Robert O’Driscoll, ed., The Celtic Consciousness [papers of 1978 symposium at Toronto] (Dublin: Dolmen Press; Edinburgh: Canongate Publ. 1982) [first edn. McClelland & Stewart/Dolmen 1981]. 642pp.

CONTENTS: Foreword by John Kelly, chair, Celtic Arts Board,Toronto]; Prefaced by “Finistere” [poem] by Thomas Kinsella; incl. Joseph Campbell [introduced at the symposium by Marshall McLuhan], Liam de Paor; Proinsias MacCana; Kevin Danaher; Maire Cruise O’Brien; Sean O Tuama, Louis Marcus [on Sean O Riada]; Breandan O Madagain; John Montague [”O’Riada’s Farewell”, pp.xxvii-xxxi.]; Margaret MacCurtain [‘The Roots of Irish nationalism’]; Lorna Reynolds; Conor Cruise O’Brien [also a reply to O’Brien by John Montague]; Kathleen Raine [‘Easter Again’]; Sean MacBride [Declaring the Irish Republic, a reply to C. C. O’Brien]; Owen Dudley Edwards; W. B. Stanford; Anne Dooley; Montague [on Hugh MacDiarmid]; Raine [on David Jones]; Soley Maclean; Salvador Dali [‘Dali, Trajan and Celtic Consciousness’]; William Irwin Thompson, et al.

 

John Kelly writes in his foreword: ‘[…] The Celtic consciousness event was deemed impossible by all program organisers save O’Driscoll and those who caught the fever of his infectious spirit. / The event was explosive: it lasted fro weeks and played to full houses in the largest auditoria on campus. Moreover, the explosion has had its fallout … In 1981, as this book goes to press, there geins at the University of Toronto a full Major Programme in Celtic studies, the emergence of which Dean Kruger calls a miracle … the dawn of a new day of revival.’

Introduction
Eipgraph from Yeats: ‘The nations of the world are like a great organ. And in that organ there are many pipes. And reach pipe is a nation … Now one pipe sounds, now another. [Refers to ‘the Empire of Spain’ and then ‘the Empire of England’.] But it may be that it too will fall silent, and it is certain that at last the pipe that is Ireland will aware and that its music will be heard through the whole world!’ (Yeats, [unpubl. lecture in New York] Jan. 1904; here p.xxiv.)

The cauldron, or, in Christian terms, the Grail, is a central recurring motif in Celtic mythology. […] // Does the resurgence of the Celtic spirit in the twentieth century, and the reappearance of mystics and visionaries, suggest that Vico, Spengler, and Yeats were right in their contention that history moves in cycles? Do perceptions and ideas which have been pushed ot the periphery in one cycle become the spiritual nucelus for the next? In any case, contemplation of the Celtic experience forces one to look backwards and forwards at the same time, and an appropriate image of that experience seems to be one of those ancient Celtic faces carved in stone, looking simultaneously in many directions.’ (Robert Driscoll, Introduction, p.xi.) Further [Intro., Pt. II]: ‘To understand the Celtic consciousness, the peripheries of the Indo-European world must be touched, and points of contact between East and West probed, certainly with regard to mythology, language, music, and art. […]’ xii. ‘Like the cauldron of their rmytholigy, the Celts themselves are proving inexhaustible .. Celtic society is an “extremely refined and complex society, the dimensions of which we have scarcely begun to understand.’ (Quoting Sean O Tuama, ‘The Lineage of Gaelic Love-Poetry from the Earliest Times’, here pp.289-304; p.294). O’Driscoll further laments the absence of ‘an academic programme in Celtic Studies using interdisciplinary means to correct the fundamental misconception that has been at the core of our educational system, and this is, as Claude-Levi-Strauss suggests, the mistaken belief that the womb of civilisation lies in the Mediterranean. .. [T]he Celts in their relation to the Germanic and Latin world are as crucial as he Greeks and Romans in the evolution of European civilisation.’ [xxi].

de Paor, ‘[T]he word in Celtic is not a solid, strictly definable unit, but on the contrary something that changes its form constantly under all sorts of influences: phonetic, morphological, and syntactical. This also gives the sentence as a whole an unstable almost fluid appearance. [cited here at xiii]

pl. Timothy O’Neill, FRS, Finnegans Wake, p.21; in celtic script. [xv]

... insular Celts settled on their soil longer tahn any other people in Europe [Estyn Evans] [xvi]

Folklore ... may provide a more intimate link with the past tahn archaeeological remains, historical records, or even sophisticated literature. [xvi]

On Anglo-Irish literature, viz.., ‘the modern literary achievemnt of the Celtic world’ and ‘the tradition of which it is the continuing expression’: ‘To approach it in any other way, as a provincial offshoot of English literature (as is unfortunately the case in most universities toda) is a misguided and as unscholarly as to teach modern Irish hisstory as a branch of British colonial history. [xvii]. Also, ftn. remarking that AI lit. is a very inaccurate way of referring to modern Irish literature in English as suggesting a provincial branch of English literature; ‘The fact that this literature is written in English is not sufficient to merit the appellation AI’, noting the differences of Hiberno-English.

Quotes at some length Yeats’s remarks in RE interview in answer to the question whether the Abbey is an Anglo-Irish theatre: ‘Of course it is Anglo-Irish. When Chaucer was writing and English literature was being founded, there were people the historians call Anglo-Norman; they became the English people. Anglo-Ireland is already Ireland. ... We havenot only english but Europeean thoughts and customs in our heads and our habits. We could not, if we would, give them up. You may revive the gaelic language, you cannot revive the Gaelic race. There may be pure Gaels in the Blasket Islands but there are none on the Four Courts, in the College of Surgeons, at the Universities, in the Executive Council, at Mr Cosgrave’s headquarters ... But I hate all hyphenated words. AI is your word, not mine. ... [Henceforth I shall say the irish race. The pure Englishman came to ireland under Cromwell and married into the mixed Irish race. The pure Gael from th Blasket Islands comes to Dublin and goes into the civil service; he will marry into that race in his turn. The irish people are s much a unity as the German, French, or English people, though many strands have gone to the making of it, and any man [xvii] who says that we are not talks miscievous nonsense.’ [NLI Yeats Microfilms; p.7540; here xxvv-xviii]

Pearse: ‘The rediscovery of this buried [Irish] literature ... will make it necessary for us to re-write literary history. And it will mean not only a re-writing of literary history, but a general readjustment of literary values, a general raising of literary standards. The world has had a richer dream of beauty than we had dreamed it had. jMen here saw certain gracious things more clearly and felt certain mystic things more acutley and heard certain deep music more perfeclty than did men in ancient Greece. And it is from Greece taht e have received our standards [&c.] ... Now, I claim for Irish literature at htis best, these excllences,: a clearer than Greek vision, a more generous than Greek humanity, a deeper than Greek spirituality. And I claim that Irish literature has never lost these excellences: that they are of the essence of Irish nature and are characteristic of modern Irish poetry even as they are of ancint Irish epic and of medieval Irish hymns. (‘Some Aspects of Irish literature’, Coll. Works: Songs of the Irish Rebels, etc., 1916, p.132-33.; here xviii-xix]

Yeats: ‘What is this nationality we are trying to preserve, this thing we are fighting English influence to preserve? It is not merely our pride. It is certainly nt any national vanity that stires us on to activity. If ou examine to the root a contest between two peoples, two nations, you will find that it is really a war between two civilisations, two ideals of life.’ (Unpub. lect. in poss. of Michael Yeats; here xix.]

Russell: ‘We are the liberty of shaping the social order in Ireland to reflect our own ideals, and to embody that national soul which has been slowly incarnating in our race from its cloudy dawn.’ (Ideals in Ireland, p.18.) [xix]

Joyce: ‘the Irish nation’s insistence on developing its own culture by itself is not so much the demand of a young nation that wants to make good in the european concert as the demand of a very old nation to renew under forms the glories of a past civilisation.’ (CW, p.157)

Joseph Campbell: [I]t is one of the glories … of the Celtic tradition which we have gathered here to celebrate, that in its handling even of religious themes, it retranslates them from the languages of imagined fact into mythological idiom; so that they may be experienced, not as time-conditioned, but as timeless; telling not of miracles long past, but of miracles potential within ourselves, here, now, and forever. This is an aim that is basic to the Grail tradition, basic to Arthurian Romance; as it was basic, also, to the earlier Celtic way of story-telling, whether of pagan heroes or of Christian knights and sains. (‘Peripheries of the Indo-European World’, in O’Driscoll, ed., op. cit.; p.4.

Note that Campbell associates the date of Patrick (432) with the numbr of years in one complete cycle of the precession [sic] of the equinoxes, bing 25,920 (one Great, one Platonic Year), which divided by 60 [heart beat per min. etc.] equals 432. [8]

Heinrich Wagner discusses the basis for the theory that Irish is a survivor of the Hamitic-Semitic group (‘Near Easter and african Connnections with the Celtic world’, 51ff.)

Liam de Paor, ‘The Art of the Celtic Peoples’, pp.121-159

[...] the urban civilisation of the ancient Mediterranean had a social organisation which was much mor comlex than those of the culutres north of the Alps and which was literate and numerate. But in many respects the barbarians were th superior in technology, in agricultural methods, for example, and in the metallurgy of iron. The old tag, ex oriente lux, which thirty years ago could be appleid to the diffusion of crafts and knowledge as wwell as arts adn ltters from th eastern Meediterranean to prehistoric europe, has bad to be discarded because of the coercive evidence of radio-carbon dating has forced us to concede that very often the innovatory and doctoral system was that of the northern or western barbarians. [122]

Remarks of the imitation of the stater of Philip II of Macedon on Celtic coins: ‘they made patterns out of images’ [123]

‘The Book of Kells is rightly famous as a supreme product of the final phase of this art [Celtic]. As difficult, and in some ways alienating to the modern consciousness, as Finnegans Wake, it repels and fascinates becauseits order, barely controlling an explosive anarchy, allows us to glimpse the chaos at the heart of the universe which our own Romanised culture is at pains to conceal./From the ninth cenury onwards the Celtic spirit, in so far as it survived from prehistory, was in retreat before the advance of romanesque Europe. it becomes increasingly difficult to trace continuities, at least in the visual arts. Literature, oral or written, is a different matter. [&c.; 127]

bibl. Adomnan, Vita Columbae, ed. A O. and M. O. Anderson, edin. 1961.

‘in rustic speech a phrase,/s in wild earth a Grecian vase.’ (Padraic Colum, Coll. Poems, 1953, p.120. [de Paor, p.127.]

Mac Cana, ‘Mythology in Early Irish Literature’, pp.143-54.

On the rapport between Christian and pagan in monastic transcription: ‘the remarkable thing is that its use was extended so quickly to include so much of native pagan tradition, a fact which is generally regarded - no doubt correctly - as testimony to the liberalism, or cultural loyalty, of the Irish monastic literati. [144]

While Christianity came unsupported by military might, it was armed nonetheless with a formidable cultural prestige which no doubt accounts in very great degree for the ease wtih which it was accepted by some of th Irish nobility. [144]

Kevin Danaher, ‘Irish Folk Tradition and the Celtic Calendar’, pp.217-42 [with 23 pls.] Note, pl. 21 shows Ribin Flower, BML, with diminutive Tomas O Criomthain outside the latter’s dwelling. [p.239]; pl. 22 shows Peig Sayers [240]

Maire Cruise O’Brien [sic], ‘The role of the poet in Gaelic Society’, pp.243-54.

[Speaking of ‘my Gaeltacht’ on the Western seaboard]: Those who can adapt to the new, adapt - many with startling success, some with deep traumatic lesions - those who cannot adapt, die - of the want of the will to live. This is literally true; easily two-thirds of my school-mates and near contemporaries in one such district are dead - all in their forties or fifties. [243]

Speaks of Micheal O Gaothin, who - ‘his compulsive self-neglect notwithstanding, had the status of a poet; and of a collection offered him by ‘a group of exploiting literati’, entitled Connle Corra (Dublin 1968). [244]

comments that the word for sorcerer in the line ‘Ach cantaireacht na nAltach’ means Ulsterman [Ultach]. [245]

On Eibhlin Ni Chonnail: ‘Poor Nelly, as her family called her - she has been demoted; she is no longer a poet, only a poem.’ [248]

Instances Sean O Riordain as ‘the first Gaelic poet of any standing to attempt a break - only partially successful - with this vestigial, insular, in-tradition we are exploring [viz., the anti-feminist superstition], has summed up her dilemma rather splendidly in one of his recently published, alas posthumou, pieces, ‘odd that a woman should be a poet!/Surely it is the stallion’s trade?’ [248]

Quotes extensively from Spenser (‘The third sort is called th Aosdan, whcih is to say in English, the bards, or riming septs .... rakehelly ... great store of cattle ... to the great impoverishment of the Commonwealth’) attrib. same to our “gentleman subject” and his Elizabethan account, without ref. to Spenser, but with ftn., ‘quoted in Brian O Cuiv, ed., Seven Centuries of Irish Learning, 1000-1700 (Dublin 1961), pp.45-50.

Offers conjectures that the ‘fickle Countess’ of satirical verses on Gearoid Iarla was in fact the sovereignty of Ireland, since the real countes was faithful, and his father made unsuccessful bid for the High Kingship. [251]

Characterises Godfraidh Fionn O Dalaigh as ‘an opportunist’s opportunist even among poets [since] he praised Gael and Norman indiscriminately, glorying in it.’ [251]

Irish - that is Gaelic - verse is so intensely conservative that it has taken a major cataclysm to cause it to change.’ [252; lists the crisis as coming of Christianity, the Norman conquest and reform of the Gaelic church, and the final breakdown of the Gaelic order after Limerick.]

‘Today it is possibl that yet another crisis, this time the death-throes of a languge, is producing another last flowering.

On Cre na cille: ‘Typically, Irish country people conceive of death at three leves: one orthodox Christian, one rational, and one primeval; in this last the dead are present, resentful and vindictive beneath the actual sod. All three coexist without conflict in the folk mind and this is the stuff of our one entirely mature contemporary piece of prose. We seem to take more naturally to verse! [END; 253]

Sean O Tuama, ‘The Lineage of Gaelic Love Poetry from the Earliest Times’

quotes Robin Flower, ‘there has always been in the Irish nature a sharp and astringent irony, a tendency to react against sentiment and mysticism, an occasional bias to regard life unde a clear and humorous light ... We miss the point of much in the literature if we forget this.’ (The irish Tradition, p.142.)

quotes: ‘suirghe an chard do chleachtamar [wooing was the trade we practised]’

I am aware of course that in Europe in general during the same period monogmy amongst the privileged was honoured more in the breach than in the observance. Even so, monogamy was the ethical and legal ideal, whereas in medieval Ireland it was not. Love poems emanating from societies so differently [299] structured will of necessity have different tonalities: different distances at which one plays the game of love. ... [S]o despite the spasmodic effort of the medieval Irish poets to become the tearful one, the submissive one a l’amour courtois, his tone of voic often belies him, speaks to us of another tradition, another civilisation. [300]

Notes that Synge made use of the following exaample of folk-poetry in Playboy: ‘i would preffer to sleep with ou here below/than be in th presence of God .../I would prefer to be in bed ever kissing you/than be in the mansion of the Blessed Trinity. [302; trans. O Tuama]

Peig Sayers on her betrothal: ‘One might three men came in ... I couldn’t make out whcih of them was trying to make a match with me, because I didn’t recognise any of them. .... My fther came over to me ... “will you go to the island?” ... “I’ll go wherever you want me to

” [I said]. “Goodd girl,” he said.” [trans O Tuama; cf trns. B McMahon, 1974]

Irish society to say, in Irish speaking as in English speaking communities, seems to me to be reapidly shedding both victorian and medieval romantic notions about love; and a half-dozen poets since Years, in Irish and in English, are exploring our new emerging love-sensibilities. this latest phase of love-poetry merits a comprehensive analysis of its own.

Michael Bowles, A Note on the Nature of Irish Music, pp.307-09.

Breandan O Madagain, ‘Irish Vocal Music of Lament and Syllabic Verse’, pp.311-32. Deals largely with keening in Ireland and Scotland; includes citation from Curry in which the latter recalls his father singing ‘a beautiful ancient hymn to the BVM’ that was’ some seven hundred or more years old’, ‘so that the words and air hve been impressed on my memory frm the earliest dawn of life’, though not in fact a popular song and otherwise unheard. (Manners, 1873, iii, 392; here 326).

Louis Marcus, ‘Sean O Riada’, pp.341-47.

Montague’s ‘O Riada’s Farewell’ incl. prologic section, subscribed Woodtown Manor, Again; 1 [‘we vigil by the dying fire ...’]

Pamela Travers, ‘’The Death of AE: Irish Hero and Mystic’, pp.471-82.

Quotes letter of April 1932: ‘Ireland as a nation I have no further interest in. Indeed, I have no interest in nations at all. I feel I belong to a spiritual world whose embers are scattred all over the world and these are my kinsmen. And I would sacrifice any nation, my own quite readily, to promote the interest of that spiritual clan.’ (p.473.) Note, styles John Eglinton ‘Willie McGee’ [sic]Quotes AE’s words to the doctor on learning of his own imminent death: ‘I have had a very interesting life, I have done nrearly all the things I wanted to do. I have rejoiced in the love of friends. What man could want more?’ (p.479). Had said to Charles Weekes, who had protested that by editing a small provincial newspaper he had been lost to the world: ‘I shall go back to the stars without any flourish of trumpets. I am not going anywhere I can be seen.’ (p.480.) Yeats responded to a wire with another: ‘Give my old friend my love.’ (p.481.) Gogarty was the last of his visitors. Con Curran also present, was AE’s laywer, said: ‘Let us now praise famous men/and our fathers that begat them.’ Buried at Mt. Jerome, attened by Yeats, de Valera, and Micahel O’Donovan (Frank O’Connor), who spoke at the oration: ‘He say the lightning in the East/And he longed for the East;/He saw the lightning in the West/And he longed for the West;/But I, seeking only the lightning and its glory,/Care nothing for the quarters of the earth.’

Lorna Reynolds, speaking of Patrick Lynch’s collecting for Bunting: ‘According to Charlotte Milligan Fox, Patrick Lynch, in that summer journey of 1802, “collected versions of a great many of the songs that are in Douglas Hyde’s Love Songs of Connaught” [sic], and cetainly some of the examples quoted by her come close to the native tenderness and transparent simplicity of the Hyde renderings. (‘The Irish Literary Revival: Preparations and Personalities’, in O’Driscoll, op. cit., p.385.)

Quotes Standish James O’Grady: ‘But perhaps the most valuable work achieved for Ireland by these ancient shapers of legend and heroic tales, is like all that is best done in the world, incapable of being definitely grasped and clearly exhibited. Their best work is probably hidden in the blood and in the brain of the race to this day. Those antique singing men, with their imagined gods and superhuman heroes, breathed into the land and people the gallantry and chivalrousness, the prevailing ideality, the love of action and freedom, the audicity [sic] and elevation of thought which, underneath all rudeness and grotesquerie, characterises those remnants of their imaginings and which we believe no intervening centuries have been powerful enough wholly to destroy. Theirs, not the monks, was the perfervidum ingenium Scotorum. […/] I would also add when I consider the extraordinary stimulus which the perusal of the literature gives to the imagination even in centuries like these, and its wealth of elevated and intensely human characters that as I anticipate with the revival of Irish literary energy and the return of Irish self-esteem the artistic craftsmen of the future will find therein and in unfailing abundance the material of persons and sentiments fit for the highest purposes of epic and dramatic literature, and art, pictorial and sculptoral. (History of Ireland, Critical and Philosophical, Vol. 1, 1881, pp.60-61; quoted here at p.388.)

Also quotes Yeats (letter to O’Grady, 1898): ‘There is humour and fantasy as well as miraculous poetry in all our old legends, and onc can find in them all kinds of meanings … They are the greatest treasures the past has handed down to us Irish people and th emost plentiful treasures of legends in Europe; I have always considere3d that you yourself have done more than all others to dig away the earth that has so long lain upon their beauty.’ Wade, p.308; here 388.)

Yeats: ‘The man most important for the future was certainly Dr Douglas Hyde. I had found a publisher while still in London for his Beside the Fire and his Love Songs of Connacht and it was the first literary use of the English dialect of the Connacht country people that had aroused my imagination for those books.’ (Memoirs, ed. Donoghue, 1972, p.54; here p.390.)

He was to greate a great movement, far more important in its practical results than any movement I could have made, not matter what my luck, but, being neither quarrelsome nor vain, he will not be angry if I say - for the sake of those who come after us - that I mourn for the greatest folklorist who ever lived, and for the great poet who died in his youth. The Harps and Pepperpots got him and kept him until he wrote in our common English … and took for his model the newspaper upon his breakfast table.’ (Autobiogs., p.218-19; here p.391. )

Synge, reviwing Cuchulain of Muirthemne (Speaker, June 1902): ‘The intellectual movement that has been taking place in Ireland for the last twenty years has been chiefly a movement towards a nearer appreciation of the country people, and their languagte, so that it is not too much to say that the translation of the old MSS into this idiom is the result of an evolution rather than a merely personal idea.’ (Coll. Work, II, p.367; here p.391.)

Yeats: ‘One can only reach out to the universe with a gloved hand - the glove is one’s nation, the only thing one knows even a little of.’ Letters to a New Island, ed. Horace Reynolds, Oxford 1970, p.174; here p.392.)

Richard Demarco, ‘Celtic Vision in Contemporary Thought’, pp.519-50

Louis le Brocquy has long been regarded as an outstanding Irish artist. [cites the painter’s remarks at lecture of 1978 in Toronto]; Le Brocquy likens the process of painting over 200 heads of Yeats, Joyce, and Lorca to a type of archaeology, an archaeology of the spirit. [543] / In Louis le Brocquy’s work, then, we have a contemporary artist using an innate Celtic sensibility to illuminate the artistic consciousness of our time. When I exhibited his heads of Yeats in the 1977 Edinburgh Festival I did so alongside a series of heads carved in Northern Ireland between the third century B.C. and our own time, demonstrating the truth of Henry moore’s statement that art is “a universal continuous activity with no separation between past and present.” / Anne Madden finds her inspiration in the megaliths of Ireland and in the landscape of her native land, Connemara stone, and the great storm-tossed Atlantic cloud formations. Yet her paintings are not developments of an abstract concept, but the paints she uses dictate what emerges on the canvas: “what breaks through, emerging from behind the surface of her canvas, is neither dolmen nor menhir, but paint - paint which asks to be recognised as such. (Dominique Fourcade, Anne Madden, Paris 1979, p.5), She infuses the ancient megalithic forms with a modern consciousness and explosive sensuality, painting as much out of th edepths of her own being as out of the depth of the mythological past, creating a “heart of reality” that “craves for light”, with the light in turn carcing “for further light”, light “which isolates every sold mass simply by virtue of its inner living growth … Light which is the very limit of our [545] being, this limit - whether delible or not - lying within us.” I am reminded of André Breton’s statement: deep er than the deepest ocean is the heart of a woman.’ (pp.545-46.)

 

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