Saturday, January 21, 2006
An Ireland the poets have imagined
I have lately been entertained and impressed by R.F. Foster's ever sharp analysis about the uses and misuses of Irish history, and, inspired, started to re-read his excellent biography of Yeats. It is amazing how much cultural significance Ireland seems to possess, out of all proportion to its size. I suppose, being both an Anglophile and an Hibernophile, I dare to say this: maybe it is due to the fateful fact of being next to England and the English language... In any case it has felt like a quite a priviledge to have lived a year and half in Dublin, that ugly, crowded town - witnessing the Celtic Tiger so removed from any grand, bloody history: seeing a replica poster for a Michael Collins speech for the election of 1922 on the wall of the Abbey Bar, underneath the young Dublin partying on regardless of any stony, narrow ground. Or the very understated tricolour silencing for a moment a restless party of tourists at the Kilmainham Gaol: the place where a terrible beauty was once born, a very un-Irish affair - a low mast with a small flag, surrounded by the high grey walls, a bleak small yard. Quite Finnish actually in some ways. I would not speak of Sweden, of Norway on these terms, very probably mistakenly - and there surely is a great danger of continuing the great Irish tradition of soft, sentimental national mythification - but, nevertheless, there seemed to be strange echoes there that could be faintly heard even in the midst of the mad life that we then led. At least they were audible for me, having so freshly studied Anglo-Irish history, loving Yeats in all his craziness: there were moments when I stopped, forgot my life and its attendant worries, and listened. Minute by minute we live.