“Ample food and sleep” : A thought on retrospective diagnosis, visions and full bellies

From Geoffrey Moorhouse’s fine bookSun Dancing

A clinical diagnosis of Aedh’s erotic and other visions would doubtless have concluded that , whatever shaped them in his psyche, they were triggered by his reckless fasting. Hallucination as a result of extreme exhaustion, including that which has resulted from semi-starvation, is a well-established condition, though many more centuries would pass after Aedh’s time before this was recognised. But visionaries of every father at all stages of history have tended to be people whose lives are marked by exceptional austerity, and it is difficult to think of a single instance in which a holy man or woman has reported tempting, fearsome or inspiring manifestations, on a regime of ample food and sleep.

On one level there is nothing objectionable about the above. Moorhouse, whose book I greatly admire, is careful not the ascribed the visions to starvation per se, but as a triggering factor. I I am suspicious of retrospective diagnosis and also of transporting the clinical worldview outside its natural habitat But reading this passage, a brief thought occurs. For the vast majority of the time homo sapiens has been in existence “ample food and sleep” have not been the common condition of humanity. Indeed, a regime of ample food and sleep could be said to be as anomalous as complex societies themselves- as Tainter points out

“the overbearing mother, the emotional repression, the teasing sort-of girlfriend, the constant guilt and fear ” – draft review of The Cure, Rachel Genn, TLS, 2011

The TLS ultimately used a much edited version of this review of a book I evidently didn’t like. Perhaps I was uncomfortable with the line “having sex with Séamus in a pub toilet.” Bad sex writing ahoy!

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Eugene Mahon is a familiarly depressive fictional Irish male, living a
life of quiet desperation in Salthill, Co. Galway. He is kitted out
with the accoutrements of his type – the overbearing mother, the
emotional repression, the teasing sort-of girlfriend, the constant
guilt and fear. His father, Séamus, died some years before, marinated
in alcohol – his drinking accelerating after a Shoreditch building
site accident which left another man worse off than dead. And in a
familiar move both in reality and fiction, Eugene lights out for
London town; specifically to work on the sites and to live in The
Beacon, the pub lodgings where his father had stayed.

Della, landlady of the Beacon, receives Eugene’s letter announcing his
arrival with dismay. She recalls, in a passage that alternates
logistical and lyrical modes, having sex with Séamus in a pub toilet
(“Between the sink and the toilet there wasn’t much room for the V of
her thighs – ‘Weightlifter’s thighs,’ Seamus had kidded, his fingers
digging into the underside of them for a second … Even then, at the
moment where wanting becomes having, she had known that she would wake
with the barbs of who and where carelessly jagging over her” ). Jack,
a confrere of Seamus’ from the old days, is still is residence at The
Beacon. Della’s Oxbridge educated daughter Julia (“Little Miss May
Balls” as her mother mockingly calls her), and Julia’s shiftless
philosopher-boyfriend Rhodri (working on a volume of aphorisms and
daydreaming of a column: “’Grey Matters – where Psychology meets
Philosophy meets the Popular.’ The better Sunday supplements were
crying out for it. Perhaps even the TLS if he shaved off the
expletives.”) also populate this dive.

Upon arrival, Eugene goes to work on a site presided over by the man
who employed his father, tough but benevolent Buck O’Halloran and his
far from benevolent son Noble. The sites are no longer the preserve of
Irish refugees from miscellaneous misery; this is a truly
multinational crew. Eugene livens up – a little. Of course, an
Irishman in a novel cannot be all that happy for all that long, and
Eugene eventually wakes in a police cell, with a charge of racially
aggravated assault and no memory of how he got there or what lead to
the charge.

“The Cure” reminded me inescapably of Fitzgerald’s dictum that “Begin
with an individual and you end up with a type, begin with a type and
you end with – nothing.” Eugene’s almost stereotypically miseryguts
Irishman may live a little in London, but never takes on a spark of
life. His mother, his brother, his girlfriend back in Salthill – all
seem barely reheated leftovers from an Edna O’Brien novel. The writing
is slightly livelier, slightly more engaging, dealing with the
multiethnic crew of the site – but even these figures feel half formed, and tend to speak in the contemporary equivalent of Kipling’s aspirate-free Tommies.
Of all the characters, Rhodri’s absurd philosophising and pretension
(“he believed that writing in pencil let more of the self out”) are
closest to memorable, striking attributes.

While the flashbacks to Salthill largely read like an updated Angela’s
Ashes, there are some moving moments. The rain-sodden depressive
Irish caricature has a basis in reality, and Genn captures some
elements of the mother-son relationship very well – but more in discursive
passages (“it was obvious to her that her children had been trying to
get one over on her since the day they were born so she countered this
with apocalyptic predictions”) than in action or dialogue. These moments aside, The Cure moves with plodding overinclusiveness towards an unearned epiphany.

A butterfly in the woods: guerrilla forest art in Millennium Forest Kilkenny

A butterfly in the woods: guerrilla forest art in Millennium Forest Kilkenny

Walking in the Millennium Forest in Kilkenny I saw in the distance what seemed like an unbelievably considerate butterfly lying still on a tree trunk:

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As I approached, it was suspiciously still and increasingly, well, plastic looking:

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On closest inspection, it was indeed a plastic model someone had inserted onto the trunk:

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I prodded it with a twig, just to make sure. Yep, my ability to distinguish a real butterfly from a plastic model remains undimmed by the passage of time.

This wasn’t there a week before. Someone has evidently placed it on this prominent tree beside a bench (possibly the single most prominent tree in the forest)

There seems to be something of an underground trend of what could be called guerrilla forest modification (I am sure there is a better term than that) I’ve posted before about a seemingly spontaneous sign proclaiming a spring in Wilderness Gorge in Clonmel a “Holy Well.” While the popular fairy trail concept is generally an officially sanctioned one, I have seen unheralded Fairies and Fairy Doors in Castledermot Co. Kildare and also on a recent visit to St Berrihert’s Kyle (in a grove of trees beside the Kyle itself)

While one can imagine This Kind of Thing going a bit far, it is a pleasingly spontaneous artistic intervention, one that seemingly has occurred without official sanction or the need for some kind of proposal to be written.

Poem on Ballymanus Mining Disaster, 1943

On May 10th, 1943, a stray mine washed ashore in the Rosses of Donegal. What happened next is recounted in this Irish Times piece on a memorial unveiled in 1999:

Many watched the mine from the shore for several hours as it bobbed in the water. When it finally came ashore, they rushed to see what it was, despite warnings to keep clear.
Some climbed on top of it while others banged on it with stones in an attempt to crack its shell, unaware of what lay inside. Without warning, the mine exploded, killing 17 young men ranging in ages from 14 to 34, including three brothers. Two more died in hospital soon afterwards. The explosion was so loud it was heard over 40 miles away in Letterkenny.

Among those who died were two of my grand-uncles.

At the Donegal Heritage blog there is posted a poem by author unknown on the tragedy. I note that it refers to 18 deaths, not 19 (or 17) which I wonder may help with dating it.

Oh weird and wild the wail of woe now borne

Upon the startled night-winds from the west-

Deep gasps of grief and soul-sighs from men torn

By death, grim hideous unbidden guest-

From where great breakers piling on the shore

Awaken eerie echoes o’er the dunes. Fell waves!

Foul, treacherous for-ever more-

While lethal-laden, chanting […]

the rest is at The Mine at Ballymanus 1943 — Donegal Heritage

Poems on the wind – John Hewitt, Patrick McDonagh, Wallace Stevens

From First Known When Lost:

In the meantime, we have the wind.  And poems about the wind.

Providence

White roses shatter, overblown,
by the breath of a little wind undone,
yet the same air passing scarcely stirs
the tall dark green perpetual firs.

John Hewitt, Scissors for a One-Armed Tailor: Marginal Verses 1929-1954 (1974)

“Providence” feels like a haiku:  a report on experience.  (To borrow from Edmund Blunden.)  However, a word such a “providence” would likely be avoided by a haiku poet.  Too subjective.  Of course, I am completely open to the possibility that what the wind does may well be “providence”:  I am not in any way criticizing Hewitt’s use of the word.

Hewitt, like a good haiku poet, tells us exactly what he saw.  The difference is that he gives us a hint.  A haiku poet would leave us to draw our own conclusions.  Or, better yet, would leave us to draw no conclusions at all, but only see the World as it is, or, perhaps more accurately, as the haiku poet saw it in a moment of passing time.

Enough of that.  I do not wish to create the impression that I am quibbling about “Providence”:  I think it is a lovely poem.  As is this, another poem about the wind of Ireland.

Afterpeace

This wind that howls about our roof tonight
And tears live branches screaming from great trees
Tomorrow may have scarcely strength to ruffle
The rabbit’s back to silver in the sun.

Patrick MacDonogh, Poems (edited by Derek Mahon) (The Gallery Press 2001).

Of course, poets cannot help but bring humans into their apostrophes about the wind.  Thus, for instance, they say that the wind “sighs” or “moans” or “cries.”  This is to be expected.  All poetry, all art, is an attempt to place ourselves into the World in the hope of making sense of things, however briefly.  It is not surprising that, in doing so, we see ourselves (or come upon ourselves) in the World.

Moreover, we mustn’t forget that the beautiful particulars of the World include human beings.  The wind.  People.

The Wind Shifts

This is how the wind shifts:
Like the thoughts of an old human,
Who still thinks eagerly
And despairingly.
The wind shifts like this:
Like a human without illusions,
Who still feels irrational things within her.
The wind shifts like this:
Like humans approaching proudly,
Like humans approaching angrily.
This is how the wind shifts:
Like a human, heavy and heavy,
Who does not care.

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (Alfred A. Knopf 1923).

We are the wind and the wind is us.  The wind is us and we are the wind.

“The Glamour of the West”  D L Kelleher, 1928

“The Glamour of the West”  D L Kelleher, 1928

20170605_095717-1The Glamour of the West seems to be part of a series by D L Kelleher, following on from The Glamour of Dublin and The Glamour of Cork. Kelleher is an obscure figure now. Here is his bio from The Concise Oxford Companion to Irish Literature:

Kelleher, D[aniel] L[aurence] (1883–1958),

playwright and man of letters. Born in Cork and educated at UCC, he was associated in his early career with the group of dramatists known as the ‘Cork Realists’ [see Abbey Theatre]. Stephen Grey (1910) was produced at the Abbey in 1910, and thereafter he wrote A Contrary Election (1910). His travel sketches reflect his varied career, and include Paris, Its Glamour and Life (1914), Lake Geneva (1914), The Glamour of Dublin (1918, as ‘D. L. Kay’), The Glamour of Cork (1919), Round Italy (1923), and Great Days with O’Connell (1929). His poetry includes Cork’s Own Town (1920), Poems Twelve a Penny (1911) and Twelve Poems (1923).

The Glamour of the West doesn’t even make this concise list. It is a collection of very brief sketches, the longest a couple of pages. The subtitle, “Bantry Bay to Lough Foyle”, gives a sense of the geographic range, although at times Kelleher veers quite far east (to Anthony Trollope in Banagher and Maria Edgesworth in Edgesworthstown).

20170605_095726I quite liked the Talbot Press symbol (“logo” seems a bit anachronistic) Talbot Press seems to have gone the way of all flesh:

 

Kelleher’s tone is set from the outset, in a “Prelude”:

“The West’s Awake!” – Awake to what? To its own infinitely small knowledge of itself? That  is as much as one can say in answer.

He ends the Prelude thus:

So, in 1928, this brief book of resentment and hope, coloured with a little love, takes up a few of the threads, and as tenderly, cynically, or dispassionately as may be, for a moment resumes an old story.

Kelleher references “cynicism” quite a bit throughout. The tone of the book is often bantering, scathing  – but in a somewhat indirect way. It put in my mind of a fictional character, Sarah Devlin from J G Farrell’s wonderful novel Troubles  There is a sort of habit of mind that could no doubt be called post colonial in a later age; mindful of the the atrocities but also the slights inflicted on the Irish nation over the years, and complaining of these in a what could be called a passive aggressive tone. Perhaps most suggestively, there is little on the events of the prior decade which led to Irish independence (in part).

Some extracts may demonstrate this comparison – the reader can judge if it is apt or not.

“The 1847 Famine In Mayo” is perhaps a little more emotionally direct than other pieces. It begins with a consideration I have wondered about myself

In the year 1928, when this book is being put together, there are many thousands of living Irish people whose parents were born in or about the Famine times. No wonder, here and there, if a melancholia should appear in the Irish. A generation born around the famine year could not escape the famine complex. In the west especially, life turned black with the black blighted potato. Social historians discuss the incidence of hysteria, and worse, due to the Zeppelin nights in London. The long duresse of the famine of 1847 was deeper shock to the whole population than any number of night-raids. Death might ensue from a bomb, but despair and death both were surer in Ireland. In Mayo the tragedy was at its height. At Westport workhouse, built to hold one thousand inmates, three thousand clamoured for entrance sometimes in a single day. Yet the pride of the Irish poor if well known; they will only enter the poorhouse when ruined and hopeless. The gate of the workhouse would be closed and barred early. Then the desperate, weak, lonely, agonised outcasts would throw themselves down to rest and snatch a sleep at the foot of the wall on the opposite side of the road. As many as seven corpses were found one morning like that, dead where they lay.

“Long duresse” is in the original. I did wonder originally was it a reference to the longue durée  concept of historians of the French Annales School, but this was many years before. “Duresse” must be related to “duress” and mean suffering.

Here is another characteristic extract –  about a man from my father’s part of the country:

A very old man, eighty-five, perhaps more, came into the town of Dunflin, Co. Sligo, one day in 1670 on his way to Dublin. The jolting of the rude two wheeled car, with only a layer of straw thrown down in it to soften the corner where you could sit, had tired him out. So he went to the tavern where he was known (for he had often passed that way) and asked for a bed for the night. He was given his old bed in the room above, and then he settled down by the fire in the kitchen to take a little drop of whiskey to revive him and to rest for a short while. There was a very nice girl serving drink to any that would come into the bar outside. But there was little custom and she came into the kitchen and stayed a long time talking to the old man, for she was a really nice girl and could appreciate him. They were pleasantly conversing when a loud clatter of feet was heard from the shop and a voice calling, “Come on here and fetch it out!

Hurrying from the kitchen the girl recognised the intruder as a well-known loyalist from near Dunflin. As soon as he saw the comely girl he put his hand around her, but she pulled herself away and stepped back into the kitchen where the old man had risen from his chair on hearing the confusion. The intruder followed her in and again trying to lay hold of the girl, said “Come on! Give me a kiss and you, you old —–, turn away!”

But the old man put himself between the girl and the soldier and defied him to touch her, for, as old as he was, he would strike “a foul fellow the like of you.’ The drunken soldier, blazing with insolence and disappointed passion, caught up a knife that was lying on the table and drove it into the old man’s heart and killed him with that blow.

That old man was Duald MacFirbis, once a rich scholar, who had spent his whole life compiling histories and genealogies. He was one of the true lovers of Ireland, keeping a hope for posterity by writing down the story of the heroic past. He did it in poverty and homelessness and now he had murder for his crown.

Here are some photos of the pages this story is recounted in:

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It is easy to mock this kind of thing, with references to comely girls and so on. Of course, as I often think, some day our prose will no doubt seem laughable. And the book is an at times nearly Borgesian in its laconic capturing of a person, a society, a nation through moments.

One more extract, and this one is actually in some ways the most characteristic:

PRIMROSES BY THE SEA

This is a personal chapter. It need not lose by that. It is about a trip we took by road from Sligo to Bundoran. It is really about a stop we made on the way when we ran past a desolate-looking harbour of refuge that the Congested Districts Board had made for fishermen, since gone to America. We were able to pass around the empty harbour to the edge of a cliff almost as unreclaimed as nature left it.

It was a day in mid-June when primroses rambled over the grass, and sea-pinks with them. Under the cliff the rocks cut into a smooth sea. The view extended almost to Donegal. There was no ship or boat or any sign of life except ourselves.

“Where are we now?” said I.

“I don’t know,” said the man who owned the car. “I came here once before and don’t know whether it is Leitrim or Sligo.”

“Is Leitrim on the coast?”

“It is – a couple of miles of it. But I think we are in Sligo. Leitrim is further on.”

We made tea on the sloping cliff side and watched the perfect solitude.

“Nothing ever happened here,” said my friend. “There is no glamour to write about.”

Nothing only primroses in mid-June, gold sands shining up through blue water, the smell of sea-wrack from the caves, the caress of soft aqueous air.

Glamour enough! Go there and see!

 

Birthplace of St Columba, Gartan, Donegal

Birthplace of St Columba, Gartan, Donegal

 

Traditionally, St Columba’s birthplace was near Lough Gartan, Church Hill, Co Donegal. Church Hill is a village near Glenveagh National Park, and is on the fringes of the Derryveagh Mountains – nearby, the rugged albeit farmed land of the eastern part of Donegal gives way to the wildness of the highlands.
According to the website Colmcille.org, there are two possible candidates for the birthplace in the Gartan area. The “official”, signposted one is Leac na Cumhaidh.

These photos are not very well taken but hopefully capture something of the place. The reputed birthsite itself is a flagstone which has been discoloured by coins, at the upper left of the rock arrangement seen below. A sign sternly warns visitors not to leave further coins:

 

The site is visually dominated by a massive cross erected by Cornelia Adair, amiable American widow of the notorious John George Adair. Cornelia was popular, relative to her husband who achieved lasting notoriety due to the evictions that led to the creation of the Glenveagh Estate.

Columba evidently was, like St Patrick also, seen as a figure who could unify Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter alike. The below inscription reads “Preserve With Each Other Sincere Charity and Peace”Finally, and most interestingly in many ways, this site is still evident attractive for contemporary would be prophets. The below image was attached to the railings around the site. img_2511

Kacou Phillipe’s page picks up the story:

Like the prophets of the Bible, In April 1993, a man who had never been in a church receives in a vision, the visitation of an Angel who commissions him for a Message destined to the entire earth in fulfillment of the ministry of Matthew 25:6 and Revelation 12:14..

For those who are a little rusty, Matthew 25:6 reads

And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go out to meet him.

And Revelation 12:14:

And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.

Kacou Phillipe’s page also informs us:

Prophet Kacou Philippe got out of prison on Tuesday night, August 16, 2016.

William Branham was also new to me. His Wikipedia page begins:

William Marrion Branham (April 6, 1909 – December 24, 1965) was an American Christian minister, generally acknowledged as initiating the post World War II healing revival.[1][2] Branham’s most controversial revelation was his claim to be the end-time “Elijah” prophet of the Laodicean Church age.[3][4][5] His theology seemed complicated and bizarre to many people who admired him personally.[6] In his last days, Branham’s followers had placed him at the center of a Pentecostal personality cult. Other than those that still follow him as their prophet, Branham has faded into obscurity.

There are indeed those that still follow him as their prophet, and this is their webpage. From the Wikipedia page again, Branham had a range of prophecies:

Branham claimed to have had a prophetic revelation in June 1933 that comprised seven major events that would occur before the Second Coming of Christ.[70] He believed that five of the seven predictions, relating to world politics, science and the moral condition of the world, had been fulfilled. The final two visions, one related to the Roman Catholic Church gaining power in the United States and the second detailing the destruction of the USA, would be fulfilled by 1977, subsequent to which Christ would return.[71] A comparison of Branham’s descriptions of the prophecies reveals his tendency to exaggerate and embellish his actual predictions.[72]

In December 1964, Branham also prophesied that the city of Los Angeles would sink into the Pacific Ocean. This was subsequently embellished to a prediction that a chunk of land fifteen hundred miles long, three or four hundred miles wide and forty miles deep would break loose causing waves that would “shoot plumb out to Kentucky.”[48][73]

The line “his theology seemed complicated and bizarre to many people who admired him personally” reminded me of a passage in Anthony Storr’s book on gurus, Feet of Clay. Storr has a chapter on Rudolf Steiner, and writes on how Steiner’s work in education, especially for those who we would now describe as “special needs” children, was entirely admirable, and his personal life unimpeachable (I paraphrase), and yet his cosmology and theology were unintelligible and, for Storr, close to the delusional systems seen in schizophrenia.

When I walked with my family down a country lane in Donegal to the (supposed) birthplace of St Columba, I did not think I would end up learning about Kacou Philippe or William Branham.