County Cork, Ireland
Last weekend I took a casual stroll into the hidden Ireland, plunging headlong into the wellsprings of our cultural psyche. I was drawn to Inchigeelagh on a sunny Thursday morning on a reccie for some live internet coverage I was preparing for the weekend's Daniel Corkery Summer School.
I met with Joe Creedon, proprietor of the hotel and organiser of the school, and, over pots of coffee, he wove a tapestry of the colours and hues of his place, his neighbours and his history. An engaging and instinctive story-teller, his tales banished deadlines, the rhythmic words unveiling submerged memories of childhood and earlier.
I was back on Saturday, complete with computer, modem, digital camera and a journalist and photographer who were interviewing me for an Irish-American magazine. Sheila, the writer, grew up in Boston, but made frequent visits to her father's home in Longford during her youth and came to live in Dublin in 1991. As a first generation Irish-American, I was eager to see her response to Joe's stories. He spoke of the Brehon Laws, of the matriarchal tradition, of badges of respect in the community, of art and literature and the Irish language, and of course of Daniel Corkery. The writer's pen was frequently stalled by the flow of words, the fluent music of the oral tradition - still thriving in Inchigeelagh and Uibh Laoire - which had drawn Daniel Corkery to establish the first summer school in the village in the 1920s.
Daniel Corkery was a teacher, writer, dramatist, artist, and critic, whose views on Irish culture were to have a profound impact on his followers. As a primary school teacher he inspired students like sculptor Seamus Murphy and writer Frank O'Connor with his eclectic cultural vision. Writing articles for "The Leader" in Cork he began to develop themes that were recurrent in all his future writing - plays, short stories, novels and critical and academic texts. He was concerned that anglo-Irish writers such as O'Casey and Yeats were writing for an international audience, and that their work did not portray Ireland as it really was. He believed that our writers should be true to their culture, in order to establish an identity unique to Ireland.
Brought up in Cork City he had little exposure to the Irish language as a child, but he came to view the revival of the language as crucial to filling the cultural void that borrowed heavily on the English language. He feared that if the basic elements essential to national identity, especially language, were to disappear then Ireland would be seen as no different from other areas in Britain. He visited the last remaining Irish-speaking areas in the region, and became a frequent visitor to Inchigeelagh and neighbouring Ballingeary, finding in this tranquil spot people who were still closely connected with their own Irish culture.
Listening to Joe, we were transported back, from the days of local overlordship by the McCarthy clan, to the walk of tears during famine times, to his childhood when carloads of visitors would be despatched to the beach in convoy, armed with calor gas and picnic in the boot. By now Sheila was suggesting that we include sound files in our coverage of this event, to capture the magic of this consummate storyteller. That is the work of another day and, in the meantime, Joe is young and full of lore.
Sheila had to leave to travel back to Dublin, and it's a shame that she missed the sing-song that rounded off a busy weekend, where singers in the sean nos joined balladeers, tenor voices rose in arias and thoughtful american folk songs told a more distant tale - here is a confident culture, sharing its treasures and enriching itself. Daniel Corkery would have revelled in it.
Published in In Motion Magazine - August 10, 1997.
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