascendancy position of power over a majority poor Catholic lower class. Castles, government buildings, public housing, estates, and gardens were all built by upperclass Irish Protestants (the ascendancy) in order to make sure their landscape enforced the ascendancy’s power, and reached toward their aspirations toward British social status. Row houses in Dublin, the Irish parliament building, colleges, parks, and bank buildings, were all designed by ascendancy landholders and officials, in order to include members of the ascendancy and exclude Irish Catholics and lower classes.
According to R.F. Foster, the ascendancy, or the Anglo-Irish, of the 18th century saw themselves as “a social elite, professional as well as landed, whose descent could be Norman, Old English, Cromwellian or even (in very few cases) ancient Gaelic. Anglicism conferred exclusivity, in Ireland as in contemporary England; and exclusivity defined the Ascendancy, not ethnic origin. They comprised an elite who monopolized law, politics and ‘society’, and whose aspirations were focused on the Irish House of Commons” (170). The Anglo-Irish, then, saw themselves as the elite of Irish society, and built in order to enforce that exclusivity that they believed their Anglicism conferred. The evidence of this exclusivity is still visible in Ireland today, particularly in “Georgian Dublin,” and ascendancy estates in rural areas.
In Dublin, Georgian architecture–a style that ruled throughout the reign of the four Georges over the England–creates a sense of exclusive spaces, of insides and outsides, noble and peasant, creating both a sense of grandeur and nobility for the Anglo-Irish, while intimidating and excluding lower class Irish Catholics.
Trinity College in Dublin, as the seat of Anglo-Irish intellectualism from early in Ireland’s history of colonization, was firmly within the grasp of the ascendancy, reflecting their aesthetics and their aspirations. The college is built like a fortress, the buildings’ walls surround a central green with manicured grass upon which one is not allowed to step, and the only entrance to the green is two people wide, creating an exclusive space within and Anglo-Irish ethos that remained even once enrollment was allowed for Irish Catholics.
Colleges reminiscent of Trinity were built across Ireland as Anglo-Irish centers for education, status, and exclusivity, and following the same style of the green protected by outer walls, with a small entrance, creating a sense that the interior of the school is walled off to common Irish Catholics.
Row houses in Dublin also create boundaries between the public and the ascendancy life. The houses appear identical, side by side, not separated by alleys or walls–from the street they appear as one unified wall running along the road. The residences at Merrion Square in Dublin, still an upperclass area of the city, are a fine example of the facade that Georgian row houses create, as they create the illusion of a united front of ascendancy landowners.
In Dublin, the former and current buildings that house parliament also create the illusion of aristocratic grandeur and exclusivity. As the Anglo-Irish in Dublin competed for seats in parliament prior to the Acts of Union in 1801, which abolished Irish parliament altogether, they formed a sort of ascendancy social club in the Irish House of Commons, which provided a stage for ascendancy politicians. According to Foster, “The Irish high style of parliamentary rhetoric was celebrated: a language of baroque metaphor and personification, punctuated by brutal rejoinders. The most business-like debates were far less well attended than those which permitted lofty attitudinizing” (234). The inclusivity for Anglo-Irish members of the House of Commons, and the exclusivity for Catholics and lower classes, is well reflected in the architecture of the parliament buildings.
Big Houses and the Controlled Landscape
Big Houses, built in rural Ireland by Anglo-Irish landlords beginning in the 18th century, represent another attempt to create walls between classes, and to control the landscape of the countryside. According to Foster, “That Ascendancy desire to build and to plan deserves some attention: it may indicate an obsession with putting their mark on a landscape only recently won and insecurely held” (193). The ascendancy built imposing structures in the countryside, in order to mark their landscape as their own and, as Foster explains, to create the illusion of their ancient roots in Ireland: “…the larger Irish houses were treated to castellation and gothicizing…the Ascendancy built in order to convince themselves not only that they had arrived, but that they would remain” (194). Indeed, the Big Houses of the Anglo-Irish betray attempts at looking fortified and ancient, as well as opposed to the land upon which they sat. Big Houses create walls between the Anglo-Irish culture within, and peasant life without, the backs of whom which the Anglo-Irish culture rested.
Glenveagh Castle, one of many responsible for brutal evictions during the famine period, is one of the increasingly few Big Houses that is not presently in decline. Glenveagh is maintained and curated by the state, taking in tourists all year long, boasting well-kept and expanding gardens, and well-furnished rooms. On our tour of Glenveagh, the introduction video and the guides glossed over the evictions that made it possible for the castle and gardens to be built, and made sure to point our the wealth on display at the castle, which alludes to the fact that the allure of opulence still holds sway to those who come to see these castles, and that there remains a divide between historical fact and the world of the ruling class. The castle itself presents a harsh exterior to the surrounding landscape and to the tenants that once lived there, exuding authority as it rises up from in front of the water.
The estate at Strokestown was different, and presented a more contextualized view of the history of the famine, without so much veneration of wealth. The estate is now home to Ireland’s national famine museum, and was the site of brutal evictions of thousands of Irish tenant farmers during the famine. Inside the museum, displays take you through the history of the famine, and the history of the famine and evictions at Strokestown itself, doing much to erode the walls built between the desolation and violence that allowed the Anglo-Irish to occupy thousands of acres of estates.
At each estate we visited, we were privy to a tour of the walled Victorian gardens, which allowed us to see how the landowners attempted to mark and control the physical landscape around them. At Strokestown, the walled garden was in decay, but slowly being restored. Still, the garden was only accessible by code, which you had to retrieve from a tour guide, and it was being restored to a Victorian style, which, even in its remnants at Strokestown, visibly sought to change the landscape into straight lines, manicured grasses and hedges, and private areas for aristocratic leisure. The walls themselves separated the garden from the surrounding landscape, which, prior to their evictions, contained tenant farmers upon whose labor these estates and gardens were built.
The gardens at Strokestown and Glenveagh did have certain aspects that subverted the walled, controlled aesthetic. At Strokestown, the woods next to the garden wall contained a walk of folk and childrens’ art, which celebrated Ireland’s mythology and natural landscape, instead of attempting to control the landscape and hide the peasantry from view. At Glenveagh as well, recent developments in the garden, headed by a very passionate gardener, have seen the garden turn from a walled and controlled artificial landscape into a garden that attempts to work itself into the natural landscape, and to celebrate the natural flora and fauna of Ireland. Both exterior gardens represent a turn away from the ascendancy penchant for creating boundaries between the landscape and its people, and toward permeating those walls, and celebrating the landscape and its people.
Foster, R. F. Modern Ireland, 1600-1972. New York, N.Y.: Penguin, 1989. Print.
All in all, this trip to Ireland was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The Irish literature course I took last semester really provided an excellent framework for me to get the most out of this trip; I was already pretty enamored with the poetry of W.B. Yeats, and interested in the unique history and culture that Ireland carries. I had come into the trip expecting the discussions to be more engaging because we were on site, but I don’t think I anticipated how much of a difference it would actually make. Hiking through the areas that inspired so much of Yeats’ poetry allowed me to feel and experience the land that Yeats loved and admired in a way that was very deeply personal. I really appreciated all the effort on the part of Prof. Cope and Prof. Doggett to constantly connect where we were to what we were reading. There was something invigorating about reciting “The Stolen Child” on the bus coming into Sligo, and then walking up to see the waterfall.
My experience at the Yeats Summer School was truly rewarding as well. I really liked the way they set it up, with the morning lectures and afternoon seminars. The lectures were all interesting and entertaining and provided good food for thought before the seminars in the afternoon. The seminars were definitely my favorite part of the Yeats summer school. Perhaps I was lucky to have incredibly charismatic and passionate professors for both weeks, but it was something I looked forward to every day. I enjoyed looking at Yeats’ poetry with meticulous detail through the lens of a context I had never considered before – the Occult, for the first week, and Yeats’ madness, for the second. I have to say that I learned some of the most fascinating things about Yeats and his character during the seminars on the Occult. I’m an English major, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to know a writer from the past on such an intimate level before. It really makes you experience their writing under a whole new light.
I was pleased with how both Prof. Cope and Prof. Doggett worked really well together to create cohesive lessons that effectively incorporated both History and English. It allowed for a very multifaceted experience, to be able to look at the readings from both a historical and literary perspective. Knowing the basic history of Ireland and having read works by Wolfe Tone and Patrick Pearse meant being able to recognize subtle differences in culture and atmosphere as we moved from place to place. Dublin, with its various monuments and museums, seemed proud of the brave men who stood up for Ireland through its rich but violent history; Sligo seemed to be bursting with pride for Yeats and his love for the countryside nearby. Derry was a whole new kind of world, parts of it seeming almost frozen in time, old signs and flags from history still serving as a constant reminder of the past.
I had never been across the Atlantic prior to this experience, and this has honestly only made me want to travel more. I’m excited to do so, but I don’t think anything will be quite like this study abroad experience. Experiencing other cultures will always be rewarding, but the knowledge and insight I acquired from the class discussions, lectures, seminars and carefully planned events and tours truly made this trip unlike any other.
Though dissimilar at first, Northern Ireland during The Troubles and modern-day Palestine show a striking resemblance to each other. Both nations differ vastly in terms of culture. However, each nation has undergone (or still is undergoing) the normalcy of violence and criminalization of everyday civilians. These two countries are compared through examples of modern day Palestine in the news, and John Conroy’s Belfast Diary, which gives a first-person perspective on Conroy’s time in Belfast during The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Palestine’s everyday violence heightened in the summer of 2014 when Israel announced “Operation Protective Edge,” a strategy designed to protect Israeli’s from Hamas rockets fired from Palestine. This operation lasted approximately fifty days, yet ended up being one of Palestine’s most deadly summers. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, 1,1462 of which were civilians, many women and children. But these statistics do not do justice to the crude lifestyle that Palestinians face everyday: rather, an insider’s perspective does a better job.
Checkpoints instated by the Israeli government are a part of daily life for most Palestinians. An Israeli NGO called “Break the Silence” brings together soldiers from the Israeli army who recount their experiences working in Palestine. This organization is important not only to Palestine, but to give a sense of the type of behavior that is expected or generated by soldiers occupying another state. Clearly, this helps give an idea of what creates tension at a checkpoint. Sergeant Tal Wasser claims that his days at the checkpoints were long and tiresome. “If a Palestinian annoys one of the soldiers, one of the things they’d do is throw him in the Jora, which is a small cell…they close the metal door on him and that would be his punishment for annoying, for being bad.” (The Guardian). Although inhumane, soldiers feel that they can treat Palestinians that way: a sense of morale is gone. Some soldiers want to increase their status in the workforce, others are simply doing what they are told to do. Another soldier, Gil Hillel, recounts an elderly Palestinian man being brutally beaten up for simply walking in the “wrong part” of Nablus. Still, it is important to remember that Palestine is not the only nation that sees or has seen this type of brutality.
Northern Ireland, particularly during The Troubles, has seen immense brutality that parallels directly to modern day Palestine. This is seen multiple times in in Conroy’s Belfast Diary. One example of this is when Conroy describes the amount of car theft that occurred due to lack of flat security due to the hunger strikes. Cars were stolen mostly by teenagers for “joyrides,” and would get shot at by the army at checkpoints. Many times the teens were driving safely, but they were framed into the crime: “Usually, however, it is the army that does the shooting and the police that give chase” (Conroy, 84). This shows how the authorities at the time are able to make any sort of civilian a criminal, similar to what happens in modern day Palestine. It is important to see the links between each country, as it can potentially prevent the normalcy of violence occurring in the future as well as in other parts of the world.
Ireland and Pakistan aren’t ever really thought of in the same category. However, many fail to realize that both countries have more in common than what meets the naked eye. Both countries were conquered by England at one point, and faced a brutal partition afterward. Additionally, both countries have their own respective native languages which still exist to some extent. After English colonization, the English language was present, if not prominent in each nation. One of Pakistan’s official languages is English, and in Ireland, the English language dominants the entire country: only leaving a small percentage of those who learn and speak Gaelic today. Nonetheless, the presence of the Irish Gaelic language still exists in Ireland today-just as Urdu still exists in Pakistan.
Above: The Irish flag and the Pakistani flag, respectively.
Above: A sign to Nun’s Island in Galway, Ireland. Most, if not all signs in Ireland contain information in both Irish Gaelic and English.
Above: Information on The Burren, written in Irish Gaelic.
Background/History of the Irish Gaelic Language:
Also spreading to Scotland, the Irish Gaelic language has been present since before 300 BC. The first evidence of the language was written on stones. This is called Ogham, a form of writing using notches or strokes. Containing only eighteen letters in its alphabet, the language dominated Ireland for hundreds of years until the Anglo-Norman conquest in 1601. There are three dialects of Irish Gaelic: Ulster Irish Gaelic, Connacht Irish Gaelic, and Munster Irish Gaelic. The language was even once known as a “political subversion” (Margaret B. Sutherland), and was characterized as a barbarian language by the English. The language was still spoken by Irish natives, but with the Irish Penal Laws, plantation systems and other restrictions it ended up dying out. The English language took over, and is debated as Ireland’s “mother tongue” nowadays. Today, very few people speak or understand Irish Gaelic (though the dialects do still exist today). Typically, Irish Gaelic is really only spoken at home in certain areas of Ireland (see map below). Despite an Irish Gaelic revival in the early 2000s, the language still isn’t spoken all too commonly. It is mandatory for students to learn Irish Gaelic in primary school, though many students dread it and do not retain their knowledge of it. Additionally, several Gaelic-only speaking schools exist in Ireland, in which parents can send their child to if they wish.
*Green areas indicate a presence of the Irish Gaelic language.
Learn some Gaelic:
Background/History of Urdu:
A language evolving from Farsi and Arabic, Urdu emerged around 711 in the Sindh Province of what is now modern day Pakistan. Urdu contains thirty-eight letters in its alphabet, with no proper uppercase or lowercase. The Persian and Turk invasion of the Indian subcontinent urged those who spoke Hindi and those who spoke Arabic to merge the language together, ultimately forming Urdu. However, Urdu was not fully developed and commonly spoken until the rise of the Mughal Empire in 1526. Nowadays, Urdu is one of Pakistan’s seven official languages. Generally speaking, Urdu is spoken all over Pakistan. However, certain areas, such as the Sindh province have a higher concentration of those who speak the language. Below illustrates a map of where Urdu, along with several other languages in Pakistan, is spoken:
Learn some Urdu:
Similarities between Irish Gaelic and Urdu:
Surprisingly, there are some similarities between Irish Gaelic and Urdu. As mentioned in the videos above, a greeting in Gaelic is “Dia is Muire dit,” meaning “God and Mary to you.” In Urdu, the greeting for saying “Hello” is “Asalaam o’alaikum,” meaning “Peace be unto you.” Although the meaning isn’t exactly the same, it is obvious that both Gaelic and Urdu have religious undertones in their language. Similarly, counting numbers sound somewhat similar in Irish as it does in Urdu. It isn’t as strikingly similar as some of the Romantic languages (as mentioned in the video above), but certain vowels and short syllables show a resemblance:
Irish Gaelic, 1-10:
Urdu, 1-10 (start at 0:30 seconds) :
Clearly, there are some striking similarities between Irish Gaelic and Urdu. Nonetheless, languages will also differ in comparison, too.
Differences between Irish Gaelic and Urdu:
Irish Gaelic and Urdu both sound pretty different when it comes to sentences coming together. Also, Irish Gaelic is much older than Urdu. Urdu was not founded until 711, and it didn’t fully develop until 1206. Additionally, Urdu didn’t become a very popular language until the establishment of the Mughal Empire in 1526. Nowadays, Urdu is considered one of Pakistan’s official languages, and is still spoken commonly in the country. Although the English language is also present in Pakistan (and is considered one of Pakistan’s official languages), it is not as commonly spoken as it is in Ireland. In fact, English is really only studied/spoken by the upper-class in Pakistan, or those who have access to higher education. On the contrary, some may argue that Ireland’s mother tongue is now English instead of Irish Gaelic.
Additionally, each language has incredibly different pronunciations. In old Irish Gaelic, “broad” vowels are a, o, and u. “Slender” vowels would be the letters e and i. According to Annie Loughlin from Gaol Naofa (an organization committed to learning about Gaelic culture), the vowels sound like this:
a — in the first syllable of a word, it is lengthened, as in farther (or rather, if you have a posh English accent!) a — in the second syllable of a word, it is a shortened sound, as in woman o — a short sound, as in hot u — a short sound, as in put e — in the first syllable of a word, a short sound as in pet e — in the second (and subsequent) syllable of a word, as in mother i — a short sound, as in sit, but the sound can be changed by other vowels next to it
. There are seven vowels in Urdu, which according to BBC, sound like this:
The ‘a’ in ‘father’
The ‘ee’ in ‘seed’
The ‘oo’ in ‘boot’
The ‘o’ in ‘order’
The ‘au’ in ‘Australia’
The ‘e’ in ‘help’
The ‘a’ in ‘apple’
And the “short vowels” in Urdu sound like this:
The ‘a’ in the English word ‘about’
The ‘i’ in ‘bin’
The ‘u’ in ‘put’
Clearly, there is a large difference in pronunciation between each language. Urdu and Irish Gaelic do have accents or symbols which can alter the way certain words or letters are pronounced, just they differ in the script that they are written and how they are interpreted.
My experience with the Gaelic language in Ireland:
Generally speaking, I wasn’t able to find too many people who spoke Gaelic when I went to Ireland. When I asked, most cringed at the thought of speaking it an described it as their toughest subject to learn in primary school. However, I was able to talk to two people who spoke some Gaelic. One man was a shopkeeper in Sligo, and he was fluent in Gaelic (Connacht dialect). Although his father spoke no Gaelic, his grandfather did, which is from who he learned. He was thrilled to report that both of his grandchildren were enrolled in a Gaelic-only speaking school, so they would be fluent in the language. I asked him why most people in Ireland seemed to cringe when I asked them about when they learned Gaelic. His response was that those who do not enjoy learning about the Gaelic language most probably had it taught poorly to them. He believed that a good teacher would enable most students to actually enjoy the Gaelic language, which I believe can go for all subjects in the academic world. He then showed me what the inscription above the door of his shop meant:
The phrase here means that “God’s help is closer than the door,” a phrase to encourage prayer or to restore faith in God.
I was very grateful for the experience I had in Ireland and hope to visit again, next time maybe even trying some Gaelic myself.
BBC. “The History of Irish Gaelic.” BBC. 29 October 2014. Web. 22 Aug 2015. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/voices/multilingual/irish_history.shtml>
BBC. “A Guide to Urdu.” BBC. 2014. Web. 22 Aug. 2015. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/other/urdu/guide/alphabet.shtml>
Loughlin, Annie. “A Beginner’s Guide to Old Irish Pronunciation.” Gaol Naofa. 2015. Web. 22 Aug. 2015. <http://www.gaolnaofa.org/articles/a-beginners-guide-to-old-irish-pronunciation/>
MacLeod, Michelle. “The Plight of Three Celtic Languages–Welsh, Irish and Gaelic.” Scottish Language 29 (2010): 91+. Academic OneFile. Web. 22 Aug. 2015.
Sutherland, Margaret B. “Problems of Diversity in Policy and Practice: Celtic Languages in the United Kingdom.” Comparative Education. Volume 36, No. 2. pgs 199-209. May 2000.
Oideas Gael. “Language and Culture Summer School.” Oideas Gael. 2012. Web. 22 Aug. 2015. <http://www.oideasgael.ie/en/language-and-culture-summer-school/>
WDC (World Digital Library), Govt. College Lahore. “The History of the Urdu Language.” World Digital Library. 11 May 2015. Web. 22 Aug. 2015. <http://www.wdl.org/en/item/9700/>
In John Derrick’s Image of Irelande, a series of wood carvings and respective captions portray the Irish in a negative light, on the basis of culturally different borders and boundaries. In the caption for the third wood carving of the series, Derrick writes about the Irish “lacking pans, to boil the flesh, his hide prepare,” indicating some sense of distaste in their lack of cookware to separate the meat from the fire. Moreover, the wood carving attached to the caption presents a picture of the Irish people eating on the floor, which further depicts them as what the English would perceive as “uncivilized” behavior at the time.
In View of the Present State of Ireland, Edmund Spenser demoted other aspects of the Irish way of life, claiming that “the people that live…in the woods…grow thereby more barbarous, and live more licentiously than they would in towns…for there they think themselves half exempted from law and obedience.” Here, Spenser is drawing a dividing line between what he perceives to be two separate physical spaces, nature and civilization; in doing so, he ultimately uses that border as a way of determining the behavioral characteristics of those on either side of the line.
While Spenser and other had often vilified the Irish for not respecting the physical and cultural boundary between nature and civilization, Irish poet W.B. Yeats chose to portray that quality in a positive light. In his poem “Who Goes with Fergus,” Yeats poses the question to Irish readers, “Who will go with Fergus now, / And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade, / And dance upon the level shore?” Here, Yeats refers to Fergus as dancing upon the “level shore,” a liminal space that is literally on the boundary between two different regions. Fergus is dancing, suggesting a kind of romantic freedom in ignoring physical and cultural demarcations.
Likewise, Yeats’ poem “The Song of Wandering Aengus” also works to glorify the fluidity of borders and boundaries. In the heart of nature, the speaker states “When I had laid it on the floor, I went to blow the fire aflame.” In direct contrast to Derrick’s negative representation of the Irish people eating on the floor, Yeats depicts the act in a romantic light. In the middle of the poem, the “glimmering girl, with apple blossom in her hair,” also symbolizes the balance between nature and humanity. Like Fergus, the girl celebrates this balance by wearing a crown of flowers in her hair.
It is clear that Yeats was quick to romanticize the act of breaking down borders and boundaries, but not in every case. During his era, some women were in the process of challenging social conventions and becoming more involved in politics; it became apparent, however, that Yeats did not support that kind of behavior. Yeats’ poem “Easter 1916” reflects this mentality. In it he writes, in reference to the female revolutionary nationalist Constance Markievicz, “That women’s days were spent / In ignorant good-will, / Her nights in argument / Until her voice grew shrill.”. In contrast to the “glimmering girl” from “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” the woman in this poem presents a kind of idealized beauty that has since been ruined and corrupted by what Yeats clearly considers to be a field for men.
In the final lines of the poem, Yeats redeems the men described in the beginning lines by immortalizing their last names in verse. While this naming process honors the memories of MacDonagh, MacBride, Connolly and Pearse, Constance Markievicz receives no such redemption. At the end of the poem, she is still the nameless figure who spent her days “in ignorant good-will.” While Yeats liked the concept of breaking down boundaries in theory, he was clearly threatened by women who did so. Ultimately, in this poem and many others, Yeats is not celebrating the act of breaking down cultural boundaries, but rather drawing his own demarcations based on his individual perspectives.
Edmund Spenser. View of the Present State of Ireland.
John Derrick. Image of Irelande.
William Butler Yeats. “Who Goes with Fergus.” Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats. Scribner, 2008. Kindle.
William Butler Yeats. “The Song of Wandering Aengus.” Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats. Scribner, 2008. Kindle.
William Butler Yeats. “Easter 1916.” Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats. Scribner, 2008. Kindle.
In April 1969, at the beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, newly elected Bernadette Devlin took her seat the Westminster Parliament and spoke in defiance of the ruling party, advocating non-violence and resistance to the oppressive Unionist government of Northern Ireland.
By 1969, the North had been the scene of growing conflict between a dispossessed population of Catholics and poor Protestants, and a majority Protestant government concerned with maintaining power and connections to the United Kingdom. Devlin made her maiden speech in Parliament in the wake of increasingly violent clashes between civil rights protesters and Protestant mobs supported by police.
In her first speech to Parliament, Devlin derides Parliament’s support for the Unionist party, advocates for unity between working class Protestants and Catholics, urges the importance of non-violent resistance in civil rights, and outlines many of the issues facing the poor in the North, including lack of representation in a sectarian government that refuses to share power.
A year earlier, in April 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. made his final speech in Memphis Tennessee, rallying support for the contentious Memphis sanitation strike, after a march turned violent. In his speech, King demands nonviolence and unity between sanitation workers and civil rights leaders, keeping the civil rights movement’s wider goal in mind: freedom and equality for every person.
King urges spiritual sacrifice and brotherhood, appealing to the history of the civil rights movement in America, while also urging leaders to take into account objective economic and social conditions that they must reform, and structures they must work to overturn.
As John Conroy remarks in Belfast Diary, “Northern Catholics in Belfast had a position in society equivalent to blacks in the United States at that time,” and that similarity comes across when comparing these texts: both speakers favor non-violence, both highlight the true political and economic power of a united movement, and both allude to wider aspirations to overturn social structures that breed inequality. A look at these two speeches also reveals where a comparison between the conditions of blacks in the United States and Catholics in Northern Ireland breaks down, particularly in the leaders’ attitudes toward religion, and their views on violence as defense for a non-violent movement.
Taken together, these two documents illustrate common themes between two different civil rights movements, revealing a common struggle to maintain non-violence against a violent and unjust socio-economic structure that dispossesses the many and favors the few. The two speeches also highlight important differences between the conditions of Northern Ireland and America in the 1960s. Devlin and King regard religion very differently, as the history of Northern Ireland is one of division by religion, and King uses religion to reach across racial and class divides. Regarding non-violence, Devlin and King share views on the morality and tactical advantage that non-violence has over violence, but differ over when violence is acceptable as self-defense, as Devlin quips, “I organized the civilians in that area to make sure they wasted not one solitary stone in anger.”
While the civil rights movements in the American South and Northern Ireland are often seen as parallel to each other, a direct comparison of speeches from their respective leaders reveals the common struggles of civil rights movements against entrenched unjust social structures, or as King puts it, “something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up.”
The Clancy Brothers: Their Contributions to the American Folk Music Revival, and the Irish Folk Tradition
The contributions of the Clancy Brothers to Irish and American folk music cannot be understated. They were the strongest Irish folk presence in the American Folk Music Revival of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and their influence on this movement was immense. Their influence in Ireland was of even greater importance, as they gained popularity during a time in which traditional folk music had been mostly forgotten in the country. This paper will give a brief history of the Clancy Brothers, then go on to discuss their influence on the American folk scene of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and finally discuss the Clancy Brothers’ crucial role in revitalizing traditional folk music in Ireland. Also attached to this project is an arrangement for a cappella performance of a well known song performed by the Clancy Brothers, “Wild Mountain Thyme,” (alternatively known as “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go). A brief description of the arrangement process will also be included.
The Clancy Brothers, from Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, grew up in a musical household. Liam Clancy recalls in his autobiography The Mountain of the Women: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour,” his father entertaining them by singing songs from Italian operas. He also mentions that his father was singing in gibberish, although his vocals were very good (Clancy, 30). After traveling Ireland for a period of time recording traditional music with an American musicologist (during which time he first met future musical collaborator Tommy Makem) and performing in theatrical roles, Liam Clancy left Ireland to join his brothers, Tommy and Paddy, in New York. After becoming acquainted with the New York folk music scene, The Clancy Brothers met up with Tommy Makem and formed a record label called Tradition Records. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem recorded their first album, The Rising of the Moon for this label. Liam Clancy bemoans the group’s first effort in his autobiography, saying “the album was a bunch of songs belted out in unison by four raw voices with occasional accompaniment from Paddy’s harmonica… to us it was just plain embarrassing” (Clancy 145). However, the album was well received by the very few that heard it. Tradition Records was a success, and the label began producing albums from up and coming folk stars, including Odetta, Alan Lomax, and the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem themselves. During this time, before The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem truly took off as a musical group, the members were pursuing careers as actors. However, the group began to come together as a musical act after the release of their album Come Fill Your Glass With Us, a collection of Irish drinking songs. At this point, although they continued acting, the group members seemed to begin to stop viewing themselves as actors who dabbled in singing. This album led to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem being booked for the first time for performances around Greenwich Village. The group was even booked in a club in Chicago, where they ended up spending a month playing shows (Clancy 235). Before long, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem became regulars of the Greenwich Village club scene. They found managers and began to make a name for themselves in the area. The group continued to gain momentum, and in January 1961, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show (Clancy 280). While their popularity was secured in the United States, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were still unknown in Ireland. This changed when a popular Irish radio broadcaster, Ciarán Mac Mathúna came to America and returned with several of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem’s albums. He played the albums on his radio program, and soon group became a sensation in their native Ireland. With the help of Ciarán Mac Mathúna, a tour of Ireland was organized. Tommy Makem recalls how he and the Clancy Brothers did not know what to expect from their first concert. To everyone’s relief, the crowd was welcoming, the venue was packed, and there were even people who would not fit in the venue standing outside (Makem). The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem’s popularity in Ireland soared, and in 1964, one third of all records sold in Ireland were The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem records (“The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem: History”). The late 1960’s and the 1970’s saw several departures and lineup changes within the group. Tommy Makem left in 1969 to pursue a solo career. Bobby Clancy, the brother who had stayed in Ireland, replaced him. After another round of lineup changes, Liam Clancy left the group in 1974, and reunited with Tommy Makem as Makem and Clancy. The duo performed together for 13 years. In 1990, Tom Clancy died, and in 1991, after an amicable split from Tommy Makem, Liam returned to the Clancy Brothers. The rest of the 1990’s saw a myriad of lineup changes, and the deaths of Paddy Clancy in 1998. In 2002, Bobby Clancy died, and four years later, Tommy Makem also passed. Now the last remaining member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Liam Clancy remained musically active until his death in 2009 (“The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem: History”).
The Clancy Brothers, with what was at the time considered their “exotic” style and influences, significantly affected the American Folk Revival. They were the first Irish act to arrive on the American Folk scene. Their adaptations of Irish folk tunes were accessible to an American audience (Motherway, 91). Throughout their time spent immersed in the Greenwich Village folk scene, they shared their type of music with numerous up and coming musicians. They met and befriended many of these musicians including Pete Seeger, a leader of the American Folk Revival, whom the Clancy Brothers enlisted to play banjo on one of their albums. They also met American folk legend Woody Guthrie after a benefit for Guthrie, who was permanently hospitalized with Huntington’s disease. Liam Clancy recalls, “It was a sad way to meet a great soul for the first and last time” (Clancy, 144). Through Tradition Records, the label that the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem ran, the group formed connections with an extensive list of folk musicians, including Odetta, John Jacob Niles, Etta Baker, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Woody Guthrie’s collaborator Cisco Houston, and the famed American musicologist and collector of folk music Alan Lomax (Clancy, 119-120). However, the musician that the Clancy Brothers seemed to have had the most significant influence on is Bob Dylan. Liam Clancy said of Dylan, “Everywhere you went in the Village this young, restless, fidgeting kid seemed to be there… we got to like him and we started hanging out together at the Village parties” (Clancy, 257). Supposedly, it was the Clancy Brothers who gave Dylan his first break by suggesting him to John Hammond of Columbia Records to fill in as a harmonica player for a recording session. Shortly thereafter, Dylan signed with Columbia records, and Hammond served as his producer (“Clancy Brothers Influence”). Dylan considers the Clancy Brothers, specifically Liam, to be one of his biggest influences and heroes. He says in the documentary No Direction Home, “What I heard in the Clancy Brothers was rousing rebel songs, napoleonic in scope. They were just these musketeer type characters. And on the other level, you had the romantic ballads that would just [show] the sweetness of Tommy Makem and Liam” (No Direction Home). After joining Dylan on stage to perform “When The Ship Comes In” for Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert, Liam Clancy allegedly suggested to Dylan that the Clancy Brothers record an album of Dylan’s songs in an Irish style. When he asked for Dylan’s permission, Dylan is reported to have said, “You still don’t get it do you Liam? You’re my heroes man, my heroes” (“Clancy Brothers Influence”). In addition to their influence on certain musicians, the Clancy Brothers success garnered interest in Irish folk music among American audiences. Susan Motherway argues that the Clancy’s political themes provided further interest in the group’s songs. She says of the Clancy’s success, “They soon recognized a market for the performance of the Irish political songs in America and formed a ballad group. Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show (1961) prompted the explosion of an Irish folk movement led by the Dubliners, the Wolfe Tones, and the Johnstons” (Motherway 143). Motherway also asserts that, by performing politically charged Irish songs in an international context, the Clancy Brothers connected to minority and civil rights movements in America (Motherway, 8-9).
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makemperforming Bob Dylan’s “When the Ship Comes In” at his 30th anniversary celebration concert.
The Clancy Brothers’ influence on their native Ireland was even more significant than their influence on American folk music. Many scholars credit the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem with the revival of Irish folk music in Ireland in the early 1960’s. Susan Motherway describes a lack of pride in traditional Irish music in Ireland prior to the Clancy Brothers’ boom in popularity. The Irish folk revival that the Clancy Brothers started restored this pride. She cites Tommy Sands’ The Songman: A Journey in Irish Music, in which Sands states, “[Irish radio]was realising that the future was empty without the riches of the past” (Motherway, 144). Tommy Makem himself states “The entire population of the country had rediscovered their own songs and music. Suddenly realizing that their own culture was as good as, and, in some cases, better than most of what they had been hearing on the radio, the nation’s enthusiasm knew no bounds” (Makem). Getting more at the political influence that the Clancy Brothers had, Susan Motherway quotes Christy Moore, stating, “Christy Moore believed that the Clancy Brothers provided the Irish people with a modern expression of Irishness that enabled them ‘to cast off the shackles of conservative Catholicism and to break free from the dark sentence that Mother Church had read out.’ Christy believes that the Clancy Brothers and the Irish folk revival that ensued revoked the ideals of De Valera, rediscovered a wealth of culture, and renewed a pride in Irish culture and, particularly, music” (Motherway, 144). The Clancy Brothers rebel songs and politically charged ballads made their music more relevant than ever during the height of their popularity, as this coincided with the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Their lyrics were even more significant because Tommy Makem, one of the group members, was himself from Northern Ireland (Motherway 143-144). The Clancy Brothers had become a cultural phenomenon in Ireland. For instance, Aran sweaters, the trademark costume of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, experienced a huge worldwide rise in popularity after the Clancy Brothers appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, supposedly having a sales increase of 700%. The extent of their popularity can be seen in the fact that one third of record sales in Ireland in 1964 were The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem records (“The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem: History”).
The following is an arrangement, for a cappella performance, of one of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem’s songs, “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go,” alternatively titled “Wild Mountain Thyme.” Attached is a video of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem’s performance of the song, a PDF containing the sheet music of the arrangement, and an mp3 of the arrangement (from the playback produced by the arranging software). I am a member of one of Geneseo’s a cappella groups, and have been arranging some of the music for the group for about a year. It is an activity that I enjoy, and I had actually planned to arrange this piece for my own amusement before I ever considered making it part of this project. A cappella means a vocal performance without instrumental accompaniment As such, in a typical a cappella arrangement, one singer will sing the solo, and the remaining singers will provide vocal harmony and accompaniment. In this case, I have arranged the piece for performance by a group consisting of a baritone soloist, and four additional voice parts: sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses. I used the program Finale Songwriter to arrange this piece. The first step in arranging is to become very familiar with the song in question by listening to it repeatedly, and determining the chords of the song. Next, I transcribed the vocal solo into Finale. After this point, the arranging process is very open. The arranger can interpret the song any way they please. My arrangement is not a particularly faithful adaptation of the Clancy Brothers’ version of the song, and this was a stylistic choice. One of the biggest challenges that this arrangement posed was the fact that, in the Clancy Brothers’ performance, there really isn’t a lot going on. For a good portion of the song, the melody is sung by several voices in unison. In certain parts, there is one voice singing a line of harmony. Instrumentally, there is very little going on. A guitar and banjo are strumming chords, and a harmonica is playing the melody. It is a very simple song, carried primarily by the voices of the singers and the pleasing melody. It was challenging to make this song interesting for a cappella performance, and doing so required some changes to the song. For the most part, this consisted of adding additional lines of harmony, and filling in the remaining voice parts with notes from the chords played by the guitar and banjo. The final step in arranging this piece was assigning lyrics or syllables to the notes. Typically in a cappella performance, it is common for the accompaniment voice parts to sing non-word syllables like “do,” “dim,” “oh,” “ah,” etc. In this case, I wanted to make the piece sound more choral, and decided to primarily have all of the voice parts sing some of the lyrics of the song.
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem performing “Will Ye Go, Lassie Go.”
Many idealize Ireland after reading “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and other romantic pieces, but in reality, Ireland has no true “essence”. The writings of J.M. Synge exhibit this especially well; in searching for the “true Ireland,” Synge seems to contradict himself on several counts. He showcases the Aran Islands as a collection of quant villages inhabited by simple people, but goes on to show that there is actually more to the population than he thinks. Synge quickly runs into a core problem of the essential in his attempt to depict the Aran Islands and their people in a traditional manner: the complexity of humans and of societies.
In an excerpt of The Aran Islands, Synge begins by describing his current writing environment; “I am in Aranmor, sitting over a turf fire, listening to a murmur of Gaelic that is rising from a little public-house under my room” (Synge 1907). Immediately, he has set the scene for a charming tale of the quaint Irish people living simply in their barren, rainy landscape, and from here he starts to make an attempt at exploring their world.
Standing in Doolin looking out at Inisheer, it is easy to imagine the land as Synge saw it over 100 years ago. The land is nearly useless to humans; it cannot effectively be cultivated, it is difficult to build on, and it doesn’t offer much in the way of shelter. As a result, it was scarcely populated in Synge’s time, and still is today, save a few wandering tourists attracted by authentic hand-knit sweaters or passing students eager to escape stuffy classrooms.
Synge’s writing paints a vivid picture of the local land and population of the Aran Islands, describing in detail everything from their linguistic proficiency to their dress to their attitudes towards the Spanish American war. In doing so, he provides a source of vague uncertainty for readers projecting their own uninformed views on the archipelago. Bouncing between issues of globalization (trading with the mainland, stories of people who have left the island, and their curiosity of outside conflicts) and localized culture and apparel (he speaks of communication difficulties with Gaelic speakers, and of the “pampooties” worn as footwear by the locals), he demonstrates the complexity of the society, despite its relatively isolated and simplistic status.
In constantly moving between larger and smaller viewpoints like this, Synge consistently goes against the expectations of the reader, whose views are challenged each time these switches occur. His continues to underscore the initial impressions that he offered of the islands each time he makes these juxtapositions, and that is one of the things that truly makes this piece fantastic.
The Aran Islands demonstrates the flaws of thinking about Ireland in an essential way. Synge intended to challenge people’s perceptions, and his writing succeeded in laying the groundwork for this. Ireland and its people don’t have an essence any more than those in the United States, Great Britain, France, or China. They are just people, living their lives like all the rest. The Irish are the same as they always have been: proud, conscious, and human.