Friday, March 23, 2007

Liddy Tribute reviewed in The Irish Literary Supplement

The Irish Literary Supplement has reviewed Honeysuckle, Honeyjuice: A Tribute to James Liddy in its Spring 2007 issue (Vol. 26, No. 2). The piece, by Tyler Farrell, is entitled “The Poet Who Caps Our Being,” and is quite a glowing assessment of both the Tribute and Liddy’s newest collection, On the Raft with Fr. Roseliep. Farrell writes, “The festschrift shows the desire to hail this poet, to give something back to a man who influenced poetry, shaped a new and unique outlook, and struck a blow for the spiritual and the sexual, the Irish and American, the freedoms and the footsteps.” Later he adds, “Many of the works jump off the page and relay much of Liddy’s devotion to writing, life, friends, love and art. It is gossip for the gossip poet and love for the love poet.” My appreciation to Farrell and the ILS.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Lá Fhéile Pádraig

St. Patrick escapes from servitude as a pig herder in Ireland back to his native Britain (from where he had been kidnapped) with the help of sailors who agree to take him aboard. Patrick, or Patricius, says in his Confessio that “on that day, I refused to suck the breasts of these men from fear of God, but nevertheless I had hopes that they would come to faith in Jesus Christ, because they were barbarians.” The breast-sucking appears to have been a custom of ancient Irish society.

Later Patrick comes back, competes with the druids in contests of magic, and lights his fire on the Hill of Slane to trump the traditional druidic fire on the Hill of Tara. (It seems the Irish government is planning to build a highway near/over Tara soon. There’s presently a campaign to stop it, which any right-thinking person should support.)

James Joyce writes about the Archdruid Berkeley’s religious disputations with Patrick in Finnegans Wake. Peter D. Fitz-Hugh examines this section in an interesting article:

Why then should King Leary as the Archdruid’s chosen example of his way of ‘seeing’ the world appear all green? Because the fundamental point about Leary is his Irishness, a true native Irish king, the embodiment of Ireland free and unoppressed, who must therefore be seen as green, Ireland’s national colour, through and through to the Archdruids ‘throughsighty’ (FW611.32). Joyce is also saying that the Wake is a thoroughly Irish work.


St. Patrick represents a major cultural shift in Irish society. Although, of course Ireland didn’t become Christian in one fell swoop, as if in 432 the country was suddenly converted en masse. The original religion existed for probably many centuries more, and numerous pagan sites and practices were preserved almost wholesale in an ostensibly Christian guise.

It has been suggested that poems on the 7th-century figure Mongán in ancient texts such the Imram Brain maic Febaill represent a native pagan resistance to the imported religion, and that “Mongán was a chief [flaith] sympathetic to pagan beliefs…and poets viewed him as their champion and a source of hope as they attempted to hold the line against Christianity” (my translation, from J.E. Caerwyn Williams & Máirín Ní Mhuiríosa, Traidisiún Liteartha na nGael, BÁC: An Clóchomhar, 1979, p. 30).

Many also point out that on another level Christianity was eventually accepted into Ireland with a striking lack of violence or force, with a lot of tolerance for the earlier belief, even subsuming some of it and molding itself to pre-existing customs (though rejecting many others). St. Patrick therefore has a strange double meaning for Ireland.