Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Meandering gently from Germany

Gearóid Ó Colmáin talks about the Danube.

Meandering gently from Germany’s Black Forest, the Danube is Europe’s second longest river. It is formed from two smaller rivers- the Brigach and the Breg. It spans a distance of some 2850 km, and passes through several Central and Eastern European capitals before it comes to rest in the Black Sea. In ancient times, the Danube marked the frontier between the Roman Empire and the Teutonic regions of Europe. Today it passes through Austra, Germany, Slovakia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Moldova, Switzerland,Italy, Poland, Hungary and Albania. In most of these languages it is referred to Danubi or Dunav. But where does the word come from and what does it mean? If you go to Kerry on a bright summer’s day and look across the valley near ? you will set eyes upon a breathtaking sight. Two mountains standout from the landscape. They are known as Dá Cíoch D’anu- the two breasts of Anu. Anu is the celtic goddess of nature and fertility and is more often known as Danu. She is both mother goddess and river goddess and her people were known as the Tuatha Dé Danann. In the battle of Moytura ( Cath Maigh Tuireadh), the Tuatha Dé Danaan defeat the Fomórí ( modern Irish fo-mhuir meaning under the sea). This battle took place on the eve of Samhain and symbolized the defeat of darkness by the forces of light. A similar myth comes from India’s Vedic mythology. It is the struggle between the Adityas or the children of Aditi and the Danavas, the children of the Goddess Danu. In the Vedic myth, Danu is the antithesis of the celtic version, representing restraint and bondage rather than bounty and effusion. The battle is recounted in the Rig Veda where the God Indra is victorious over the Danavan God Vrtra.

The etymology of the word Danu seems to go back to the proto Indo-European ‘danoa’. The basic root ‘da’ connotes the semantics of giving. Latin and the Romance languages retain this root eg. Dar in Spanish, donner in French and dare in Italian all meaning ‘ to give’ the Irish ‘tabhairt’( to give) is likely to be derived from the same root. What interests me in all of this is the way in which the river Danube and its Celtic and Vedic origins symbolize the migratory nature of mankind. Irish, being the most westerly language of Europe, can find traces of itself as far east as India. Throughout human history people moved from one place to another, taking their stories and grafting them in new soil. What we describe as ‘our culture’ very often conceals extraneous influences. We are only beginning to understand the significance of our ancient monuments and sites. In Europe, it seems that migration has tended to be in a westerly direction. Therefore, if we want to understand Ireland and its heritage, we need to look east, perhaps by following Danu as she flows majestically into the black sea of our shared past

Monday, December 04, 2006

I spent all week lifting stones

The house of language: Gearóid Ó Colmáin talks about old cottages.

I spent all week lifting stones, uprooting briars and shifting rubble. It is hard and slow work which requires patience and dedication. I am renovating an old 17th century cottage. The cottage belonged to my great great grandfather and has remained within the family for centuries. It was inhabited until 1976 by my grand aunt. During the eighties, its rotting thatch began to fall in and nature reclaimed that fragile human domicile. I even had to cut a big ivy-covered tree that was growing in the centre of the house. I am almost finished clearing it out now. However, there is still much to do; the walls will have to be dried and pointed with new mortar, the back wall rebuilt entirely, a new floor put in and some deep drainage in the outside. I think it was Frederich Nietzche who said that one’s language is one’s house. It is where we live, where we feel at home. I must admit I rather enjoy this type of work. As Shakespeare put it, ‘ the labour we delight in physics pain’. I enjoy the independence of working on my own, especially when the work involves wresting something from the ruins. The German word ‘Wiederholung’ expresses more emphatically that sense of pulling something back, reclaiming something almost lost or obliterated. If we stay with this metaphor of the house, then we can say that each stone is a word and the mortar is its grammar, that without which there would be no solid structure.( let’s ignore dry stone construction for the moment).

In this country, people who renovate old cottages are in the minority. Most people prefer to build according to their own designs. Besides, the infinite accumulation of commodities that is so pervasive in modern Irish life, would preclude any romantic notions of living in such a small space. Before I started this work I sought the advice of a few experts. As is the case with experts, they invariably disagree with one another. One expert told me to forget renovation, that it would end up costing me more that a new build. Another told me that it could be renovated without the astronomical cost. This reminds me of debates about minority languages. Many people believe that the Irish language is a lost cause, a ruined house best forgotten, consigned to history or just bulldozed away. Others, including myself, see it differently. I see it as work in progress; it was never quite a ruin. Rather, a old cottage in need of repair and a new dash of whitewash to erase its shabby image and new windows to let in the light of modernity. It also needs to be divested of all that ivy of creed and political alliegance. Most importantly, it needs new inhabitants. Just like an ancient language, an old cottage can teach us much about life. There was a time when a house for most people signified shelter from the elements rather than a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit to facilitate the acquisition of more commodities. My grandfather, who had no Irish, used to refer to one of our fields as the ‘park yard’. After much reflection, my father later worked out its meaning. ‘Páirc’ is the Irish for field, and ‘ard’ means high. An páirc ard, the high field. My grandfather never questioned the meaning of the expression. It was one of the many phrases and words which were anglicized and distorted over time, losing their original meaning. However, it does show that an Ghaeilge was spoken in this little ‘tigín’(little house). After an absence of two or three centuries, it will be spoken there again. The future of a multicultural, multilingual society will depend on our ability to balance the particular with the universal, the old with the new. The new Ireland does not have to discard its heritage. Rather, through a continuous dialogue with the past, we will be able project with confidence and deeper understanding towards the ‘páirc ard’of the future.

Nicaearagua: cad is brí le bán dearg?

Nicaearagua: cad is brí le bán dearg?

Féachann Gearóid Ó Colmáin ar eachtraí i Nicearagua

Bhí siad le feiscint I ngach áit ar fud na tíre roimh olltoghcáin I Nicaearagua an mhí seo caite: bratacha bándearga a d’fhógair tosnú nua don tír fhírbhocht ainniseach. Tar éis bliainta faoi scáth réime nua-liobrálaí de Bolanos, tháinig an ‘Frente Sandinista de Liberatión Nataional’ nó na ‘Sandinistas’ mar a thugtar orthu, I gcumhacht arís. B’fhéidir nach bhfuil an fhuinneamh chéanna aige is a bhí fadó, b’fhéidir go bhfuil sé tar éis athsmaoineamh a dhéanamh ar a fhealsúnacht Marxach-Leinineach, ach tá Daniel Ortega ar ais le tacaíocht na ndaoine. Ach céard faoi ‘ la revolution roja’?, céard a chaillaíonn bán dearg? Is cinnte go bhfuil réabhlóid ag scaipeadh ar fud fad an Mheiriceá Theas, ach an bhfuil claochlú tar éis teacht ar na Sandinistas, nó an bhfuil an chomhartha bándearg stáitéis chliste chun athmhuintearas a cothú sa tír scaoilte le coimhlint stairiúil? Ní féidir a rá ag an bpointe seo, ach cosúil le cás sa Venezuela, ardaíonn ar ndóchas go ndéanfar na hathruithe tábhachtacha chun dul I ngleic leis an mbochtanas agus an mí-cobhsaíocht, constaic is mó do dhul chun cinn an Nicaearagua.

Ní féidir tuiscint chimsitheach a fháil ar chúrsaí Nicearagua gan í a chur i gcomhthéasc a shean-chomharsana, na Stáit Aontaithe. Ó tháinig trúpaí na Stáit Aontaithe go dtí Nicearagua i 1914 chun gréim a fháil ar achmhainn na tíre, bhí coimhlint idir gá na ndaoine i Nicearagua agus suim ghnóthach na mór-chomhlachtaí ó thuaigh. Ach tháinig fear réabhlóideach darb ainm Augusto César Sandino ar an stáitse pholaitiúil I 1927 agus lasraigh sé tine nach mhúchtaí aon fhréasúra go deo. Chuir sé ruaig ar na Stáit Aontaithe I 1933. Ach bunaíoch an ‘Guarda National’ míliste dílseach do Washington agus cuireadh Aastasion Somoza Garcia I gcumhacht. Ar dtús, bhí comhaontú go mbeadh cineál ‘triumvirate’ ann le Somoza, Sandino agus Sacasa, ach nuair a mharaíodh an ‘Garda Náisiúnta’ Sandino I 1934, ní raibh aon chonstaic i dtreo Somoza. Bhunaigh sé ríora a mhairfeadh go dtí 1979, ríora bunaithe ar ghadaíocht, lofacht, agus dúshaothrú na ndaoine. Cuireadh cosc ar shaoirse chainte agus choinnigh Somoza agus an Garda Náisiúnta gréim láidir ar achmhainne na tíre. Bhí an ríora de Somoza chomh raidhsúil , bhí suas le 20 ceatadán d’achmhainn na Nicearagua I seilbh dá mhac Somoza Dabayle sna seachtaidí. Lean na Stáit Aontaithe ag íoc na millúin dollar don chlann Somoza ionas go mbéidís toillteanneach de pholasaí gnó meiricáneach sa cheantar. Rinne comhlacht mheiricáneach darb ainm ‘ Nicaraguan Longleaf Pine Company’ fásach as oirthear na tíre, agus bhí ar na feirmeoirí an talamh a fhágáil agus talamh a lorg dóibh féin san fhorais. Thóg ‘Ranchers’ an talamh agus sna seachtaidí bhí Nicearagua an soláthróir is mó de mhairteoil do na Stáit Aontaithe. Agus bhí na ‘Estados Unidos an t-onnmhaireoir is mó de ‘pesticide’do Nicearagua.DDT, endrin, diredrin agus lindane, substaintí a nach raibh ceadaithe sna Stáit Aontaithe, scaipeadh iad ar fud fad Nicearagua.

Ach mhair spiorad Sandinista. Nuair a thárla crith talún I Manauga I 1977, d’eirigh an phobal I gcoinne Somoza mar gheall ar a ghadaíocht den airgid a fuair an tír on gcumann idirnáisiúnta. Fuair na Sandinistas tacaíocht ón Aontas Soivéadeach agus Cuba. D’éirigh sáinn na tíre I bhfad níos meas le teacht I gcumhacht de Ronald Reagan I 1980. Cabhraigh sé na ‘Contras’ le gunnaí agus airgead. Rinneadh ainghníomhaí mhillteanacha dá bharr. Le teacht ar ais Ortega, tá comhartha suntasach á taispeáint do Washinton. Beidh sé suimúil a fháil amach cé chomh rathúil is a bheidh siad ina n-iarrachtaí cothrom na féine a chur I bhfeidhm. An bhfuil muid chun réabhlóid bándearg a fheiscint seachas dearg? Agus céard a chaillóidh sé sin?


le feiscint i ngach áit- to be seen in every place

d’fhógair sé- he announced

faoi scáth – under the shadow.

Cumhacht- power

Athsmaoineamh- rethink

Fealsúnacht- philosophy

céard a chaillaíonn –what does it mean

réabhlóid ag scaipeadh- to spread revolution

tacaíocht na ndaoine- support of the people

athmhuintearas- reconciliation

scaoilte le coimhlint stairiúil- split with historical conflict

ardaíonn ar ndóchas- our hope rises

dul i ngleic- grapple with

constaic is mó – the biggest obstacle

achmhainn na tíre – the resources of the country

mór-chomhlachtaí- the big companies

míliste dílseach- loyal militia

ríora bunaithe ar ghadaíocht, lofacht, agus dúshaothrú na ndaoine- dynasty based on theft, corruption and exploitation of the people

crith talún – earth quake

comhartha suntasach – major symbol

rathúil- successful

cothrom na féine- equality.