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12 Replies to “Interviews”

  1. I interviewed a student at the Yates Summer School. She was from Hong Kong and attends university in Tokyo

    Why are you in Ireland?
    To attend the Yates Summer School but it’s just an excuse you know so,
    just looking for fun.
    Do you like to travel? Have you traveled before to other places?
    What’s your favorite place to go?
    You’ve been to Egypt? Did you see anything cool there?
    I liked the pyramids a lot, they were a lot smaller than I imagined. I liked
    the tombs as well and the Valley of the Kings. I liked the many colored
    carvings, still very vivid the color.
    Do you have any fun stories from traveling? Have you seen anything weird or crazy?
    So I was in Durem, [England] and I was staying in an accommodation in a
    castle and they put me in kind of really at the top in I’m not sure how you call
    it, maybe in a tower, really at the top. Then at midnight the moon shined very
    brightly, and so I went out and tried to climb on a ladder. I really didn’t know
    what I was doing, so suddenly there was a very strong wind and I almost fell
    from a tower, terrifying. I won’t go there again.

  2. I interviewed a Yates Summer School student from Seoul Korea that I met at one of our formal dinners. I recorded our conversation and transcribed it here.

    Why are you in Ireland?
    To attend Yates Summer School
    Are you normally an English Literature Scholar?
    I’m a professor at Jeju National University and I teach plays of Yates and
    Do you like to travel a lot?
    Yeah, I think so. This is my first time in Ireland. I haven’t seen many places but
    I think that Ireland has wonderful landscapes. I’m willing to travel more in
    What’s one of the craziest things that has ever happened to you when you were traveling?
    Maybe the flight. The flight that I took, it had too many turbulences and I
    was very scared.
    Do you have a favorite family holiday or tradition from where you’re from?
    Probably Christmas is my favorite holiday. We don’t have a family tradition.
    We would go out in the city and hang out with friends, very different from
    American Traditional Christmas Holidays.
    Have you noticed anything else that’s really different from where you’re from and here and Ireland?
    Maybe you know, people are more friendly. In Soul Korea, people the way
    they live is just like the way people live in New York. It’s very crowded and
    packed, but maybe here is more country-like I think. I really like the food. I
    like organic foods and I think that I can get those things in Ireland much
    more than in Korea. I’m enjoying myself and also the restaurants are very
    nice here.

  3. Interview with Sinn Fein Dublin office employee:
    Q: What do you see as the contemporary role of Sinn Fein in Northern Irish politics?
    A: More of a “sort of” political party in the north than anything else. We are in government with our enemies, the Democratic Unionist Party. However, we must work with them because they have the same mandate as we do in terms of being democratically elected.
    Q: What is the role of Sinn Fein in the Republic?
    A: Sinn Fein is currently the third leading political party, but in the polls we often come out with more votes than any other party. We have political leaders including mayors in most major cities, including Criona Ni Dhalaigh, Lord Mayor of Dublin.
    Q: What do you see as Sinn Fein’s historical relationship with the Provisional IRA?
    A: A large reason that the IRA military campaign and Sinn Fein gained so much power is because in the sixties and seventies, you couldn’t vote in the north unless you owned property. You could go to jail for owning a tricolor flag, being affiliated with Sinn Fein, basically anything. Even John Lennon, who was a known pacifist, once said that if it was a choice between the IRA and the British government he would choose the IRA every time.
    Q: Are there any remaining connections between Sinn Fein and the Real IRA?
    A: No, we no longer have any relationship with them. Their methods are going against the peace process and their terrorism is counterproductive to our cause. We work through democratic channels now.

  4. I interviewed a man in a pub in Dublin. Our group was sitting in a booth and he came up to us to ask if we had seen his phone. Greg had handed it in to the bar. He was so appreciative to have the phone back that he bought us all a round of drinks and talked with us for an hour or so. We thanked him for the round, and he brushed it off saying that it was well worth it considering the headache he would get from his wife yelling at him for losing his phone.

    Q. Where are you from?
    A. “London, England.”

    Q. What brings you to Dublin?
    A. “Business meetings.”

    Q. What do you do for a living?
    A. “I am a psychology professor and researcher dealing primarily with Autism studies.”

    Q. What do you think of Dublin?
    A. His reaction was not particularly positive. The phrase that stands out to me was “City full of criminals.” Given this interesting response, I was very interested to know the answer to the following question:

    Q. What do you think of Ireland in general?
    A. He spoke much better of Ireland in general than he did of Dublin. “My family is from the West of Ireland, and I still have relatives there. I find that area to be much more agreeable.”

    Q. Have you traveled to America?
    A. “Yes, I have been to quite a few major cities in America (New York, Los Angeles, and I have also been all over New York state.”

    Q. What was your favorite place in New York?
    A. “Lake George” (in a hilarious and fairly accurate American accent).

  5. I interviewed an employee at a Cafe in Sligo.

    Q. Where are you from?
    A. I was born in Sligo, but lived in Brighton, England for twenty years. I left Ireland when I was 19 and returned about three years ago.

    Q. What made you come back to Sligo?
    A. My brother had died and I needed to come back to grieve properly. My partner and I had also recently split up, so there was less tying me to Brighton.

    Q. What do you do for a living?
    A. I am a painter and decorator, and work in the cafe on weekends.

    Q. Have you traveled outside the country?
    A. Yes, in America I have been to New Orleans, San Francisco, and I have driven from South Carolina to Florida and the Key West. I have also been to Australia, Bangkok, Singapore, France, Spain and others.

    Q. Which would you most like to go to again?
    A. I think my favorite place to visit was Mykonos, a beautiful island in the Mediterranean. But I would love to do them all again and I hope that I might be able to in a few years.

    Q. Where have you not been that you would like to visit?
    A. Barbados, because it looks beautiful and I am infatuated with Rhianna.

    Q. Have you traveled much within Ireland?
    A. You know, it isn’t a big country, but you would be surprised how many people haven’t seen much of it. I haven’t seen much of the south. I’ve never been to Cork or Waterford, but I have traveled the North and West coast quite a lot.

    Q. On this trip, I visited Dublin, Galway, Derry, Sligo and Connemara. If you were to recommend one additional place for me to visit, what would it be?
    A. Belfast.

    Q. I am here for the Yeats Summer School. Do you have any general impressions about W.B. Yeats?
    A. Well for a start I think it is interesting that he isn’t buried in his grave. He was a good poet, a fine looking man in his day.

    Q. What do you think of the Fleadh starting tomorrow?
    A. Well Sligo hosted it last year and it was a total success. It’s interesting to watch kids as young as three play good, proper traditional music on the streets. The festival is lovely, it brings a whole new life to Sligo, and brings out some of the people around here who don’t come out much.

    Q. I heard they expect 500,000 people this year. How can this town handle that?
    A. Everybody rents out their houses and apartments. The town is totally packed all week. It’s unreal.

  6. I interviewed a student at the Yeats Summer School from Wales (she attends high school in England).

    Q: As I’ve completed my work for my class and simply been here, I’ve realized how little I knew of Irish history. What did you learn about Irish history in school?
    A: Literally nothing. We were not even taught about the famine, I only know about that because my family talks about it a bit-my Grandmother lives here in Sligo, she’s very religious (not Catholic)-but otherwise nothing in school. I go to school in England now though.

    Q: What do you think of Northern Ireland as a citizen of another part of the British Commonwealth?
    A: The first person I met from Northern Ireland was from Derry, and my mom had picked a bunch of people up she saw walking drunk from a festival. I woke in the morning and this big bloke was in my kitchen and told me how wonderful my shower was and offered to make me breakfast. Very weird. The religion bit is weird though. I see it here. My grandmother is good friends with a very religious Catholic woman and I was having a cup of tea with them yesterday and I said that marriage used to be legalized prostitution-I mean it was really- and her friend was so offended.
    I mean in Wales everyone wants to be independent, but we are not financially stable enough for that, it would never work. Some dumb people really push for it though.
    But back to Northern Ireland, it’s a really horrid situation. When I first moved to England I went to this party in like a barn, and it was playing really cool music and we were all hanging out and I was singing to this catchy song I didn’t know. Then I listened to the lyrics, and it was a British soldier song about killing drunk Paddy’s before you go home.
    Q: Really, is that common? Or just anti-Irish sentiments of any nature?
    A: Oh those songs are super common, look on Youtube they’re everywhere. Lovely songs until you listen to what they’re saying.
    Q: you seem as though you are pretty well versed in culture and things that most people your age aren’t necessarily aware of, do most people your age share your perspective and knowledge?
    A: A bit of both I’d say. I’m not particularly well versed in it at all really, I just learned everything by reading. So unless one does that, I don’t know what they’d know about it really. A Paddy song I suppose

  7. I interviewed a student at the Yeats Summer School who was originally from India and was currently working on her PhD in the UK. Her focus was on Tegore and Yeats, specifically looking at the plays of Yeats with a post-colonial perspective informed by Tegore. Our interview wasn’t so much about Yeats though, as you will see.

    Q. What is the most interesting fact you can tell me off of the top of your head?

    A. Since we are at the Yeats summer school, I will give you a Yeats family fact: In popular culture, Georgie Hyde Lee, his young wife; she is younger than him by about 35 years. Yeats is known to have not liked her name very much because her full name wasn’t Georgina, it was Georgie Hyde Lee; she was christened as that. So in the academic circles, in jest, she is known as the only woman who had her name changed for the sake of iambic pentameter. She appears in the poem which Yeats inscribed on the slab of his tower home; so her name had to rhyme with ‘Gort forge’. She quotes:

    “I, the poet William Yeats,
    With old mill boards and sea-green slates,
    And smithy work from the Gort forge,
    Restored this tower for my wife George.
    And may these characters remain
    When all is ruin once again.”

    Q. What is the strangest image that you can think of in this moment?

    A. The statue of Yeats come alive as this weird Dr. Who weeping angel/magi.

    Q. What is the best thing that you have ever eaten?

    A. I was in Australia when I was like 14 with my family. We went on this farm trip, like this all hands on deck farm experience, like you had to milk a cow and everything. They had this apple orchard there and I had the most amazing apple pie in my whole life there. I don’t even know if apples are native in Australia.

    Q. What is your biggest fear?

    A. Failure. I am a PhD student. That’s what I thrive on. Some people work with motivation. I work with the crippling fear of being a failure.

    Q. What has been the biggest obstacle in your life?

    A. My own self confidence. I have a trick for that though. You lie to yourself secretly and you tell yourself that you can do this. Eventually you find that you can do it. I will let you know when that day comes true for me. (She said in jest)

    Q. Idealistically, what is your favorite leisure activity?

    A. I like reading. I like swimming.

    Q. What is your favorite place to swim?

    A. I learned to swim in this river that flows across my families ancestral fields back in India. I was about a year and a half old and my father used to tie me to his back and go swimming. That was my first experience in the water, but I actually learned to swim in that river.

    Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?

    A. Pedantic joke men. Men who try to teach you something that you didn’t ask for.

    Q. What is the most glorious thing you have ever witnessed?

    A. Now, see I haven’t witnessed this so I don’t think it counts. [I am letting it count because the story is so good.] Meg Harper came to me last year in like the second week of the summer school. She says, ‘Do you want to hear something interesting?’ When Meg Harper asks you if you want to hear something, I listen. She tells me: “Last night, Maddy [a lecturer] and her boyfriend were taking a taxi back home and the taxi driver asks her what they are here for, and Maddy answers, ‘I am lecturing at the Yeats Summer School.’ The cabbie then says ‘I don’t think poetry is great anymore. I think poetry is dead. The only real poetry now is Hip-Hop.’ So Maddy challenges him to a rap battle. So apparently in Meg Harper’s words, the taxi driver rapped something with a lot of F-words in it. Then Maddy responds by rapping, or reciting in a chanting manner, or whatever it was, I wasn’t there to see it, some Shelley. And the taxi driver was so impressed that she got a 10 Euro cab ride for free because of it.

    Abstract glorious thing: I was 19, before I came to the UK, my three friends from my Bohemianish college decided that we needed to have on more blowout. By blowout we did not mean a big party, we mean pack a back pack, leave behind the camera, and just go somewhere. Disappear for three weeks with nothing. We went up to the Himalayas. We are taking this bus that goes through a town close to the cliffs. We were right on the edge. Me and my three best friends are standing between the second and third ranges of the Himalayas. The snow was melting because we were there in April or May, so you could literally see the mountains weeping. You stand there feeling minuscule. You suddenly have a very large contradictory sense, not only of your own mortality and insignificance, but also the enormity of the self and how powerful you are. I have not had a big fight with my family since.

    Q. What is the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to you?

    A. This is not something that you get asked very often. You’ve chosen to ask it to a single, immigrant, woman of color, so I cannot give you a funny, light hearted story. There have been quite a few occasions where I have been chased down the street and been called after. There was this man once, old white man in the middle of no where Europe. I am just exploring; no matter what people may shout at me, as long as I am not physically in danger, I will continue to walk around on my own. I need my mobility. This old white man from the middle of nowhere told me to go back where I came from and go warm some Arab’s bed. And he called me a Paki. It was wrong on so many levels. It really bothered me that day as in like I went to a bathroom and cried my eyes out. A few days later I thought about it and you know just like not only did he insult me with the wrong word, like I am not a Paki, I am Indian, but he also told me to go back to Arabia. He skipped over three countries! So he was geographically and culturally wrong. So that was honestly terrifying.

  8. I had an interesting conversation with a man named Jack in Hargadon’s in Sligo. The following is a record of that conversation as best as I could remember it a few days after it occurred.

    Pam: Where are you from?
    Jack: I’m from Northern Ireland, where I am currently attending school.
    Pam: Oh that’s funny, we just came from Derry last week. So you go to UNI?
    Jack: Yes, I do. I actually just came from another academic conference and am in the middle of working on my PhD.
    Pam: That academic conference wouldn’t happen to have been on T.S. Eliot, would it?
    Jack: That’s the one.
    Pam: I actually met someone from that conference a few days ago. Did you meet Cassidy? She mentioned earlier that she just came here to the summer school from a similar one on T.S. Eliot.
    Jack: Yes, she was there.
    Pam: What a coincidence. So who do you like better, Yeats or T.S. Eliot?
    Jack: I would have to say Yeats. It’s a different atmosphere over here in Sligo and I feel a greater affinity with Yeats’s works.

    I also went on to ask Jack about his studies and what they had to do with Yeats, but he explained that his work on his PhD didn’t actually involve Yeats, and that he was there out of personal interest. The conversation did not go on much longer following that and then I left rather abruptly with the rest of the group.

  9. I interviewed the owner of a sweater shop in Sligo. He was friendly, and very talkative. He laughed as he said he might not be the best person to interview because he “tends to lie a lot.”

    Q: Where are you from?
    A: Here, Sligo. I’ve always lived here.

    Q: How did you end up working here?
    A: It’s a family business. My father worked here, and I inherited it.

    Q: Where’s one place you recommend going to in Ireland?
    A: The Cliffs of Moher, but I preferred it before it became such a big tourist attraction. I used to go when I was young, and there were no gates or anything. Many people fell off and died, and now there’s restrictions.

    Q: How do you feel about the tourism in Sligo? (I bring up the article about the kitschification of Yeats).
    A: Oh, you mean that article in the Irish Times. I think it’s fine. It’s only a big year because it’s Yeats’ 150th Birthday Anniversary. But there’s nothing wrong with appreciating the man and his work, and having a school dedicated to its study. The tourism isn’t over the top, and I don’t think most people here feel that way. I know the woman that wrote that article, and she had a secret agenda. I can’t disclose it to you, but it’s true.

    Q: Did you always want this kind of job?
    A: No, but it really just came down to circumstance. Everything comes down to circumstance. I had other interests, but this just sort of fell into my hands, and it pays well. But I could have been a concert pianist.

    Made me wonder if he was lying about that.

  10. During our time in Connemara, I spoke a lot with a young women named Amy after she offered to drive us to the National Park for a day of hiking. This conversation wasn’t specifically structured as an interview, but I have recreated it as one here, with her permission.

    Saturday, August 2 2015

    Q: What brings you to Ireland?
    A: I’m a teacher in Prague but I’m on holidays right now, I try to travel every opportunity I get because there’s still so much of the world that I haven’t seen.

    Q: Why Prague? What’s it like to live there instead of here or in the US?
    A: Prague is a really cool city, one of my favorites that I’ve ever lived in. The cost of living there is small, so even though I’m making a lot less money than I could be making in the states, I don’t really need as much. I ended up here through a certification program to teach English as a Foreign Language.

    Q: What are your upcoming travel plans after Ireland?
    A: Oh! I have to leave Ireland so soon which I’m sad about, I really wish I had more time here. But I’m headed to a music festival for four days before I have to return to school which I’m excited about.

    Q: Is this your first time traveling alone?
    A: No, I’ve been traveling alone for a long time. My parents are from a very small town where it’s rare to ever leave. She still makes me send her details from my plane tickets and stuff and I’m almost 30! But it’s kind of liberating, just to know that you can be out here on your own and get by. I like it.

    Q: Can Greg, Evan, and I stay with you when we visit Prague?
    A: Yes! Please do! I can show you all the best places to go! And pints are like $1 there. I actually have people that I’ve met stay with me all the time, this one girl from Australia, who I met in Ireland, is coming to Prague in December and she’s messaged me to ask if she could crash. I’m excited to see her!

  11. I interviewed a man named Michaeh, the famous woodcarver in Sligo, after many people told me he was a good Sligo local to talk to. The interview ended up being quite long, as he readily gave out stories and information at every turn in the conversation. Luckily, I recorded it. Here’s a transcript:

    Michaeh: “Woodcarver and Wordweaver ExtraOrdinaire of Wine Street, Sligo.”

    7 August 2015

    Interviewer: Evan Goldstein, with assistance from Greg Stewart, who wanted to hear what the fabled woodcarver had to say.

    [brackets] around plain text indicate the closest guess for words I’m unable to transcribe correctly, or indicate gestures or non-verbal cues.

    Michaeh, the woodcarver, after a conversation with two other members of the Yeats school, turns to us and begins conversation without prompting, assuming we’re waiting in his shop to interview him. He asks us what we’ve done in Sligo, I mention our walk out to the Lake Isle of Innisfree. As I struggle to take my phone out and ask him if I can take a recording, Michaeh takes a woodcarving from the window of his shop—a lady laying with a man, surrounded by water—and launches into a myth about the Lake Isle of Innisfree. The interview begins in the middle of that myth:

    MICHAEH: …it’s a little berry that grows in the heather. She said [gaelic] “You’re good in the water, I give you my strong love now. But” —and she was an Irish woman, so there’s always another but— “I dropped my ring in the lake and that there salmon is after swallowing it.” So Downey had to dive in the dark water—you haven’t swum in the water…

    EVAN: No, no.

    MICHAEH: It’s like weak tea. It’s full of tannin…

    EVAN: We saw it; it was very dark.

    MICHAEH: So Downey dives into the dark pool, catches the salmon, and gives it a good squeeze. You fellas are well-educated, you probably think that salmon have skinny tails—something to do with Darwin or evolution or Richard Dawkins or something like that…it’s all these fellas grubbing with the tails, ya see. Odin, Thor, ya see. So he pops the ring onto his finger and he swims up in triumph. He has completed his marriage feats and tests. But he hasn’t, ya see. Of course he hasn’t. He sees the beast that guards the salmon. Sees him in the most embarrassing parts of his anatomy.
    Now, he’s not very bright, as heroes aren’t very bright. You don’t get many heroes gettin’ to my age—they’re not bright enough to survive that long. [laughs]. Anyway, he has forgotten his sword. He is a tough guy, and he manages to surface struggling with the beastie, and calls out in a high squeaky voice for a weapon. Ya see now, the whole story goes flippity flop. She now has to rescue him. Ya may have noticed that we don’t have helpless virgins in Ireland—she’s no helpless virgin.
    She takes his sword—doesn’t throw him the sword (even silly heroes know that swords sink). She has to dive in with the sword—she arms him in the lake. Talk about Freudian: she arms him with his own weapon in the lake, and the beat off the [beast] and become lovers in the lake.
    So the whole story is perfectly psychological and perfectly Freudian, and you’ll notice that about the Irish stories. They’re psychologically spot on. Now, you might get a fella killing a hundred people or something like that…any actual motives are just jealousy, sexual lust, they’re all very understandable. So she has rescued him.
    No, heroes, they love to push names on their weapons like “Legbiter” or “Kingslayer” or “Headsplitter,” this kind of thing, ya see. The sword now becomes known as “[callagh bullagh],” or “Great Striker in the Dark.” Callibur and Excalibur. She’s Finnivar, Welsh fellas talk funny, Guinevere, Jennifer—the lady of the lake. So ya have the whole shenanigans laid out for ya.

    Moves back to the shop window, replaces the carving.

    EVAN: That was a good one though—

    MICHAEH: That now even has relics of King Arthur and even Beowolf who dives into the dark pool.

    EVAN: Do you think that’s where King Arthur came from?

    MICHAEH: Ya see, any Irishman would tell ya that. Being really honest about it, it probably comes from even more archaic stories that everybody dug into, ya see. Because this is [picks up another carving from the shop window] … [Phil McCaul]’s wife. Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guenivere, and um…

    EVAN: Do you mind if I take a picture?

    MICHAEH: Move it around if ya want. So yeah, and I often do these as wedding presents. This is [Girmud], the powerful warrior. This is a gesture of protection. Pre-christian blessing: heart, family jewels.
    I had uh…I got two percent for Latin, so I’m always open to instruction. I had a language professor from Oxford, I haven’t seen him for a while, he’s quite old. But he pointed out that “testament” comes from “testicles”: you swear on your most important dangly bits…something that you just wouldn’t notice ordinarily…

    EVAN: Brings a whole new meaning to it…

    GREG: Yeah, I wouldn’t have thought of it that way.

    MICHAEH: A lot of things are right there in front of your nose, and you don’t see them at all…This seems to be digressing, but uh, it was uh, a long ship, a Viking long ship, eh, recovered from a—

    An old man dressed all in tweed, with two lazy eyes, walks in, looks at all three of us, and mutters something unintelligible.

    MICHAEH: Not today John, I’m busy. Uh, in the harbor… uh—

    OLD MAN: …what date…what is today…

    MICHAEH: I think it’s the seventh…or the eighth or something. The day after yesterday. So—

    OLD MAN: What do ye know…Get to have much craic then?

    MICHAEH: The usual, John. No, uh… So anyway,

    OLD MAN: [unintelligible}

    MICHAEH: No, you’ll see him on the town, Johnny. Um, and they were so well preserved that they could actually know every nail hole and everything. So they rebuilt the longship. They got it built. There should be much more made of it, because it was a 66 man ship, they built it nail for nail. And they were almost done, they were able to uh…some of the wood was so well preserved they were able to get dendrochronology and carbon dating off it. It was built in Dublin, 1150, in Dublin, the carcass of it.
    Now, laughs, the whole point of the story is, they sailed it back to Dublin, with a crew of 66—60 of ‘em men and half a dozen women—and it sailed across the North Sea like a cork, no bother at all…for the ship. But for the crew, they had to take ‘em off and give ‘em a hot bottle of water and some brandy. Ya see it’s tough. I mean, there y’are with a yard of space to do everything, and some hairy fella with his bum stuck in yer face for a month, and y’ve nothing to eat except salty fish and nothing to drink except sour beer. It’s no wonder they were in bad humor when they arrived in Dublin, Waterford, or anywhere. So that’s…and also, of course, it was a testing time. Any fella that didn’t survive, over the side, leave a bit o’room. So only the hardiest survive.
    That’s just one o’ those things where ya don’t see it unless [takes a block of wood from the counter and turns to a bandsaw behind him] you look for it—[bandsaw cutting noises]…

    This is ash, now. Tell me yer favorite animal now, both of ya. First come first serve, be as weird or ordinary as you want to be.

    EVAN: A bluebird.

    MICHAEH: A bluebird. Ah, we don’t have ‘em here now, but I’ll do a little bird flying. [bandsaw cutting noises]… and there’s no tradition of woodcutting—didn’t’ have any wood.

    EVAN: Well, some bog wood.

    MICHAEH: There was bog oak and that, but there wasn’t any good supply of it to support a peasant tradition if ya like, ya know. If I was in Austria or Bavaria or the like, they’d have me carving cuckoo clocks, and I’d be gone as cuckoo as the clocks.
    Ya see the English—now we blame everything on the ice age, the gulf stream, and the Brits, in that order [starts chiseling a block of wood]. They did actually take our wood. Because the Spanish Armada—I’m sure Martin’ll be telling you all about it—along our coast here [unfolds a tourist map of Sligo, points to coast outside of town], 28 full sized galleons, three of them foundered on the rock here. The Santa Maria de Vison, The Juliana, and one other. 1100 men died on the beaches. Three full-size galleons, another one here, so 28 all together. So the point of it is, it was a disaster for the Spanish Armada, the British got control of the local seas, and never lost it. You know, Britannia rules the waves, as you know. But uh, it was a cataclysm for Ireland. Our maritime tradition died within a generation, it was gone. Granuelle was in full swing, 1590-1600, and by 1610, there was the flight of the Earls, the Irish leaders, they had to get Spanish ships. So, our maritime industry was destroyed, and after that there was nothing but skin boats and curraghs along the coast, like in the stone age. And uh, they took all our wood for their navy, and then they proceeded to take all the small woods, because we’re terribly sneaky, you see. The Irish could use these as weapons of mass destruction. They could ambush English armies in these little woodlands, ya know. They were no better than thickets, there was no decent wood left by 1640—it was a tangle of thickets. And the English of course fought their civil wars here as well as the Irish: Cromwell and James and William all fought their civil wars here, you know, rather than messing up England. Ireland was a bloody sod, that whole century—it was a disastrous century, and it never actually fully recovered, in a lot of ways…
    [Holds up wood block, the carving finished on one side] That’s definitely a bird now.

    EVAN: It’s beautiful.

    GREG: I think I’m going to have to say penguin is my favorite animal.

    MICHAEH: Okay, and… what’s your name, first?

    EVAN: Evan. What’s your name, by the way?

    MICHAEH: Michaeh, Michaeh Quirke. Take a couple of my cards there. Pick a good one, I make up me own titles. Now, there’s no “Q” or “K” in the Irish language. So, Quirke is an anglicization of Cuirce. And “O” is grandson, and “Mac” is son. But we’re “[ouah],” “[ouah] Quirke, just means from Cork. No pretensions to high kingship or saints in the family or anything. [Continues chiseling…]

    EVAN: So are you originally from Sligo?

    MICHAEH: Well my dad was straight up from Cork, after the civil war, you see. Because it’s not so much that he was on the wrong side—there wasn’t any right side. He had six brothers and seven sisters—there was sixteen in the family, and they all fell out with each other. You guys were probably under the impression that you couldn’t have more than three sides in a civil war, but here in Ireland you could have up to sixteen.
    And everybody tended to fall out with everybody else. And of course, the Irish are very good at…hate burns out. Resentment is much better, it lasts much longer. You can be resentful for centuries without wearing yourself out.

    EVAN: I think there was a Yeats poem like that…

    MICHAEH: Actually his “In Praise of Eva Gore Booth and Constance…” it’s one of his most telling poems. Starts off lyrically, you know, “The light of evening, Lissadell,” but then it goes on at the end “We the great gazebo built / They convicted us of guilt.” After we got our freedom, notionally, everybody fell out with everybody else, you know what I mean? Unbelievable. I had a man in this morning, he’s still bitter over all sorts of stuff.
    [Finishes carving, holds up block] Now there’s Knocknarae…

    EVAN: That’s beautiful. We hiked up Knocknarae yesterday.

    MICHAEH: Did ya? I hope ya left Queen Maeve a stone.
    EVAN: We did, we brought up a few. We heard that people who take—[Michaeh starts up the band saw again, cuts another piece of ash]…

    MICHAEH: So a penguin, ah? Now, I’ll have to tell you a politically incorrect joke, ya see:

    These two fellas were well cut, well jarred, and they drove up to the bar, ya see, the public house, and they come in, and—barmen know everything, ya see, you only have to ask. So they say [stuttering and slurring], “sss-s-s’cuse us mister barman…what’s yer biggest penguin?”
    And he says, “the biggest penguin is the emperor penguin, he stands about a meter high.”
    “a-a-are ya sure…’bout that?”

    “Yes, I’m quite sure about that.”

    “d-d-d-d-don’t be any bigger ones now?”

    “No, there are no bigger penguins than that.”

    “…ah, well. We—we’ve jus’ r-run over a couplea nuns…”

    EVAN: [laughing] Where’d you hear that one?

    MICHAEH: Ah, that’s an ancient one, that is. Non politically correct though, can’t be drivin’ round drunk anymore, ya see.

    EVAN: Well it’s a good one. So where’d you learn to woodwork? I heard you were a butcher before.

    MICHAEH: Well I was a butcher, I didn’t learn off anybody. I just moved [man pops his head in the shop door]—oh, I’ll be with you in just a second there.

    MAN: Oh no that’s okay, not at all, I’ll be back in.

    MICHAEH: I’ll be here. 1968, I started working in ‘57 when I was in school, and this is my father’s butcher shop. There’s the old…[opens a book of photos of Sligo, turns to the very back, a picture taped in]…there’s the old saw and there’s the blocks and ah, so on. I didn’t change very much—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ya know.
    I always made shapes in clay and plasticine—[moorland we call it, the holy nuns had a spirit moorland—low babies in the garden, here ya see]. And then in high babies, mother Mary of the fallen arches tell ya it’s time to be learnin’ yer alphabet ya see—wasn’t listening. So I continued to make plasticine—kiddy thing, ya know? But by the time I was nine or ten I could do anything: Batman, Superman, John Wayne, Sligo Rovers football team, whatever. I didn’t need toys, ya know, much, I could absolutely.
    I started working then as a butcher when I left school. Butchers are always cuttin’ their fingers—I still got ten digits. Minor cuts, you know, a knick here, a cut there, scar there healing [shows hands]. And you couldn’t make really good plasticine figures, but my stuff was good, ya know? It was detailed and everything, ya know? But um, I just started carving. And they started to sell. And then of course, my father thought I was an idiot, and my mother knew I was in on it all, and everybody thought I was just fool-acting.
    By 1988 then, twenty years later, I was doing both. I just dropped the meat. In the end it was just like that. I dunno whether…you lads wouldn’t have heard of ‘em…I can’t think of his name now…he died there, couple of weeks ago. He was a popstar, you know…
    [Turns to Greg] What’s your name?

    GREG: Greg.

    MICHAEH: I’ll give you an Irish “G.” Val Doonican. He was very well known on this side of the Atlantic, and he died there quite old, and he made a wisecrack on the television program there, “it only took me four years to become an overnight sensation.” So, after twenty years I became an overnight success, ya see?

    GREG: Where’d you learn all these stories, then?

    EVAN: Yeah, I was wondering the same.

    MICHAEH: I’m makin’ up the half of em, [laughs]. Somebody has to make ‘em up. Ya see, they’re all there. They’re like a tree, and they’re there, and all you have to do is pick the fruit, or look at it properly. People don’t see what’s under their noses—they’re all gogglin’ at their televisions. I was here just before I stopped in the woodshop, and somebody said to me the other day, that was a messenger: a peregrine falcon killed a starling just where those people are standing [points to the sidewalk outside of the woodshop]—just there. And I heard the scream, and I went over and she was a big as a root, she was mantling and everything, and shrieking at everybody to keep them away. And the starling was as dead as mutton, and she was shrieking. Didn’t even bother their heads—nobody saw her. They don’t see things, ya know.

  12. I interviewed a man in Sligo who was working at a gift shop called Mullaney Brothers. At first, it was just casual conversation and a few questions about the sweaters he was selling, but then we were able to talk about the Gaelic language-which is coincidentally was part of my project is on. Here’s a transcript to the best of memory:

    Me: How long have you been speaking Gaelic?
    Shopkeeper: Since I was a child, probably started picking up the language when I was about seven or eight.
    Me: So it was spoken at home? By your parents?
    Shopkeeper: Well, it was spoken by my grandfather. He was the one who really taught me Irish Gaelic. It’s a beautiful language.
    Me: A lot of people I have talked to about the Gaelic language here (here as in Sligo) tend to cringe when I ask them about their time studying it at school. Why do you think that is?
    Shopkeeper: I believe that those who dislike learning the Gaelic language, or any language for that matter, simply weren’t taught properly. I was lucky enough to learn from my own grandfather. Or perhaps, students need to refresh their interest.
    Me: Does anyone else in your family speak Gaelic?
    Shopkeeper: My children don’t, but my grandchildren are both enrolled in a Gaelic-only speaking school. I’m very happy, because this means that they’ll be fluent in the language just like me. I look forward to being able to converse with them.
    Me: That sounds wonderful. Thank you for your time sir!

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