Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reading Irish Culture by Dr. Joyce East

Archaeology, history, religion, literature, and the Arts provide windows into a culture.  Also of value are the myths and heroes from earliest times.  To explain existence, a culture developed myths of origin; to account for powerful forces of nature, gods were held responsible; to give meaning to death, an underworld was believed to exist. When we examine The Iliad, for example, we see a Greek culture that admired strength, bravery, cunning, and beauty.  Poseidon, the fierce god of the sea, had to be placated; Hades controlled a vast underworld. 
Because ancient myths and folkways continue to survive in a culture, even after the development of Christianity, we often find tensions between these older folk traditions and Church teachings. For example, Samhain (Halloween), an older Celtic tradition, is celebrated alongside All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day.  The Festival of Lughnasa, in August, has given way to Garland Sunday (Reek Sunday or, in Irish, Domhnach na Cruaiche).
In most cultures, kings, priests, and teachers are valued leaders.  Storytellers and poets (in Ireland, called filí) are esteemed as chroniclers and transmitters of cultural mores.  Their focus is often on the gods, heroes, and tricksters in a culture.  These myths and cultural figures can be traced in the literature, drama, music and visual arts, from earliest stories to contemporary novels and paintings. 
With this notion that myths and heroes of Celtic Ireland often influence modern literature, we have selected four outstanding works from Irish literature to stimulate our exploration.  The oldest of these works is The Tain (Táin Bó Cúailnge, “Cattle Raid of Cooley”), a part of the Ulster Cycle of tales dating from the eighth century.  This epic gives us the most complete picture of Cuchulainn, the great Irish hero.  The other works are modern works by three great Irish writers.
We begin the study with a work by James Joyce that “bridges” from our discussion of The Dubliners last fall.  His second major work, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, makes use of Greek myth, Irish culture, and a hint of Irish mythology.  With this work, we can explore the idea of “hero” and see how a very gifted writer uses ancient myth.
From the urban world of Dublin, we move to rural Ulster in Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa.  The play explores the folk beliefs of a small community on the eve of the August festival of Lugh, the Celtic god of the sun and harvests.  We’ll blend a discussion of the play text with the film starring Meryl Streep.
After our discussion of The Tain in March, we will move to three plays by William Butler Yeats that focus on Cuchulainn (On Baile’s Strand, At the Hawk’s Well, and The Death of Cuchulain).  Integrating dance, masks, and myth, these plays recreate episodes from the hero’s life. 
Each of the works selected will provide a stimulus for broader discussions of culture, art, and the roles of the storyteller and artist in our society.  We look forward to spirited discussions and directions for future reading adventures.

Dr. Joyce East & Mary Wilber

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Who Is My Family?

By Carol Regan

    Did any of us wake up one morning and say, “Today, I’m going to start researching my family history?”

     Interest is often generated by a family story, bible or picture. With Thanksgiving upon us and family getting together; take advantage of this opportunity to ask for family stories. You could begin by looking at old family photos and asking about the people in the pictures.

     Usually, our very first goal is to discover more about a particular person in the family but can quickly expand to include discovering all our ancestors.

     My genealogical journey began because I didn’t want to embarrass myself over a pint of beer, while on a business trip in Ireland.  Before going to Ireland, I read the book, “Ireland Culture Shock.”  In this book, it stated that the Irish like to talk with Americans of Irish descent about their roots. I didn’t know anything about my roots. Not wanting to embarrass myself, my goal was to learn just enough to carry on a pub conversation over a pint. 

     That first goal soon expanded and sent me on a genealogical journey. Through my research, I have connected our American and Irish extended families.  The results of my research was a gift to my family with the added bonus of connecting with living relatives in Ireland. 
Genealogical research begins at the library. The library has information which can help you locate and understand your specific family history. They can also help increase your research skills and expand research strategy. 

     In the Phoenix area, we are very fortunate to have a Genealogy Centre at the McClelland Irish Library. There is a professional genealogist on staff, available for consultations, and trained volunteers to assist with basic research.

     You can begin your genealogical treasure hunt, with the help of the McClelland Irish Library Genealogical Centre. It’s not too late to get started and have a write-up for your family as a Christmas gift. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

As our little ghosts and goblins gather before heading out to spend the evening trick or treating, it is amazing to reflect on how long the tradition they are embarking upon has been a part of our collective culture.

Halloween, as we know it today, comes from the Celtic New Year holiday Samhain. The ancient Celts believed the year ended with a full harvest and the new year started with winter.  Celtic days, like their years, started with the approaching darkness; sun down.  At sundown on what is now the last day of October, the Celts would extinguish their bonfires to signify the end of the year.  Then as the sun drifted fully from sight and the new year started, the ancient Celts would relight their fires and celebrate the year to come.

A day between years, Samhain was considered a time when the veil between worlds was fluid. Tir na n’Og was accessible, and many Celts dressed in costumes to keep from being recognized by the spirits and creatures of the other side.  Turnips were carved out and used to hold candles, leading to the Jack O’Lanterns still carved today. As W.B. Yeat’s Fairy and Folktales of Ireland recounts, creatures like the Pooka , hidden from the waist down on a hill in Leinster, would tell fortunes to visitors of their upcoming year. The magical night was a time of celebration of hard work and harvest, reflection on the past, and a time to look forward to the future to come.

So like many of our Celtic ancestors, tonight we can look back on the thousands of years of celebration that unite us with those long gone.  While the distance between our world and another on this night is disputable, our connection with those who celebrated it is undeniable.  The magic present tonight with every trick or treater is that of human tradition and our ability to reach through time and celebrate side by side with those we’ve never known.

A Poem to get your Halloween Started

From Fairy and Folktales of Ireland -edited by W.B. Yeats

From Fairy and Folktales of Ireland -edited by W.B. Yeats
A Dream
- by William Allingham
I heard the dogs howl in the moonlight night;
I went to the window to see the sight;
All the Dead that ever I knew
Going one by one and two by two.
On the pass'd, and on they pass'd;
Townsfellows all, from first to last;
Born in the moonlight of the lane,
Quench'd in heavy shadow again.

Schoolmates, marching as when we play'd
At soldiers once-but now more staid;
Those were the strangest sight to me
Who were drown'd, I knew, in the awful sea.
Straight and handsome folk; bent and weak, too;
Some that I loved, and gasp'd to speak to;
Some but a day in their churchyard bed;
Some that I had not known were dead.
A long, long crowd-where each seem'd lonely,
Yet of them all there was one, one only,
Raised a head or look'd my way.
She linger'd a moment,-she might not stay.
How long since I saw that fair pale face!
Ah! Mother dear! might I only place
My head on thy breast, a moment to rest,
While thy hand on my tearful cheek were prest!
On, on, a moving bridge they made
Across the moon-stream, from shade to shade,
Young and old, women and men;
Many long-forgot, but remember'd then.

And first there came a bitter laughter;
A sound of tears the moment after;
And then a music so lofty and gay,
That every morning, day by day,
I strive to recall it if I may.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Welcome to our Blog

Amongst the red earth colored buildings and palm tree laden skyline, a tall blue and grey castle rises from the center of the city of Phoenix.  The warmth of the desert city is briefly suspended as the cool blue Irish limestone draws everyone that passes into the heart of a 12th century Irish castle.
The McClelland Irish Library is the only library of its kind in the Western United States.  If it is the only one, you might ask yourself, how much can there possibly be to do? Besides touring the physical building and admiring the hand carved blue Irish limestone, what sets this library apart from any other site worth seeing? Much like the limestone archway that sits watch over the library doors, the library itself is a compacted creation of the Irish community; some old and some new, from different corners of Arizona and the globe. The McClelland Library’s growth and nature of constant movement presents a new area of focus and activity with every visit.
The library houses an immense collection of Irish and Celtic volumes.  Three stories allow for a circulating and reference collection in addition to traveling exhibits, permanent museum collections, an archive, and genealogy research centre.   From poetry readings, and music composition lectures with sing alongs,to literature discussion groups, and genealogical classes and workshops, the McClelland Library is home to a rhythm of community that calls with open arms.  The question isn’t “What can I do?” at the McClelland Irish Library, but “How soon can I come back?”
We hope you will check back here at our blog often, and subscribe, for our updates on: events, book reviews, the Irish community, genealogy, historical perspectives, and literary discussions.  Thank you for spending some time with us today, we look forward to getting to know you.

Slán go fóill