Although we are an English-language publication we include content in other languages from time to time – and in Issue 14 you’ll find a substantial poem on page 60 in Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge), with a translation into English on the facing page. Here is a link to an impromptu recording of the poet speaking the poem, made a few hours ago on the spur of the moment. We were sitting in his house looking out at the mountains you see above. If you have a love of languages or of poetry or both, I think that you will be mesmerised by it (I’m hoping I’ve got Mac and PC users covered with either the link or the embedded player below):
Why do we include the original language version when we know full well that few of our readers can read that language? The answer hinges on the importance, or lack of, which you attach to what are known as ‘minority languages’. (I put the apostrophes there because the term is itself loaded and already spinning the debate in a particular direction.)
We believe that the old languages, particularly the ones which have been settled in a place for very long time (Irish Gaelic has been spoken in an unbroken tradition here for at least two thousand years) provide a link, a bridge to a way of being in the world other than the dominant western capitalist tradition in which many of us have been born and educated. They also provide a firewall against colonisation by dominant outside cultures – they are inherently resistant to globalisation. They are like a seed-bank of old strains and varieties. So long as a native language is spoken, the people who speak it have a refuge for their ideas and their culture that cannot be commodified and homogenised by global mass-media and the power of money. Yes, these are big claims to be making on behalf of a language. But a brief look at the history of minority languages throws up endless examples of invaders doing their utmost to stamp out the native tongue as a means of efficiently subjugating their new lands. Invaders know fine well the power of a language. As Pádraig Pearse said, ‘Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam’ / ‘A land without its language is a land without a soul’.
In what are now undeniably troubled times for the West, many of us go looking for inspiration in far-off lands, to the mystic East, the indigenous tribes of the jungle, the First Nations of America. And there is fine wisdom to be had in all those places, I don’t deny. But still, on our doorstep, almost under our feet there are our own languages, cultures, stories – persisting in the hidden folds in the land, on the shorelines that nobody owns, so far. The world, even western Europe, is still full of these stories, at the edges and in the corners, sometimes even in the heartlands, though often all but buried – the Ulster dialect of Gaelic spoken on this recording is only one amongst a great tribe of robust ancients. They will try to keep you from hearing these voices, that is the goal of the global brands and the advertising men. They will shout louder when you travel and pass through the old places – loud enough to drown out the voices of the land. You may swear blind that you went there yourself and heard no such voices. But here, in this recording is the proof that they speak with strength and vitality. This is not a poem of nostalgia or whimsy or sentimentality. This is a full-blooded onslaught on the values of a society gone wrong. This is a searing indictment from the old gods against the power of empire. It flames. You only have to listen to it and you will know.
The poem is ‘An Bhé Ghlas’ (‘The Green Goddess’) by Cathal Ó Searcaigh, which is published in Earthlines Issue 14 in the original Irish Gaelic alongside a translation by one of the finest translators of Gaelic poetry working today, Paddy Bushe. The recording is in Irish Gaelic. This is the language of everyday life for Cathal and a large proportion of the people with whom we live in this north-west corner of Donegal. The poem is included in Earthlines courtesy of Leabhar Breac.