Meeting of Irish Cultural Centers of North America 2019 · Come Dance With Me In Ireland: A Conversation with Patrick Ball · Trollope in Ireland: The Unpromising Beginning to the Making of a Great Novelist · The Eoin McKiernan Library: A poem by John Davenport · The Mapmakers Tales: The Seal’s Betrayal
Welcome to the Imbolc 2019 edition of the
Celtic Junction Arts Review
Intent on archiving and expressing Celtic traditions, the Celtic Junction Arts Review records the local and global conversations surrounding Irish culture.
Our Executive Director, Natalie Nugent O’Shea presents an insightful account of a meeting in January, 2019, of Irish Centers at the Irish Consulate in New York. A central theme of the meeting was the Global Ireland initiative which seeks an unprecedented expansion of Ireland’s presence around the world as part of Ireland’s Global Footprint in 2025. Celtic Junction, a recipient of the Emigrant Support Programme’s funding, seeks to continue to deepen its place in this global conversation.
Carillon RoseMeadows asks the harper and storyteller, Patrick Ball, about his research and artistic approach to the mystical Otherworld at the heart of the poetry of the great Nobel Prize-winning poet, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), in the creation of Ball's show, Come Dance With Me In Ireland: A Pilgrimage to Yeats Country.
Local St. Paul writer Don Flanagan illuminates a little-known and very lengthy Irish episode in the life of the great English novelist, Anthony Trollope. From 1841-1859, his career in the Post Office offered him unique insights into Irish life and character and not only did it invigorate his literary career but his Irish sojourn provided material for at least two of his novels.
John Davenport, a history teacher in the Celtic Junction’s Irish College of Minnesota, offers a poetic reminiscence of the library dedicated to his former colleague from the University of St. Thomas, Eoin McKiernan.
I round out this edition with another Map-maker Tale in the genre of Young Adult fiction. In this episode, the Viking dragon ships settle in Dublin.
Dr. Patrick O’Donnell, editor/contributing writer, is a full-time English faculty member at Normandale Community College. The founder/director of the Saint Paul Irish Arts Week (since 2016), a comprehensive ten-day program in April/May funded by the Irish Fair of Minnesota, he is primarily Director of Education at Celtic Junction Arts Center where he coordinates classes and also teaches Irish literature, literary history, and mythology.
Meeting of Irish Cultural Centers of North America 2019
Report by Natalie Nugent O’Shea
January 11th, 2019, marked the second annual gathering of the Irish Centers of North America. The meeting was convened at the Irish Consulate in New York City hosted by Ciarán Madden, Consul General, with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, represented by Josepha Madigan T.D., Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht; and by Christine Sisk and Valerie Behan of Culture Ireland. Your representative from Minnesota, Natalie Nugent O’Shea, Executive Director of the Celtic Junction Arts Center, can be seen seated second from the left, at the bottom of the photo below.
Minister Josepha Madigan addressed the gathering on the Government’s Global Ireland 2025 initiative. The gathering in New York was an invitation to contribute to the discussion on how best to advance Ireland’s global visibility and strengthen global relationships. The outcomes from this discussion were fed into a conference on Thursday 24th January 2019 in Dublin Castle. As part of the Global Ireland 2025 initiative, Culture Ireland hosted this discussion in New York along with the conference in Dublin to bring together cultural stakeholders, critical thinkers and performers to consider Ireland’s global cultural impact.
Culture Ireland executive Christine Sisk, Director and Valerie Behan Director Grants Programme were also on hand to engage on future opportunities for presenting Irish artists.
Jim Culleton, Artistic Director of Olivier Award-winning Fishamble, attended in order to share details of the company's work in the US during 2019, including THE HUMOURS OF BANDON by Margaret McAuliffe at the Irish Arts Center in April, and SILENT and BEFORE by Pat Kinevane in Washington DC and Los Angeles. Actors Niall Buggy and David Ganly performed a short excerpt from Fishamble's ON BLUEBERRY HILL by Sebastian Barry which is currently running in New York, as part of the 1st Irish Festival, at 59E59 Theaters.
Below is a record of the addresses by the Consul General, by the Director of Culture Ireland, and by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht:
Consul General Ciaran Madden:
We will share what has been happening in the Government side in the last year since we last met. Our goal here is to help push the Irish Culture coming into the states out past the East Coast!
We also look forward to hearing from all of you as to what is happening in your own areas, and what is happening in this cultural network since last year. At the start of this week, Ireland’s Ambassadors and Consul Generals called back to Ireland to get their marching instructions for the year. There was discussion of culture and “where it belongs.” Fintan O’Toole, journalist, came into that session and said “If you want to treat culture as an asset, the most important thing is that you don't treat culture as an asset.” That sums it up. You know it opens doors and does all kinds of things, in terms of our adaptation, but it must be seen to stand alone, and is important in its own right in the first place. Things will happen as a corollary of that.
At this meeting last year, the government published a Global Ireland document, the largest expansion of Ireland’s diplomatic network as a nation state. It is much more than that - it is much more about creating offices abroad in a time of retrenchment globally. The US is looking inwards more, Britain is looking inwards too, and that trend is wrapping around the world. In the middle of all that, Ireland is looking outwards. It must look outwards.
Culture is very much at the heart of that document. Minister Madigan was sitting around the cabinet table when it was discussed and debated and ultimately launched. I know from conversations that week in Dublin that we talked amongst embassies and consulates and our offices that culture appears all through every conversation in how we present ourselves as a country, as a people, as a nation. When we present our country to the world, culture will be at the heart of it. This is a plan towards 2025.
This document was published in June - we feel it is important to situate all this into one national push out into the globe. The United States is the biggest center of Irish activity outside of Ireland. You will see a new Irish Consulate opening in Los Angeles this year, which will have a cultural attaché attached to it, as will New York. They will be there to support you. The minister will give you more detail on it, and a perspective from the center of the conversation.
Culture Ireland Director Christine Sisk:
Welcome to you all - it is lovely to see so many familiar faces. I know many of you have traveled from afar to NYC here - we appreciate you coming to this second gathering. Last year we had a sense of the buzz “first time” and “getting together” and that this is an important network. This year we want to put the blocks to ensure this network can function and to achieve what we want to achieve together, which is supporting Irish Artists coming to the US and traveling more widely. We can network and share those experiences and how we best achieve great things together.
What we do with Culture Ireland is achieved through government support and commitment to support Irish Artists and all the benefits that brings. Underneath that support are the three pillars that make everything happen. They are the presenters, the artists and the audience. The artists and the audiences could never come together without you programming the work, promoting it, and making it possible. You are the glue in what our job is - we deeply appreciate and recognize your role in that. Culture Ireland was set up in 2005, and since that time we have reached more than 5 million worldwide. That is owing to you doing the work you do.
Minister Josepha Madigan:
First of all, I’d like to thank Consul General for his words and Christine Sisk for the dedication you are making, bringing everyone together here. I know this is not the inaugural event, but it is great to see you back again and I feel privileged to be here. Tá lúcháir orm bualadh libh go léir inniu, ar mo chéad coinne oifigiúil sa Stait Aontaithe mar Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta.
There are three important items that I would like to raise with you. The first is the Global Ireland 2025 initiative that Ciarán mentioned, the Irish language, and Ireland’s new Cultural ambassadors. But first, and most importantly, I would like to thank each and every one of you for being here today and for the ongoing commitment that you make sustaining and growing Irish Culture. On behalf of the government and the people of Ireland, go raibh mile, mile maith agaibh, to each and every one of you.
I know many of you have traveled around the United States to be here today, so your presence here is hugely impressive, and a really impressive mark of your commitment to promote Irish Arts in the US. Ireland is extremely lucky to have champions like you, and quite frankly, we couldn't do any of this without you.
Last June, 2018, the Taoiseach launched Global Ireland 2025, and this hugely important initiative is about taking Ireland’s global engagement to the next level. We are really proud of our ambition to double the impact we have in the world by doing things differently and doing things better. Ireland has a really important role to play internationally. This is our time - winning our independence was not an end, it was the beginning. Today we can be a voice for peace, multilateralism, security, free-tech trade, free markets, sustainability, and social justice in the world. Ireland’s culture, as we know, is central to Global Ireland 2025 - a central part of doubling our global footprint. We will be building on our distinctive traditions and sharing our rich and vibrant culture.
Unsurprisingly, given the hugely successful work that it undertakes bringing Irish artists and Irish culture to the world, Culture Ireland has a crucial role to play in the global initiative. We will support the work of Culture Ireland over the next seven years in bringing Irish Culture and Irish artists to the world. Investment in the work of Culture Ireland is a really effective way for Ireland to introduce ourselves to new audiences. It will also keep our diaspora connected with contemporary Ireland. I know many of you here today have benefited from CI’s support in bringing Irish artists to your centers. This is only right, as each of you plays a hugely critical role in providing a space for Irish Arts to flourish in the US. The passion that you have for your work extends beyond operating a physical space, you are nurturing talent and you are building audiences and an interest in Irish arts. Of critical importance is the connection you provide for the global Irish diaspora of 70 million Irish people that we have living in this country.
The Irish and those of Irish descent who live in the US really do want to stay connected with Ireland, its culture and its heritage. The government of Ireland wishes to strongly connect with its people based abroad, and values the role they play in representing our country. We are a very small nation, but we have strength in our people who are dispersed globally and carry their Irish Heritage with pride. I was struck by what the Consul General had to say that even though we are a small country, that we are outwards thinking rather than inwards thinking. Particularly at this pivotal moment in the world, it is important that we continue to do that. In Ireland we are especially disposed to looking outwards that way in the hope that will continue.
For this reason, the Irish government has invested in the Irish Arts center in New York, which I am looking forward to visiting later. This center provides a critical platform for Irish Artists in the cultural capital. You can count on the continued support of the Irish Government for permanent cultural facilities in key global cities. I am going to be working closely with our Tanaiste at the minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, and seeing how best we can support other centers globally. Of equal importance is achieving greater touring of Irish artists beyond New York. That is something that has come to light with my discussions with Christine and the Consul General and with Lillian, working as a cultural liaison from Washington DC. I know that at your inaugural meeting, many connections were made, and that through this network, centers have gained from each others' knowledge, experience and expertise. The aim, I hope, is to take a further step this year with connectivity and Culture Ireland is committed to supporting this important development.
Another unique aspect of our cultural heritage, of course, is our national language, which is the third thing that I wish to speak to you about. It, of course, remains close to the hearts of our people, both at home and abroad. It is in our DNA, as Irish people, it is our mother tongue from many centuries ago, and it is something that we take very seriously, something that we want to ensure is nourished, not just in Ireland, but throughout the world. Indeed, through the financial support of my department, it is now taught at over 40 third-level institutions worldwide. In North America, this work is coordinated by both the Fulbright commission, and the Ireland-Canada University foundation. This is, however, but the tip of the iceberg, as I am aware that the language is also taught in many Irish cultural centers on the North American continent. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na daoine uile idir theagascóirí agus riarthóirí a thagann le chéile chun na cúrsaí Gaeilge seo a chuir ar fáil. Is í tabhachtach d’oidhreaccht na hÉireann í an Ghaeilge agus tá sár obair ar bun agaibh, chun í a thabhairt don chéad glúin eile.
Before I leave the language, I would like to draw your attention to a massive, open online course, or an MOOC, as they call it, in the Irish language and Irish culture which has been developed by Dublin City University, from their department. This MOOC allows students worldwide to learn the language while also immersing themselves in our other traditional cultural areas, such as music, song, dance. This year, as you know, we managed to get hurling on the UNESCO cultural heritage list, which was a really phenomenal thing to be able to do for hurling. If any of you don’t know about this game, I’d take great delight in explaining it later on. It is called Fáilte ar Líne and currently engages many thousands of online students. I’d recommend you all to access the course and to see if it meets your own, or indeed, your community’s needs.
Earlier this week, I professed one of the other initiatives of Global Ireland, which is the appointment of five Cultural Ambassadors. The Cultural Ambassadors included are architects, an actor, a musician, and a poet Paul Muldoon, who is well known to you all here. I will meet Paul later this evening, to formally present his letter of appointment and silver emblem. I know that he is going to play a really enthusiastic role in raising the profile of Irish culture in the US and beyond, and we are very proud that he has agreed to be a Cultural Ambassador for Ireland.
As part of Global Ireland Actions, the government is committed to holding a conference of cultural stakeholders, which I am sure you are all aware of, which is to discuss how Ireland will increase its global visibility. This will take place in Dublin Castle on the 24th of January. I believe some of you will be participating, and I look forward to seeing you again at that. It will be live-streamed, for those of you who can’t make it, and I hope that you will be able to engage with the conference and its aims to establish how we can help to bring our cultural engagement to a new level on the global stage.
This morning we look forward to hearing from you individually and listening to your views on how I can assist and how the embassy can assist, and how we can help each other in planning a way forward to deliver the ambition of Global Ireland 2025. I am here to listen to your views, and I ensure you that these are inputs into our future thinking on how best we can promote our arts and heritage and increase our impact.
I’ll use the words of Paul Muldoon, which I think best describe what we are trying to achieve in this network, here. “Words want to find chimes with each other, things want to connect.” So críochnaim, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabhail leis an Ard Chonsal Ciarán Madden, agus le hÉimear Friel anseo, i Nua Eabhrac as a fáilte agus a chairdeas. Le Lillian Farrell a thastil anoir ón ambasáid i Washington, agus a bhíonn ag obair chun tacú leis an roinn seo anseo agus leis an bhfoireann a bhím féin, Christine Sisk stiúrthóir Culture Eireann, agus Valerie Behan a thógfaidh ár gcuid arúlachta a bhain le gnó agus a dhéanfaidh a cinnte go mbeidh tionchar acu ar ár ngníomh áirithe domhanda amach anseo. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
Consul General Madden thanked everyone and asked each attendee to re-introduce themselves and their organization briefly, which was followed by discussion, lunch, and networking through the afternoon.
Click for more on the ensuing events regarding the Taoiseach’s announcements on the Global initiative, the Irish Times report on the Culture Ireland Global Discussion, or RTE’s Global Initiative meetings reporting in Dublin, Ireland.
Many thanks to Lavinia Finnerty for the translations as Gaeilge.
Come Dance With Me In Ireland: A Pilgrimage to Yeats Country
A conversation with Patrick Ball.
W. B.Yeats’ work and life have deservedly received substantial attention from the instructors at the Irish College of Minnesota. I wondered how the upcoming show, "Come Dance With Me In Ireland: A Pilgrimage to Yeats Country” might dovetail - or contrast - with the classes offered through ICMN. I have enjoyed crossing paths with the harper and storyteller Patrick Ball over the years so I asked him for his thoughts regarding this new production. Patrick has kindly given me permission to share his lovely response.
One hundred thousand (or thereabouts) apologies for letting a couple of weeks slip away before replying. And now your computers are probably all seized up with the polar vortex and you won’t be able to read this until the spring thaw.
Your questions make me realize how different this piece is from what an audience might expect in a show that is based on the life and poetry of Yeats.
I suppose it’s all the result of my being much more of a storyteller than a scholar. I do have a Masters Degree in Irish History and was given two Visiting Fellowships from the Moore Institute at the National University of Ireland in Galway. But, if these institutions ever find out what I’ve done with their awards, they might, in future, be a bit more careful who they let through their hallowed archways. I do try to hew to the facts. But, I tend not to let them get in the way of a good story.
As with my Turlough O’Carolan show, I did a great deal of research. I read all the great books by and about Yeats, lurked for weeks in the archives and special collections at NUIG, and rambled the countryside. I learned all about his brilliant, peculiar family, his soul-awakening childhood visits to Sligo, his mad love for Maude Gonne. All the usual stuff. But, if you want to know the truth, I never found Yeats a particularly appealing sort of fellow…at least not someone I wanted to live with on stage every evening.
But his poetry. Well, that’s another matter. Like so many other people, I encountered a few of his poems when I was young. Some were romantic. Some mystical. All irresistibly musical. All flat-out beautiful. And, like so many other people, I was swept into another world.
Which, I suppose, was what Yeats had in mind all along. Because he believed that there is in Ireland a mystical realm, an Otherworld, from which the ancient myths, the legends, the music, and our deepest memories flow. He believed that his own poems are all echoes of that realm.
But, to paraphrase Boromir in Lord of the Rings, “One does not simply walk into the Otherworld.” As my neighbor in West Clare advised, “you have to maybe just let it flow to you, like.”
So, I chose to tell this story not through the character of Yeats himself, though we learn much about his life and times in the course of the show. Instead, I wanted to bring to the stage an elderly Irish couple who had spent their entire adult lives in the states but have returned to Ireland to go on a "Yeats Country” tour. The husband had always loved Yeats’ poetry and known much of it by heart. But, he is now suffering severe memory loss. The wife wants him to walk the lands that Yeats loved, to listen to his poems, to hear the music and…well, maybe just see what flows to him, like.
I hope you, and everyone else, enjoy it!
You can see Patrick Ball’s one-man musical and dramatic performance on March 1 at 8pm. Tickets are available at http://www.vitalculture.com/thecelticjunction/3736
Trollope in Ireland: The Unpromising Beginning to the
Making of a Great Novelist
By Dónal Flanagan
Anthony Trollope (1815–1882) had a miserable childhood. His father, a gloomy, increasingly unsuccessful lawyer, had counted on an inheritance that did not happen. His enterprising mother, Fanny, left Anthony behind when she went off on her amazing trip to America in 1827, which resulted in her popular book, Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832). While his mother was having adventures in Cincinnati and other places, young Anthony suffered the kind of harassment and bullying we tend to associate with Tom Brown’s School Days. To make matters worse, at one point the whole family had to flee to Belgium to escape unpaid debts, living on Fanny’s earnings as a writer. Anthony was able to return to England only when, with his mother’s help, he obtained a clerkship in the Post Office.
But even then, things did not really look up for him. There followed seven unhappy years; Trollope was hardly a model employee, and he fell into debt. In 1841, a supervisor eager to be rid of him appointed him to be a postal surveyor in the west of Ireland, responsible for a territory roughly equivalent to the ancient province of Connaught. His base was to be Banagher, a town of 1,800 people on the Shannon in what is now County Offaly.
The move was transformative. It was the making of him as a novelist. And for the first, time, he found himself enjoying life. He writes in his Autobiography:
It was altogether a very jolly life that I led in Ireland. I was always moving about, and soon found myself to be in pecuniary circumstances which were opulent in comparison with those of my past life. The Irish people did not murder me, nor did they even break my head. I soon found them to be good-humoured, clever—the working classes very much more intelligent than those of England—economical, and hospitable. We hear much of their spendthrift nature; but extravagance is not the nature of an Irishman. He will count the shillings in a pound much more accurately than an Englishman, and will with much more certainty get twelve pennyworth from each. But they are perverse, irrational, and but little bound by the love of truth. I lived for many years among them—not finally leaving the country until 1859, and I had the means of studying their character.
In particular, Trollope did not share the typical Englishman’s views of the Irish, or the typical Protestant’s views of Catholicism. Indeed, it was a friendship with a priest that allowed Trollope to “study their character,” to socialize with and understand many people in the west of Ireland. In the story “Father Giles of Ballymoy,” the narrator describes this priest as “one of the honestest fellows and best Christians whom it has ever been my good fortune to know.”
But this friendship got off to an extremely inauspicious beginning. In fact, this was one time Trollope probably did fear being murdered, because he tells us in his Autobiography that the short story is based on actual events.
Small town Co. Galway. Taken circa 1860.
In the story the main character, named Archibald Green, arrives at a very small rural hotel in Galway. He desires a room; there is indeed a single sleeping room, accessible via a steep, ladder-like staircase. He is told in vague terms that a “Father Giles” will be calling, but he does not understand that this local priest was in the habit of staying in this same room in his travels around the parish.
Green-Trollope awakens to find a stranger brushing his clothes and preparing for bed. He demands to know what this intruder wants. He is astonished to learn that the man intends to sleep in the same room, albeit in a second bed, which Green-Trollope has not noticed. He throws the man’s shoes out the door and down the stairs, then grapples with the man, steps on his toes, and pushes him out, to follow the shoes down the steep stairs. The racket awakens the others in the house, who declare their priest to be dead and the Englishman guilty of murder and deserving of the gallows.
But Father Giles is not dead, only bruised. Miraculously, the fall did not kill or even seriously injure him. Nonetheless, Green-Trollope is carried off to the police station for his own protection. The next day the police escort the Englishman back to the hotel to call on the priest, who is gracious and hospitable as they have breakfast together. It is the beginning of a great friendship that lasted for years. Trollope does not name this priest in his Autobiography.
The Macdermots of Ballycloran Publisher: Chapman & Hall, 1886. Originally published 1847.
That friendship proved valuable when Trollope decided to try his hand at novel writing. His first two novels were set in Ireland: The MacDermots of Ballycloran (1847) and The Kellys and the O’Kellys (1848). The first of these has a character, Father John McGrath, who is the moral center of the book and presumably draws on the “Father Giles” priest-friend. Later, in his Autobiography, Trollope reflected on The MacDermots and noted:
As to the plot itself, I do not know that I ever made one so good,- or, at any rate, one so susceptible of pathos. I am aware that I broke down in the telling, not having yet studied the art. Nevertheless, The Macdermots is a good novel, and worth reading by anyone who wishes to understand what Irish life was before the potato disease, the famine, and the Encumbered Estates Bill.
VR pillar box originally installed in Guernsey in 1852/3 on Trollope's recommendation and one of the oldest still in use.
These first two novels, however, sold very poorly. A publisher told him that Irish subjects were not popular with English audiences. Trollope soon turned his attention to English subjects, scoring huge successes with the clerical Barsetshire novels and later the political Palliser novels. In two of these latter political novels, Trollope does feature an Irishman as the main character. Phineas Finn is the handsome son of a doctor in Killaloe who, with charm, courage, impulsiveness, and a fair amount of beweeping his outcast state, makes his way in the highest circles of English social and Parliamentary life. Trollope obviously drew on his extensive knowledge of Ireland and the Irish in his portrait of Phineas Finn.
In all, Trollope turned out some 47 novels, a prodigious output even for those indefatigable Victorians. Along the way, he also continued to work for the Post Office; in fact, he is credited with the introduction of the now-ubiquitous red pillar boxes for mail. And his life turned around completely when a boss who wanted to be rid of him dispatched Trollope to what most people considered a godforsaken Irish backwater. And when a priest who was thrown down the stairs landed safely. Deo gratias.
The Eoin McKiernan Library
A poem by John Davenport
Dark settled blue and brown, dimly lit.
A growing presence on the shelves.
Congenial quiet fellowship.
Somber, joyful, homely tunes.
And thumping feet that mark the night.
A pleasant spot to sit for hours.
A gentle conversation too from time-to-time.
St. Patrick and Lillibullero, A Nation Once Again.
Young dancing men and women, far too bright for the life I’ve led.
I love the feel of books; ancient and not so old.
Some stories that I’ve read; others that I’ve been told.
To consider their past and what they convey,
To ruminate again on old particular literary friends.
Swift and Shaw, Le Fanu; all close at hand.
And new once more as I grow older, and remember them.
Thank you for your friendship Eoin.
Expressed in many ways.
Books; frightening stories of burning crosses.
A smile, wink, and encouragement at my Confirmation.
Why though would you, that most of Catholic of men, tell me:
“The Catholics will save themselves,
But the Protestants will save Ireland!?”
You never let me know.
Ever enigmatic, with a sparkling eye, both at the beginning and the end.
When I visit, I’m ever moved to say: “Hail and Farewell” old friend.
Eoin McKiernan and John Davenport were colleagues at the University of St. Thomas for twenty-three years.
The Mapmaker’s Tales: Tale Three - The Seal’s Betrayal
[The Map-maker's Tales are a series of imaginary meditations on the lost histories of Dublin city written in the genre of Young Adult fiction.]
Now, said the Great Professor, after inspecting the precisely inked pictogram of a beggar in a bowl sailing down the indelicate waters of the River Liffey and away off towards the Irish Sea, nobody heard tell of Billy in the Bowl for more than three years and three days. The citizens were apprehensive and angry that they would have to replenish the lost taxation money with a new round of taxes, but mysteriously this never occurred. Also, no posters demanding the arrest and imprisonment of the missing beggar appeared in the usual bulletins of the city. The citizenry murmured and muttered to itself at the strangeness of this. Did Billy in the Bowl, the most vilified and least decorous denizen of eighteenth-century Dublin, have a secret protector behind the beautifully proportioned iron gates of Dublin Castle?
The rumors began to circulate that Billy had been sighted, that he had changed, that he would overthrow the English garrison, that he was mustering rebels and holding conclaves and the city would fall, turmoil and bloody rebellion would batter down its walls and a new unwelcome kingship of beggars would arise. Through his absence, Billy in the Bowl had become a turbulent shadow over the imagination of the city.
The city had been growing in wealth, size, and ambition in the few years that he’d been away. Gossip could leap across the city because it had been more forcefully linked with a series of splendiferous and ornate bridges. The north side’s fashionable mansions and boulevards culminating in the enormous Phoenix Park were connected to the mercantile and stylish south side by the Half Penny Bridge, Essex Bridge, and Sackville Bridge.
The broad brooding sword of the river Liffey had always defined the old city splitting it into two opposed perplexed areas. The north side had the butchers with their long cleavers and bloodied aprons around the cattle-clogged Smithfield market and the lawyers in their crow cloaks and wigs bustling with ample armfuls of papers into the drum-domed Four Courts and the tall Paris-imitating mansions along the wide boulevard of Sackville and Gardiner streets where elegant ladies circulated amongst drawing rooms while their husbands hurried across Sackville Street bridge to the corrupt elegant Parliament or the austere walled enclosure of Trinity College for the south side had elegance, erudition, and a charm of luxurious shops and the two cathedrals. If Sackville Street was the main thoroughfare on the north side of the river meeting it at the right angle of its bridge, then Dame Street running parallel to the river defined its south side as it ran up from Trinity’s black iron railed gates jostling with long-robed scholars and hurried up past the old walls of Dublin Castle up to the high ridge on which Christ Church cathedral was perched. The medieval city had by the eighteenth century burst its walls then devoured them for building material. The key to the burgeoning and blooming and bustling and bursting forth of the city had been the taming of the river, the Tempestuous Liffey, she had been called from times immemorial.
-How was she tamed, asked the Mapmaker in wonder.
-There was a point, young Mapmaker, when there was no history. Nothing was written. No maps were inked. Time was never frozen. Time flowed without self-consciousness. So for the city to have its birth, history itself had to begin. For that to happen a certain guest had to be invited. And only the river herself could invite that guest.
-The river herself?
- For this tale you will need a very old piece of vellum to create your map. The oldest in my collection. The Great Professor scrambled with lightning agility up the stepped ladder that stood adjacent to his bookshelves and reached up to the very highest shelf. He descended holding an ochre-tinted parchment and a strange silver chain that seemed to flow with a liquid motion.
It is beautiful, is it not? He murmured in slow and deliberate wonder. She made it herself. The Goddess made it.
With a strange tender delicacy, he raised it above the fire and dropped it into the red heart of the embers. The fire turned aquamarine blue and a voice filled the room.
The Seal’s Betrayal
“You must betray me,” she had said arising out of the sparkling water crow-haired, slender, and gem-eyed. “You must do it,” the River Goddess had insisted pointing out beyond the wall of mist. Yes, he remembered the words with a dull aching anguish. The Brow of the Hazel Wood where the River Goddess dwelt would see its trees hacked and the broad tempestuous tides walled in. Yes, he must do it for her as he was the oldest of her servants.
With slick undulations, the Seal Priest of the Goddess Livia swam through the pewter-colored water out of the island of mist. His face was solemnly whiskered but his thoughts burned for the High Druid had determined to replace her and she in turn had resolved to destroy him. The Druids had locked the island in a Shield of Mist. It sat on the waves clogging the air with muttering magical confusions: “You’re lost,” “You’re astray,” “You’ll never find your way,” “You’re too tired to swim.”
The Goddess had told him to swim underwater as much as possible and to close his mind to the magical mist and she had attached a silver chain to him. “You will bring back a guest,” she had said. “ You will meet a Dragon in the middle of the Sea,” the Goddess had stated. “You must bring it into the Brow of the Hazel Wood where I will meet it and assist it in vanquishing the Druids’ armies.”
The little seal grew very tired with struggling against the confusions of the mist and the weight of the chain, but it heard a melodious snarling that began tearing the mist into tatters and flitters all around it. There in a hundred feet of clear water sat a huge Dragon Ship with the Dragon’s head ripping the mist with furious spells, but it was unable to move against the massed walls of mist.
The seal swam up to it and was held spellbound by its amused eyes: “Are you lost too, little one? There is a powerful magic in the mist.” “No,” replied the seal. “I’ve come to take you in to serve the River Goddess at the Brow of the Hazel Wood.” A darkness like blood thickened the eyes of the Dragon: “We don’t serve. We make others serve. Why does she need us? Why doesn’t she flood her enemies away?” “The High Druid knows most of her secrets,” murmured the terrified seal. “We will tame your Goddess if we come,” breathed the Dragon Ship and suddenly a fire erupted from its carved features and the fire took shape and the Seal was looking at the image of the Hazel Wood transformed. The river in the vision was held in by wooden dams formed from the hacked and sliced remnants of the hazel trees, a huge terraced earthen hill had been raised on what had been open water and now a parliament sat and a stony hill beside it was where prisoners were judged and had their backs broken, and beside the tamed river stood a Long Stone – a pillar of granite fifteen feet tall.
“We will fling our Long Stone on the river’s earth establishing possession. A great ship fort with pointed spikes will shield our ships from winter and enemies. We shall break the makers of this mist so that the island is visible and hundreds of my kindred Dragon Ships will appear and our kings will rear a city on the banks of your River Goddess. All this we will do if you lead us through this Mist of Confusion to kill an enemy of your Goddess. You will betray her and she will betray herself by inviting us in.”
The seal swam in an agony of mind glimpsing now the long spar of granite, the Long Stone, hanging in ropes above the deck like a battering ram. It would be flung on the shore to claim ownership and they could not leave once it was done. They were then oath bound to possess the river.
“We will reign for hundreds of years and quell your Tempestuous Goddess,” snarled the Dragon Ship. “Nevertheless,” muttered the seal, “ I must bring you back through the mist – follow me closely as there’s a silver chain attached to me that will bring us back.” Speedily, the seal flipped and darted back and the great Dragon Ship plunged its insolent prow in its wake. Within hours, the Dragon Ship lay within the river estuary having crossed the barrier of mist and all was clear again. The River was calm, hazel trees shadowing the crest of the hill as the Viking crew members in their dozens heaved the Long Stone over the ship’s edge into the oozing muck and dragged it on shore where it stood like a brooding tower.
The River Goddess, crow-haired, slender and silver-eyed, rose out of the calm glittering water and greeted the Dragon Ship: “The army of the High Druid is gathered on the north side of the River. They will cross the causeway of hurdles on the backs of the seals, but when they are midway on the causeway my seals will swim away disintegrating the bridge and you will kill any that survive my flooding rage.”
“Yes,” proclaimed the Dragon Ship. “The warriors on board will do so, but they also will build a fort for this ship to sleep in over winter and they will also build a city on your shores and they will bring other Gods here.”
“Yes,” replied the River Goddess, “you will dirty and darken my bright running water, but you will also deepen my dreaming.”
The little seal chewing its mustache in anxiety glanced between the Dragon and the Goddess and then sank moaning into the shadow-inked water.
History had begun. . .