Synge happy birthday

Currach

Rowing the beer to the island.

Born this day 1871 John Millington Synge wrote the poem below which describes how the keg of porter had to be rowed to the island of Beg-Innish though the Atlantic waters where the gannets fish.

Beg-Innish in gaelic simply means “small island”.

In 1977 Guinness made the iconic ad “Tá siad ag teacht” (They are coming) describing the same journey.  Still evocative after all these years, you can find it on Youtube.

The rowing boat they use in the still above is a traditional Irish Currach.  A high riding fragile shell made of ash frames covered in tarred canvas.  It is one of the oldest types of craft in continuous use.  Originally made with tanned ox-hide, and similar in construction to a coracle.  The Currach is a surprisingly good craft on the open ocean.  It was the workhorse of the fishermen of the Irish west coast for hundreds of years.  The design reflects the lack of large timber available, due to the scouring effect of Atlantic storms.

Light as a large canoe, the fishermen lift it over their heads and carry it up the beach to dry out after a day of fishing.  The image of fishermen with their currach brings to mind a scarab beetle and the circularity of life and death.  Many legs beneath a shiny black carapace.

 

Beg-Innish ; by John Millington Synge

Bring Kateen-beug and Maurya Jude
to dance in Beg-Innish,
and when the lads (they’re in Dunquin)
have sold their crabs and fish,
wave fawny shawls and call them in,
and call the little girls who spin,
and seven weavers from Dunquin,
to dance in Beg-Innish.

I’ll play you jigs, and Maurice Kean,
where nets are laid to dry,
I’ve silken strings would draw a dance
from girls are lame or shy;
four strings I’ve brought from Spain and France
to make your long men skip and prance,
till stars look out to see the dance
where nets are laid to dry.

We’ll have no priest or peeler in
to dance in Beg-Innish;
but we’ll have drink from M’riarty Jim
rowed round while gannets fish,
a keg with porter to the brim,
that every lad may have his whim,
till we up sails with M’riarty Jim
and sail from Ben-Innish.

currach2

Lady Gregory’s Birthday

Lady_gregory

March 15th the Ides of March and that fateful day for one Julius Caesar in the year 44 BC.  After the death of Caesar his adopted nephew, Octavian, rose to power in Rome and became the first Emperor.   The senate awarded him the title “Augustus” in 27 BC, meaning “The illustrious one”.

In 1852 on Roxborough Estate in Galway a young girl was born to to Frances Persse and was named Isabella Augusta Persse.  She grew up and married Sir William Henry Gregory and became Lady Gregory.  She Co-founded and Managed the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s National Theatre with William Butler Yeats, Edward Martyn, John Millington Synge etc.

Lady Gregory was a prolific playwright but her greatest legacy to Ireland was as a folklorist.  She learned the Irish language and established a school on her estate.  Then she collected and published a huge body of folk material.  She was the Irish version of the Brothers Grimm.

Here is one of her translations, a sinful, sexual and blasphemous piece of beauty:

Donal Óg; Anonymous 8th Century Irish poem.

Translation by Isabella Augusta (Lady Gregory)

 

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.
And myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you that put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!