The NY Times Explores the Places of Dylan Thomas

Here is a brief article from the travel section of the NY Times that explores (literally) the places in the south of Wales where Dylan Thomas lived (a desk where he wrote that caught the light of the setting sun; the pub where he drank and did his crossword puzzles).  The writer of the article notes that the landscapes of southern Wales stand as a metaphor for the loss of childhood innocence in Thomas’s poems; Thomas spent his childhood in the pastoral Carmarthenshire (which inspired “Fern Hill”) and the later years of his life in Laugharne, a coastal town, the “nexus” of which is still the pub that Thomas frequented.  (And the writer of the article found the pub and its occupants very welcoming, overcoming any Welsh-English language barriers).  The article implies that Thomas continues to occupy a place at the heart of the town, for his home has been turned into a museum that, according to the article, has not lost its home-like charm.  Most importantly, though, the article emphasizes the profound beauty of the landscape and comes to fully understand why landscape and nature ground so many of Thomas’s poems: the landscape is serene and wild, a binary to which the article attributes Thomas’s “multifaceted legacy.”  What I take from the article is that there is something irrevocable about the connection between Thomas and his Welsh land, that one could not have existed without the other, that Thomas had just as lasting an influence on Laugharne as it did on his verse.  Nevertheless, I am left trying to make sense of the relationship between the poet and his landscape.  Is Thomas’s presence in Laugharne permanent? How many windows are we, as his readers, looking through when we read the Welsh landscape through Thomas?  Does an intense landscape make for intense poetry?


July 12 and the Orange Day Parade

The other day in class an allusion was made to Orange parades — something that no one really seemed to be too familiar with. It was not, however, the class’s absence of knowledge that attracted me to the topic. Likely it was an over-indulged taste for the perverse and provocative. When Professor McInerney alluded to the destruction often characteristic of these parades while coyly skirting around the specific details of such destruction my curiosity was peaked. I’m a big fan of documentary film, and in this great age of media the first thing that came to mind when searching for information on this topic was, therefore, a visual. I had in mind one particular news source — Vice. For those of you who know Vice I’m sure it comes as no surprise when I made a mental connection between it and the in-class allusion to Orange parades. Vice’s affinity for obscure research and off-the-wall reporting spanning all corners of the globe and an infinite range of social, political, and economic topics made me think that it might have done a piece on the Orange parade riots. I was right. Below I’ve included the links to two Vice videos (Parts 3 and 4 of a short, four part series on Belfast) that provide very up-front, in-your-face first hand documentation of these riots. Parts 1 and 2 of the Vice series also exist if you are curious to watch them. However they do not deal as directly with the parades themselves.

Part 3 of the series concerns itself more with the day’s preparations leading up to the actual parade, while Part 4 documents the parade itself. Tension in these clips has been caused by the Orange Order’s decision to march its parade through the predominantly Catholic district of Ardoyne in Belfast. I’ve also included a longer, BBC produced documentary if it might interest you (though speaking honestly I have not watched it).

Before watching the videos, a little background history. Orange parades are organized and sponsored by the Orange Institution (also known as the Orange Order). It is a Protestant, fraternal organization based in Belfast whose original purpose upon its founding was the commemoration of William III (William of Orange) — a Dutch Protestant king who defeated the Catholic king of England and Ireland, King James II, in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Both were rivals and argued a claim to the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones. The battle itself took place on July 11, 1690 according to the Gregorian calendar. Orange parades take place year-round, with the largest and most recognized of these parades traditionally taking place on July 12 in celebration of this battle and the victory of William III. Though on a certain level the parades act as platforms on which Protestants in Ireland might connect with and assert a form of their own identity, they are also, in a much more serious light as the videos will show, a reoccurring source of resounding indignation and resentment between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland.


Eloisa Eternal


When reading Micheal O”Siadhiall’s poem “Secrets of Assisi” I came across the following lines

“Think of wounded Abelard meeting Heloise:

Sweet disciplines, the long haul of a soul,

Codes of one quick kiss, a hand squeeze,

Swift greetings at once fugitive and whole”

I realized fairly quickly these lines would make little sense without knowledge of the characters of Abelard and Heloise in both history and literature. I have therefore attempted to throw light upon both areas, starting by outlining the details of their romance. I shall then turn to Alexander Pope’s “Eloisa to Abelard” as a means to understand the complex viewpoint on separation and love O’Siadhiall has given his reader through this allusion.

Peter Abelard was born in Pallet, Brittany, in 1079 BCE. His father Berengar was lord of the village, and his mother a well-bred woman. As the eldest son of a noble, he was originally intended for a career in the military. Instead, he trained as a scholar and eventually became a highly acclaimed philosopher (though, I feel I must mention he broke quite a few eggs in the process, as every couple of years he would attmept to set himself up as a rival lecturer to his professors, a move that understandably made him few friends but many enemies through the years of his career. He was thus quite often in a sort of exile to the countryside near Paris during his time as a lecturer of rhetoric). In 1108, however, he settled in Paris more fully and was able to draw pupils from all over Europe.

One of these pupils was a young woman called Heloise d’Argenteuil who was renowned for her brilliant rhetoric and intelligence. She was raised in the convent of Argenteuil, where she learned to read and write Latin, Greek. After her training there, she moved in with her uncle Fulbert, the canon of Notre Dame Cathedral, putting her in the city just as Abelard was hitting the peak of his career.

According to Abelard’s own account, upon first meeting her in 1114 or 1115, he set out to seduce her. It was through his own machinations that he became her private live-at-home tutor. The two quickly started a romantic relationship, one that, as far as the scant evidence we have from a few letters of Heloises’s that survived shows, seems to have been built on mutual respect of intellect as well as on physical passion. Eventually rumors of the relationship reached her Uncle, and Abelard was thrown out. However, the two continued their relationship, which eventually lead to Heloise’s pregnancy. Abelard arranged for her to flee Paris to one of his relatives. She gave birth to a son, who she called Astrolabe after the scientific instrument.

Meanwhile in Paris Abelard attempted to rectify the situation by proposing marriage to Heloise. Though her family agreed for the sake of honour, she was firmly against the idea. She was unable to put them off, however, and was eventually forced into a secret marriage with him. This did not, however, stop the rumours (nor did her public claim that she was not married to him), and Abelard was obliged to remove her from Paris once more, this time to the nunnery of Argenteuil. Her family saw this as an attempt to get out of his marriage vows. After all as other literature of medieval France shows, such as Marie de France’s lay “Eliduc”, a man whose wife entered a convent was released from his marriage vows to her and was free to take another wife if he so chose.

Fulbert responded to this perceived attempt at medieval divorce by ambushing Abelard while he was sleeping and castrating him. Abelard was stripped of his positions in Paris and retreated in disgrace to the Abbey of St. Dennis, where he later took orders. He convinced his wife to do the same. The ill-fated lovers spent the remainder of their days as people of the cloth. Upon Heloises’ discovery he had published an account of their love twelve years after it’s disastrous end, an exchange of letters started between them that lasted until his death, in which she confessed her still ardent love for him, a love he professed not to share.

Let us now return to the stanza from “Secrets of Assisi” that begins:

“Think of wounded Abelard meeting Heloise:

Sweet disciplines, the long haul of a soul,

Codes of one quick kiss, a hand squeeze,

Swift greetings at once fugitive and whole”

O’Siadhiall is not only ask us to think of the legendary love story here- he is asking us to imagine the two meeting after Heloise’s family has castrated him, after each lover took vows and entered the Church, just as Alexander Pope imagined Eloisa (an Anglicized version of Heloise which made his rhyme an easier feat) reacting to Abelard’s letters after both had sworn off the world. Indeed, he is setting us inside the world of the poem. He does, after all include a prayer that Heloise and Abelard “Watch over us [He and his lover] in our clay, brittle as we are.” This, though sensible in the context of the story, is made more meaningful when we turn to Pope’s version and see that Eloisa herself says that “

“If ever chance two wand’ring lovers brings

To Paraclete’s white walls and silver springs,

O’er the pale marble shall they join their heads,

And drink the falling tears each other sheds;

Then sadly say, with mutual pity mov’d,

“Oh may we never love as these have lov’d!” (Pope)

She invites lovers in, invites them to think upon her love and wish it was not theirs.


Unlike Pope, however, O’Siadhiall’s lovers are not estranged. His lovers still have “secrets shared in a garden before they parted”, still have “keep faith” in each other, whereas Pope’s Eloisa cries

“Rise Alps between us! and whole oceans roll!

Ah, come not, write not, think not once of me,

Nor share one pang of all I felt for thee.

Thy oaths I quit, thy memory resign;

Forget, renounce me, hate whate’er was mine” (Pope)

She has lost her love entirely, sworn it off in the agony of realization Abelard will never return it again. The “glow of absence” that perfects O’Siadhiall’s speaker’s relationship with his lover has destroyed the love of Eloisa and Abelard. This seems to show his love to be the stronger. The love of our speaker is stronger than myth, stronger than the legends spun by the English poets.


Yet, Pope’s poem ends with Eloisa’s certainty that

“if fate some future bard shall join

In sad similitude of griefs to mine,

Condemn’d whole years in absence to deplore,

And image charms he must behold no more;

Such if there be, who loves so long, so well;

Let him our sad, our tender story tell;

The well-sung woes will soothe my pensive ghost;

He best can paint ’em, who shall feel ’em most.” (Pope).


Perhaps, then, the fate of O’Siadhiall’s love is not as rosy as he paints it. It is a “broken yearning”, after all, “voices of the gone… somehow in their wholeness [throwing] a shape on ours”. His ability to paint the “long range patience” of Eloisa and Abelard only confirms this. Like Eloisa, he is doomed to die loving one who has already thrown his love away. He can only hear her voice, “across the chills of the night” because he, like Eloisa, is left with only the memories of the secret time in the garden.  He even experiences her conflation of lover and God. In the darkest of his despairs, he calls on both God “O Lord” and “O Chiara” , just as Eloisa made her vow in Pope’s poem, not to the Cross, but to Abelard. There is no happy ending for O-Siadhiall’s speaker- simply the memory of his love, the same laughter playing in his head from a place he cannot reach.


And of course, “Secrets of Assisi”

U2 and Bloody Sunday

During our class discussion of Seamus Heaney’s “Casualty,” we briefly mentioned that the “Bloody Sunday” event in the poem is the same Bloody Sunday about which U2 sings.  As a fan of U2 myself, I decided to do a little more research about U2’s engagement in social and political activity, specifically their take on Bloody Sunday.

First, I read about the history of the formation of U2 to figure out the nature of their relationship with the conflict in Northern Ireland.  U2 formed in 1976 (although they did not call themselves “U2” until about 1978), enjoying their first taste of fame by winning a talent contest in 1978 in Limerick, Ireland, that landed them a record demo.  The band at this point were known mostly by the Irish population, as their releases were Irish-only; they didn’t gain international recognition until the ’80s.  But once they achieved a foothold in the UK with their novel sound and subjects (like death and faith, with which rock and roll had not entirely dealt before), the rest of Europe and the US received U2 well.  The band had some trouble reconciling their openly Catholic religion with the rock-and-roll lifestyle but ultimately decided that the two could work with each other.

The 1983 release of the album “War” in which we find “Sunday Bloody Sunday” marked U2’s first clear recognition of the Troubles.  But Bono made clear that “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was not intended to incite dissension: he introduced the song at concerts with the disclaimer, “This is NOT a rebel song!”, and then, while singing the song, Bono would wrap himself in a white flag to indicate the song’s peaceful mission.  (Source:

These are the lyrics:


I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes 
And make it go away
How long…
How long must we sing this song
How long, how long…
’cause tonight…we can be as one

Broken bottles under children’s feet
Bodies strewn across the dead end street
But I won’t heed the battle call
It puts my back up
Puts my back up against the wall

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

And the battle’s just begun
There’s many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters 
Torn apart

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

How long…
How long must we sing this song
How long, how long…
’cause tonight…we can be as one

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Wipe the tears from your eyes
Wipe your tears away
Oh, wipe your tears away
Oh, wipe your tears away
(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
Oh, wipe your blood shot eyes
(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

And it’s true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions cry
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die

(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

The real battle just begun
To claim the victory Jesus won

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday…



I then decided to read what Bono himself had to say about the song.  In 2010, he wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times that reflected upon the British Prime Minister (David Cameron)’s apology for the British violence on Bloody Sunday, an event that Bono remembers.  Bono describes how Bloody Sunday changed his family life–they stopped taking trips across the border to Ulster, for example, because, according to his father “The Nordies have lost their marbles”–but offers a hopeful reading of the reaction of Irish citizens to Prime Minister Cameron’s apology.  Bono offers, “…things are quick to change for the worse and slow to change for the better, but they can.”  He depicts a joyful crowd, groups of women singing “We Shall Overcome,” and a resistance to getting too far into controversial political discussions for fear of losing the “dignified joy” of the moment.  From what I gather, Bono believes times have changed mostly for the better since Bloody Sunday, even though the event will never truly be forgotten on both sides.  And, importantly, the singer notes in his Op-Ed piece that the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” encompasses not only the conflict in Northern Ireland but also any source of tension between groups of people: Bono believes “the song will be sung wherever there are rock fans with mullets and rage, from Sarajevo to Tehran.”  In other words, the song is meant to be universally applicable.  (Source:


Finally, I went on YouTube to watch some performances.  I found this one where U2 performs in 1987 in Dublin particularly striking: (there is also part of a documentary from which the video is from within the clip, and it’s worth listening to Bono’s couple of comments that are embedded in the recording of the performance).  And here is the music video for the song, where you can hear Bono say “This is not a rebel song!” and you see the white flag he uses:


I think this is very interesting to put into context with the Irish poetry we have been reading–how art (music or poetry) is used in politics and how people react to this kind of politically-charged art; how universally applicable this art is; how timeless it is.

The Scottish Referendum

I interrupt our regularly scheduled arts programming in order to bring (slightly) breaking news from the Scottish Political Front! This time on the Celtic Blog: A Quick Guide to the Scottish Referendum. However, I won’t be starting with the referendum itself, since I feel that in order to understand why the vote in September matters you’ve got to understand the history of relations between Scotland and England.

I feel justified in turning your attention to the referendum because, as we’ve seen through the poetry of Robert Burns and Hugh MacDiarmid, the politics of Scotland and its poetry are very closely related. Both past and present Scottish poets have focused on the message of a free Scotland, and with the referendum nearing, their hopes may soon be answered.

Scotland and England, as you’ve definitely gathered from the poetry we’ve read so far, were not always one country. Indeed, for a very long time the two countries were separate and fairly antagonistic (Ex: William of Orange’s orchestration of the infamous MacDonald massacre in the Glen of Tears, also known as Glen Coe, during which the entire MacDonald clan was murdered by men they had been housing as guests for over a fortnight; the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, by her cousin Queen Elisabeth I).  However, following Queen Elisabeth’s childless death her cousin King James VI of Scotland, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, was proclaimed King James I of England in 1603.  This move effectively combined the two countries under one ruler, though each retained their own governments. This partial separation lasted until the Scottish parliament headed by William II dissolved itself 1707 by the passing of the Acts of Union. Scotland was thus brought completely under English control by the vote of small body of upperclass men. Having failed to keep Scotland free through his poems on historic Scottish Resistance, Robert Burns immortalized this moment in Scottish history by penning the bitter Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation:

“What force of guile could not subdue,

Thro’ many warlike ages

Is wrought now by ac oward few

For hireling traitor’s wages”

Though the move to unite the two countries into one government was likely accompanied by numerous bribes, the failure of the planned for colony of Caledonia in Darien, a colony that would have substantially helped the Scottish economy, also played a role in the merger. The two countries remained merged for the next three centuries.

In 1998, however, the Scottish Parliament was reformed, and has been voting on matters of importance to Scotland ever since, from the abortion debate to currency circulation (Scotland, in case you didn’t know, issues its own version of the British pound with the Queen replaced by famous Scottish Figures, including Robert Burns. This currency is quite lovely, but is unfortunately not accepted in other parts of the United Kingdom). I highly suggest visiting their website here: and finding out more about the political intrigue modern Scottish poets write in. This reinstatement of Parliament gave Scotland power over its own future it had not had since Mary sat on the throne, power that was made even more meaningful in May 2011 with the creation of a full Scottish government that reports to the British one.

Now, however, Scotland stands on the cusp of the even greater freedom of the Referendum. Should the Referendum pass this September Scotland will no longer be part of the UK. It will instead become a country in it’ own right, and take over the entire governing of itself. As this vote essentially could restore Scotland to the position its poets have dreamed of for centuries, this may be the most important votes any living Scottish person will ever face. After all, there is no telling if the chance to democratically secede will ever be given to Scotland again. The Parliament of Scotland certainly seems to be viewing this as a once in a lifetime opportunity, as they have lowered the voting age in Scotland to sixteen just for the upcoming vote, allowing the youth of the prospective nation to have a say in their future.

Now, for the logistics of the Referendum! According to the Referendum website ( , Scotland will take all of the land currently designated Scotland with it, which including as it does most of the UK’s in country oil-rigging, means the newly formed country will not find itself bankrupt directly out of the starting gates. Scotland will have to print an entirely new currency, however, and its place in the EU will be touch and go for the first few months. There will not, however, be a change in passport requirements when crossing from England into Scotland, just as there is not one currently existence between the Republic of Ireland and the UK.

There are quite a few other issues at stake, such as defense strategies and culture (As one poster asked, what happens to the BBC? ), all of which tie in to the truly pressing question, the one of everyone’s mind, the one that will not be answered until September:  Will it pass? At the moment, it doesn’t look good. The Guardian reports that only 32% of Scots say they are planning to vote Yes in September, with fifty-seven percent saying No ( .

Though it is unlikely the referendum will pass, it is a milestone in Scottish History. It is, after all, a chance for the whole of Scotland to decide its fate. No more will Scotland be sold for hireling traitor’s wages.

Note: all the history here recounted comes either from what I can remember from tours around Edinburgh and the Highlands or from the book Scotland: History of a Nation by David Ross.


The Pennywhistle


I’ve been playing the pennywhistle for a number of years, and I started teaching one of my housemates to play this semester, so I decided to do some research on the origins of this instrument, which is common in Irish folk music.


The modern pennywhistle is typically made up of a brass tube with six holes and a plastic mouthpiece, although it can be all metal or all plastic, as well. It plays only two major scales. The most common whistle plays in the keys of D and G. It is known as a D whistle, because the lowest note is a D. There are also whistles made in other pitches, such as A, G, C, or a lower D. However, most traditional Irish music is in the keys of D and G, so these are not frequently played.

Robin Williamson’s The Pennywhistle Book tells us that “the whistle was first used in magic rituals; forbidden by the Medieval Church as being irresistible to women, it gave birth in later years to the flageolet and recorder…But the humble pennywhistle has proved immune to changing fashions”.

However, my research reveals that the pennywhistle, whose ancestors probably originated in China around 5,000 years ago and appeared in the Celtic world around the 1200’s, comes from the six-holed, wooden flageolet. In the late 1700’s, the flageolet began to be produced from tin plate, which was cheaper than wood and hence more accessible to a greater number of people. This new instrument had a wooden or lead plug at the end of the tube to create a mouthpiece. Supposedly, one could buy it for a penny, which is where the name came from.

At this point, the tube of the whistle was wider at the top and became narrower at the end. In the 1950’s, the plastic mouthpiece was invented, and this allowed the metal tube to be straight, as it is in most whistles today. Some modern whistles, such as the Clarke brand, are still made with a tapered tube and a wooden plug at the top for a mouthpiece.lg_SBDC

If reading this post has inspired you to learn to play the pennywhistle, I would suggest buying a standard D whistle of the Oak brand, which costs about $10. There are several cheap brands of whistles, but in my opinion Oak whistles have the best sound.

Here is a link to somebody playing a couple Irish tunes on the pennywhistle:

The pennywhistle is also used in music outside the Celtic nations, including South African Kwela, heard here:


Other Links:

Myrddin and Merlin

Opening the Gododdin again and renewing

My conscious connection with the gwyr y gogledd

I who never fail to detect every now and again,

In the Hebridean and Shetland and Cornish waters I most frequent,

By subtile signs Myrddin’s ship of glass

Which has floated invisibly around the seas

Ever since Arfderyd a millennium and a half ago,

(Since Arfderydd –a few miles from where I was born!)

I am as one who sees again in a stark winter wood

(And the forest of Celyddon is indeed in death’s grip to-day)”stained-glass

Upon reading “On Reading Professor Ifor Williams’s ‘Canu Aneurin’ in Difficult Days,” I came across Hugh MacDiarmid’s allusion to Myrddin, Arfderyd, and Celyddon. According to the footnote, “After the battle of Arfderydd, Myrddin, sometimes called Myrddin Wyllt or Merlinus Sylvestris, the Merlin of the Arthurian romance, fled to the Caledonian forest and finally escaped with his paramour, Chwimleian (Vivien), in a ship of glass.” I had never heard this story of Merlin before, so I decided to do some research on it.

I first expected Myrddin and Merlin to be two different versions of the name for the same character. Instead, I discovered that the character/person of Myrddin came before Geoffrey of Monmouth’s introduction of Merlin in Prophetiae Merlini, Historia Regum Britanniae, and Vita Merlini. Prophetiae is a collection of prophecies attributed to Myrddin (who Geoffrey called Merlin). Historia Regum Britanniae included a newly constructed version of Merlin’s life, while Geoffrey’s later Vita Merlini stayed truer to the original Welsh stories of Myrddin and his experience at Arfderydd, but this version was not as popular as his first Arthurian account.

Myrddin was a bard in medieval Welsh legend who was born around 540 CE. He also seemed to have a twin sister by the name of Gwendydd (or Gwenddydd or Languoreth).

But even Myrddin was not an original character. His history can be traced back to similar character named Lailoken who was said to be a mad man who roamed the Caledonian Forest in the late 6th ccentury in what is now southern Scotland. Myrddin has similar characteristics. According to Annales Cambriae (which is a 12th century copy of a mid-10th century original that covered events in Wales, Ireland, Cornall, England, Scotland, and farther), in 573 CE, the Battle of Arfderydd took place in Arthuret (just over the modern in modern Scotland). The battle was between the men of King Gwenddoleu and those of Gwrgi and Peredur or King Riderch. Myrddin was on Gwenddoleu’s side, which ultimately lost. Along the way, he lost his nephew and Gwenddoleu was also killed. After the battle and based on what he had seen, Myrddin went mad and ran away to Coed Celyddon, the Forest of Celyddon.

Arthuret, where the Battle of Arfderydd took place.

Arthuret, where the Battle of Arfderydd took place.

While in the forest, he developed a gift for prophecy and would eventually foretell his own threefold death by falling, stabbing, and drowning. Other interesting prophecies are attributed to him, such as “Woe to the Red Dragon, for his banishment hastens on. His lurking holes shall be seized by the White Dragon, which signified Saxons whom you (Vortigern) invited over; but the Red denotes the British nation, which shall be oppressed by the White. Therefore shall its mountains be leveled as the valleys and the rivers of the valleys shall run with blood” and “There shall be a miserable desolation of the kingdom, and the threshing floors shall become again forests. The White Dragon shall rise again, and invite over a daughter of Germany. Our gardens shall again be replenished with foreign seed and the Red Dragon shall pine away at the end of the pool.”

Chwimleian, who is said to have inspired the character of Vivien in later Arthurian legends. She is mentioned in two poems in Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin (The Black Book of Carmathen): Afallenau Myrddin (Myrddin’s Orchards) and Oianau Myrddin (Myrddin’s Exclamations), both of which are narrated by Myrddin. She seems to be some kind of augur or prophetess, but it can also be argued that she is an extension of Myrddin himself. Her name comes from shwyfleian, which means “a pale, wild traveler,” which is also an accurate description of Myrddin.

Even Myrddin’s name literally means “madman” from “merV-” (insane) or “mer-” (crazy) and “godonyo-” (human, person, man).

In my research of specifically Myrddin, however, I was unable to find a story about “a ship of glass.” Instead, I had to look into the later legends of Merlin. The only word-for-word “ship of glass” that I was able to find was in “The Death of Merlin,” written by Ernest Rhys in 1898:


Shipmaster’s Song

Marvellous Merlin is wafted away

In a sailing island, a ship of glass;

For over the edge of the world he’s blown

By Annwn’s blast.

"She took the helm and he the sail; the boat Drave with a sudden wind across the deeps..." -- from Tennyson's "Vivien" idyll

“She took the helm and he the sail; the boat
Drave with a sudden wind across the deeps…” — from Tennyson’s “Vivien” idyll

There are multiple versions of the story of Merlin’s death (or downfall). Generally, the Arthurian story goes that Merlin fell in love with Vivien and taught her his ways of magic. She eventually became more powerful than even him and she imprisoned him to keep him from trying to control her. She traps him in a glass castle/tower (and sometimes it can be translated to a glass ship) where he cannot ever escape (and depending on the version of the story, he remains there forever or eventually dies, but is reborn). This glass prison is also invisible to all others, so Merlin can never be found. This tale of his end is very different from the Myrddin legend of the bard’s threefold death.

Though these stories range from Welsh to Scottish to English, they are all enveloped under the Celtic tradition and have had effects on each other.

Like Memoirs??


If the break finds you in withdrawal and in major need of a Celtic reconnection, pick up Angela’s Ashes. The memoir, for which author Frank McCourt won a Pulitzer Prize, was published in 1996. It chronicles the impoverished childhood of McCourt while growing up in Limerick, Ireland. Though born in New York to Irish parents, McCourt and his family relocate back to Ireland during his early years, where he spent the rest of his childhood and teenage years. These years living in Ireland are documented in the pages of Angela’s Ashes. Both sad and humorous, the story winds its way through the early lives of McCourt and his family, and although denounced by many Irish as hyperbolic, it propelled itself onto the best-sellers list upon publication. McCourt also published two additional memoirs, ‘Tis (1999) and Teacher Man (2005). ‘Tis follows McCourt’s life after Angela’s Ashes, at the end of which he returns to New York. Teacher Man details McCourt’s experiences teaching in the New York public school systems. McCourt died from cancer in 2009 in Manhattan.


Below I have listed, for your interest, a New York Times obituary-styled article about McCourt and a more detailed description of his work published in 2009 following his
death. I’ve also provide a link to an interview McCourt gave where he discusses Angela’s Ashes.

Happy reading!

The Irish Diaspora: It’s Not Easy Being Green

What does it mean to be Irish? Who can lay claim to Irish identity?

Global-Irish-Diaspora-MapObviously, these aren’t questions that can wholly be answered to satisfy everyone in this day and age (and with intercontinental travel so convenient). Was Yeats fully Irish, or “Irish enough”? What are people saying about the Irish diaspora these days, and what “being Irish” means, both to Ireland-born citizens, to the people who left, and their descendants? Can descendants of Irish emigrants lay claim to Ireland as mother country?

I’ll admit, I’m biased. My father’s father was born in County Tipperary, Ireland (up until his generation, we were O’Ryans), and throughout my childhood, I was told that we were Irish, and to be Irish is to be proud of being Irish. My aunts and uncles on my father’s side, and my parents instilled in me from a young age that Ireland was home too, and though we didn’t have the money to take trips there or to visit extended family there, Ireland was important to us. I come from a line of strict Irish Catholics– we eat corned beef and cabbage routinely, and always on New Year’s. While I was abroad in Europe, I took an extended weekend trip to Ireland and my entire family was ridiculously excited, offering to send me money, and sharing trip advice. And the trip itself was unbelievably important for me, too, in ways I didn’t understand until I got there. Though I’d never been there before, I won’t lie: I felt like I was home. (And it didn’t hurt that when I visited Galway that Saturday, a street vendor guessed my last name when I told him where my grandfather was from. “You must be a Ryan,” he had said. WHAT A FEELING.)

So my quest is personal, in some ways: although I’m not an Irish citizen, and I’m certainly an American, a part of me does want to believe I am Irish, even just a little bit. And I know that true (“true”) Irish people get frustrated when they hear others with Irish heritage claim Ireland as “their roots” or “their country.” I understand the term plastic paddy, and I worry about that term if I assert my/my father’s/my grandfather’s claim to Irish identity. I don’t have a way to resolve that conflict of self-identification, but that doesn’t seem to be an uncommon problem among diasporas.

What I’ve done here is collect some responses I’ve found surrounding this issue of identity and authenticity: what it means to be a member of the Irish diaspora (if I can even call myself that, or if that’s just my father/grandfather’s community), what Ireland has to say about it, and what people of the Internet want “being Irish” to mean.


Irish Times postPlan for National Diaspora Centre Announced: This is a (very!) recent article from the Irish Times (literally published today, sparking this post), which is announcing the future building of a National Diaspora Centre somewhere in Ireland, which will serve as a museum celebrating the achievements of the Irish people who emigrated through the centuries.

At least for me, this article seems to be a more formal acceptance of the Irish Diaspora as a part of Ireland’s identity (though not necessarily in the same way as true Irish citizens/people living in Ireland). Could this be a happy medium? Regardless, the Centre will be a tourist site, and is a fantastic idea to market Ireland as a country that has contributed a lot, even when the Irish “stop being Irish.”


Pro Genealogists’ post (, A Saint Patrick’s Day Reflection:  What Does it Mean to be “Irish”?: “In my view “Irish” means simply ‘from the island of Ireland.’ And I would urge all to respect the very complex history of Ireland and the many cultural experiences and political viewpoints of the Irish people.”

This article, which focuses on genealogy, explains that it’s not just a matter of “Irish means Catholic, Irish means anti-British, Irish means not from Northern Ireland.” We can’t understand what truly happened, historically, and so we have to tread lightly in characterizing an entire nation. Of course this is true, but it appears that the author takes a very exclusive route to understanding Irish identity: it is Ireland, and Ireland alone, that determines its identity, and outsiders (North Americans, the article states explicitly) should watch and not participate.


College Humor: The Trouble with Being Irish: “We share everything we have; like St. Patty’s day” you can party that day too.”

A humorous take on what it means, to this author, to be Irish. The author was (I assume?) born in Ireland, but is not “pure bred” Irish (i.e. has ancestors who are German, British, French, etc.), and although some people are appalled (?), he still calls himself “mostly Irish.” So being Irish, to him, is not ‘what culture you were born into,’ it is the culture of the majority of your heritage.


K-Blog: What Does It Mean to Be Irish?: A personal, poetic account of what being Irish means, to the author, who is no longer living in Ireland. Not the most brilliant post, but the author implies that being Irish means creativity, and connectedness with Irish artists who helped to make the country what it is through their craft.


Gaelic What Being Irish Means To You: A post on the Twitter hashtag #beingirishmeans contest, which was run by Irish Times.

Some of my favorites:

#beingirishmeans knowing all the words to Fairytale of NY, never knowing a stranger (aren’t any), and not forgetting the green of Ireland

#beingirishmeans Great pride in our Nobel prize winning authors, but never reading their works

Because it was a contest, there was one winning hashtag, which was this: #beingirishmeans emigrating because the country’s in tatters, and telling the world how much you miss it – Julia Cashman


A Quote, by Alexander McCall Smith, from Portuguese Irregular Verbs: “He had been thinking of how landscape moulds a language. It was impossible to imagine these hills giving forth anything but the soft syllables of Irish, just as only certain forms of German could be spoken on the high crags of Europe; or Dutch in the muddy, guttural, phlegmish lowlands.”


The next article is my final one, and my favorite, so I’ll just leave you all with a quote from the post. It’s written by an Irish citizen, who traveled to America and who changed his perspective on what it means to be Irish based on the love for his home country that he found here. I don’t think this approach to Irish identity is the only one that works, and I think it’s entirely valid that more authentically Irish people would take issue with appropriation when they see it, in many forms. But I feel welcomed at times and connected to my Irish heritage, and I can’t spend my life feeling guilty for what I feel. I may not be as Emerald as true Irishmen, but I know at least that I’m some shade of green.

I also think this comment section is particularly interesting, as it’s on the whole pretty respectful and informative. If you get a chance to read nothing else, read this one.

Got Ireland post, “What Does It Mean to Say, ‘I’m Irish’?”:

“So what does it mean to say “I’m Irish”? It’s so often said by people who were not born in Ireland, or have never even been to Ireland. So when these people say “I’m Irish” what exactly do they mean? One person said “My heart is Irish and that’s what’s important to me” another noted that for her it was “a state of mind” and others indicated that to have Irish heritage was to be, Irish…

These days, I fall in line with some of those Irish-born Facebook commenter’s who say things like “to see these people’s eyes light up when you talk to them of places they have only heard or read about, it’s a joy to behold” and with the ones who say “I’m just glad they love my country”. It makes me proud that so many people want to be connected with Ireland.”