Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why I Am a Traditionalist (VII)

As I come to the seventh instalment of this hectically-written series, I feel a sense of fatigue. My fascination with the subject propelled me, but I do feel rather burnt out now. I'm not sure if I have successfully managed to communicate my enthusiasm.

There is so much more that I would like to write about tradition, but I could go on forever. I may return to this subject in the future, but I do intend to round off this series with this post.

I promised to say something about Irish tradition. But the scale of this subject rather scares me off. I've spent perhaps a couple of months in America overall; I've spent almost forty years in Ireland. I don't know how to compress my experience and thoughts of Ireland's traditions, and the attitude of the Irish towards their own traditions, within a single blog post.

My background is solidly Irish nationalist-- going back several generations. So these are debates that I almost literally took in with my mother's milk.

As I see it, there are two sorts of Irish tradition-- readily-identified Irish traditions such as the Irish language, Gaelic football and hurling, Irish music, Irish dancing, the Irish pub (in its historic form and its exported form), Halloween (for that is an Irish tradition), the Irish literary tradition, Irish stew, the Irish wake, and so on.

Then there are the less well-known or more elusive Irish traditions-- such as red lemonade (mentioned already), Ireland's Own magazine, supporting English soccer teams, giving rhyming nicknames to Dublin statues and monuments, the 'Irish mammy', the (also already-mentioned) Late Late Toy Show, the card game Twenty-Five, and doubtless dozens of others I would never even think of.

(It's so easy to overlook less-celebrated traditions. Before my marriage, Michelle kept asking me for Irish wedding traditions. I kept replying: "I don't know any". Then, a little bit before our wedding, we were in a shop and I fumbled the change that the shop assistant handed me. It spilled everywhere and the shop assistant said: "Grushy!". Michelle asked me what grushy was and I said: "Oh, it's an Irish wedding tradition where someone throws a lot of coins for kids to catch." It just hadn't come to mind when she was asking me about wedding traditions. I sometimes think of trying to compile a definitive list of Irish traditions.)

Regarding Ireland's more famous traditions, I'm rather ashamed at my lack of participation in them. Although all my pre-college education was through the Irish language, I can barely speak it and I don't use it very much. (I have made sporadic attempts to improve it, but it really requires a very dedicated effort. I could write a whole post about this.) I don't watch Gaelic sports, except occasionally out of a sense of duty.  (I don't really like them much.) I very rarely listen to Irish traditional music. Irish cuisine is not really to my taste, apart from the full Irish breakfast. I do love Halloween, but Halloween is pretty much an Irish export now-- it hardly needs much buoying up.

Regarding the Irish wake (where the dead lie in state in the family home, and mourners drink and sing and generally have a party), I have mixed feelings. I like the idea of the dead being mourned at home, and I don't at all object to the revelry. However, I don't like the idea of looking at the dead body of a loved one. I wish I had not spent so much time by my mother's open coffin. It's hard to get that image out of my mind. It's said that this helps you accept the fact of a loved one dying. I don't have the slightest difficulty accepting the reality of anybody's death. It's all too easy.

I often ask myself how I actually assist in the preservation and transmission of Irish traditions. I suppose I make some contribution when it comes to the Irish literary tradition, through posts like this one and this one.  And I do try to honour Irish social history, especially that of recent decades-- by writing and talking about them, mostly. On the whole, I accept I have done little. What kind of a traditionalist am I, really?

As for the vibrancy of Irish traditions-- our national sports are wildly popular, and the only danger they would seem to face is the danger of professionalization (they are still precariously amateur, despite their huge commercial success). Irish music and dance remain highly popular. The Irish language continues to exist in a kind of suspended animation, used by few but apparently in no immediate danger of disappearing. Distinctively Irish names for children are more popular than they used to be. Irish rural life is suffering badly as thousands of young people emigrate from these areas, or move to the city. On the whole, it's a very mixed picture. (Possibly the most clich├ęd sentence I've ever written, that, but let it stand.)

And so....I come to the end of my long journey through the subject of tradition and traditionalism. Except it's not really the end. I have lots more to say, and I do intend to say it at some time in the future-- though maybe not for a good while. It's been a rather wayward journey, and perhaps some of its windings have seemed rather arbitrary-- why a whole post on American traditions, aside from my being married to an American woman?-- but I hope that it provided some interest, and food for thought. Thank you for accompanying me on it-- I thoroughly enjoyed every second.

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