Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Seán Ó Ríordáin
Do not feed the Irish speaker
Seán Ó Ríordáin (1916-77) has long been one of my favourite poets. I've always been struck by the similarities between him and Philip Larkin: both bald, mother-fixated bureaucrats, terrified of death, and publishing on average a book a decade. Except one is world-famous and the other is not. Which is sad, you might think, pondering the fragile but invaluable resources of minority literatures in our Anglophone world. Sad, but at least we have the choice, those of us lucky enough to read both languages.
Unless of course, like Richard Waghorne, you experience the survival of the Irish language as a personal insult to you and the taxes you'd rather use to buy complimentary pints for American soldiers stopping over in Shannon on their rendition flights.
Thinking about Ó Ríordáin gives me something to do in between puking all over the screen at the effusions of the chickenhawk, neocon and all-round moron Waghorne: 'The great works of Irish culture - all of them - are through English.' (Apart from the ones written not just in Irish, but Latin and French, I presume.) 'Joyce, Beckett, Wilde, and Shaw aren't just better known because they wrote in English, they're better known because the worked in the greater European literary traditions - and because they were better. There is no writer in the Irish language that anyone need bother reading if looking for Irish literary contributions - there are more than enough Irish writers in English of truly first-class stature without excavating a dead language for literary fossils.'
Oh, and Irish traditional music is all peasant bumfluff too.
'The great contributions of Irishmen and women were almost uniformly made through English or in the greater traditions of Western civilization. The Irish language embodies little of our true heritage and obscures the rest. We can do without it.'
Note how, despite its uselessness to Waghorne, this ragbag of 'culture' remains his to dispose of as he sees fit, 'obscuring' his view of his birthright (presumably the Henry Kissinger posters on his bedroom wall) like some kind of mangy old dog jumping up and down in front of the television, and which he can now take to the vet and have put down (because the real anger in his post is not that the Irish language is dead but the reverse: that it should be dead but isn't).
Here's the Ó Ríordáin poem, 'Reo', stretched out in the coffin of its original Irish, to mistranslate the last line into a language Waghorne understands, yet obstinately still alive:
Maidin sheaca ghabhas amach
Is bhí seál póca romham ar sceach,
Rugas air le cur im phóca
Ach sciorr sé uaim mar bhi sé reoite:
Ní héadach beo a léim óm ghlaic
Ach rud fuair bás aréir ar sceach:
Is siúd ag taighde mé fé m’intinn
Go bhfuaireas macasamhail an ní seo –
Lá dár phógas bean dem mhuintir
Is í ina cónra reoite, sínte.