Saturday, June 3, 2017

Unbearable Things

I've often mentioned Patrick Pearse on this blog. He was one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, after which he was executed, and a champion of the Irish language and Irish national culture. I've always regarded his poetry very highly, and indeed I have a great admiration for the man himself.

However, I never really got round to reading his Irish language writings. I assumed they would be heavy going-- contrived, laboured, artificial. Pearse was not a native speaker of Irish, and indeed it might be questioned whether anyone is a "native writer" of Irish, if anyone writes spontaneously in Irish.

Well, when I finally read Pearse's short stories, I was amazed at how wrong I was. So far I've only read a couple, but they are as fresh and lively and charming as any stories I've ever read. Mostly they are vignettes of Irish country life, and of children in particular. They're very sentimental and naive.

They are very short stories, and yet, when I came to the third story-- "Bairbre"-- I couldn't finish it. I couldn't bear to read any more, once I saw the way it was going.

The story opens with a little girl, Brideen, being given a simple and rather battered doll which she names Bairbre (Barbara), and from which she becomes utterly inseparable. However, after a few pages, she is given a gift of a new and fancier doll, which becomes the focus of her affections. Bairbre goes on top of a dresser.

Reader, I could read no more. In fact, as soon as the new doll made her appearance, I had a horrible sinking feeling. I did peek at the end of the story, which I won't reveal, but I knew I didn't want to read the rest.

Such a plot development is too heart-breaking for me. I can't bear it! I remember, when I was a kid, I hated the idea of forgetting my old and broken toys for the sake of newer ones. I felt sorry for them. I remember being somewhat shocked at the line in the Elton John song: "I'm like a kid with a brand new toy." Imagine bragging about one's fickleness!

In the same way, I find these lines from 'The Passing of Arthur' unbearable, although they are "pleasantly" unbearable. They are. of course, spoken by the dying king Arthur to the last of his knights, who has not followed the king's order to throw Excalibur into a lake:
Ah, miserable and unkind, untrue, 
Unknightly, traitor-hearted! Woe is me!
Authority forgets a dying king,
Laid widow'd of the power in his eye
That bow'd the will. 

 It seems to me that, the more forlorn and forsaken and hopeless something is, the worse the thought of abandoning it becomes. Chesterton put it well in Orthodoxy when he wrote: "The point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. All optimistic thoughts about England and all pessimistic thoughts about her are alike reasons for the English patriot." The same applies to everything. I guess this is why I have never been able to be "forward-looking" or "progressive"-- or, indeed, wanted to be.


  1. Séamus (Australia)June 3, 2017 at 11:30 PM

    I remember reading a very similar story (as the Brideen one) in a children's book but it was set in a completely different culture, either Caribbean or similar. In that one the girl got tired of playing with a doll that was too good to get dirty-the original was home made, the second doll was from a European naval officer,or something. In the end, the new one got shelved. Coincidence or is it a common folklore?
    Thank you for not spoiling the end just in case we all read the original in Gaelic(!)...I wish!

  2. i always find Childers' shifting sands" a strange sort of a novel for someone who was a fully fledged Irish revolutionary

  3. I always call it SHIFTING SANDS also, it's really RIDDLE OF THE SANDS. I don't think Ireland was even mentioned in the slightest 'footnote' of a way

  4. I think Tomas he hadn'come round to Irish revolutionary thinking when he wrote Riddle of the sands. He was converted after the founding of the UVF and the support for the Unionists by powerful wealthy sections of British society.