I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Noisy as the Grave

Noisy as the Grave

Philip O’Leary
The Dirty Dust: Cré na Cille, by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, translated from the Irish by Alan Titley, Yale University Press, 328 pp, €25, ISBN: 978-0300198492 In a 1950 advertisement for Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille, the publishers Sáirséal agus Dill stated that “everything in it, form, narrative method, setting, dialogue etc. are brand new in Irish”. Much of that originality was due to the fact that Ó Cadhain joined an unparalleled command of his native Conamara Irish with a wide-ranging familiarity with both the Gaelic literary tradition and the modern literature of Europe and America, allowing him to view his own Gaeltacht community and to use its language in often startlingly new ways. At the time he was writing, there were two major and complementary paradigms that dominated discussion of the Gaeltacht and the native speakers who lived there. The first stated that native speakers of Irish were the walking dead, speakers of a doomed language and the last survivors of a now moribund culture nearing its end. The second underscored the otherworldly, almost timeless, quality of the life they lived in a place immune to the complexities and corruptions of the modern life with which their Anglophone compatriots had to struggle. Like Myles na gCopaleen in An Béal Bocht (1941), but from an insider’s perspective, Ó Cadhain saw through both of these pernicious myths. Moreover he zestfully subverted the accepted wisdom that the Gaeltacht was a site of stasis, increasing silence, and cultural stagnation by ceding its proponents the playing field of their choice. If they wanted to see the Gaeltacht as a vast cemetery, so be it: he would set his novel in a graveyard with all its characters corpses. If they wanted to mourn the encroaching silence of the Gaeltacht as emigration drained away its native speakers and the language steadily receded, he would create a vigorous cacophony of wrangling voices, arguing about, among so many other things, emigration. If they insisted on putting the remaining native speakers on a lofty ideological pedestal, he would shovel them under the churchyard clay of Ó Cadhain’s title, the dirty dust of Titley’s version of it. And if they wanted to present the real human beings he knew so well as preternaturally angelic beings out of place in a fallen modern world, his characters would be literally earthy, not isolated in some prelapsarian Tír na nÓg but instead involved with perverse enthusiasm…

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