Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; overt and clandestine

Following on from a thought prompted by my friend Trow who is an expert tracker through the symbols and signals that light up our culture I thought it might be interesting to put forward a thread for discussion of who we are and why we are as we are in the modern world.

I contend that this cannot be done by a mere accountancy as we have attempted to do in recent years. Nor can it be done by self-flattery through our history. Nor even by looking for a reflection of ourselves in the mirrors of our neighbours, or treaties, contracts with other nations and almost certainly not by reading the public statements of our leaders. Their concern is to homogenise us as the electorate at home and ‘the Irish people’ when they are abroad- both being pliable and biddable concepts for the politician.

They say Freud alleged that the Irish were the only people one could not analyse. I doubt he did say that but if he did it was probably because he relied so much upon sex for diagnosis and he died before sex began in Ireland with the advent of the Late, Late Show.

So what are we left with but the things that make us peculiar and distinctive in the eyes of other people. These things we might not notice so much as they are by definition familiar to us and too close in to us to be thought about often. Our warinesses and superstitions. The way we use language, our own and adopted. The symbols that survive and that we all recognise and end up having to explain to American tourists.

Some psychologists say that there is a duality in the Irish psychology which is striking.

‘we now turn our attention to the deep cultural importance of the underworld in Irish psychology. While stories of fairies, leprechauns and banshees may serve to instil fear in Irish children nowadays, they are vessels of a deeper culture.xi There is an intense dichotomy between the earth and the underworld.

The above-mentioned Book of Invasions tells of the Tuath De Danaan (the People of Danuxii), who were the occupiers of Ireland when the Milesians first came. According to the story, the Tuath De Danaan were driven underground where they continued to reside in ‘sidhe’ or fairy mounds and play an influential role in manipulating events in the world above.

This dualism with its attendant sense of dominant/recessive elements is reflected in many areas of Irish life. The Tuath de Dannan represent the magical, recessive component in the equation.

Jonathan Korowicz, Institute for Integrative Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding, Vienna, Austria

Mr Korowicz also points out;

‘What is interesting here is the idea that the concept of place and not people is emphasized in defining Irishness. The Irish citizen in mythic terms feels himself to be part of a process i.e. one of many races in the same land. However, each race tends to overcome, obscure or dominate the previous race. Irishness is thus an experience combining concepts of destiny, suffering, sacrifice and exile/separation. This final component is evident both in the Leabhair Gabhala where the invading tribes are themselves exiles from other lands as well as in the 19th and 20th Centuries where exile is perpetrated on the Irish race for reasons of survival (the Great Famine) and psychological reasons (as in the writings of James Joyce – ‘the quintessential exiled writer of the twentieth century, who obsessively relates to his past by distancing himself from it.’)

I found this paper on a google search and wished to use it to prompt a discussion of Irish psychology if possible and what symbols from our mythology and folklore might indicate. There is the above and the below- this world and the underworld and that is ancient in our culture.

I myself refer to ‘Tir Na N’og’ Ireland whenever I feel we are responding to the theory of things and not the reality – the assumed separation of powers in the pillars of the state, the notion that abortion does not occur in Ireland because it takes place in the ‘otherworld’ beyond the departure gates and not at home. Tir Na N’og never feels more real to me when I detect this reaching for the theoretical by Irish opinion-formers- the pretence around the Celtic Tiger and the false economy of the boom being a kind of migration into fantasy and a bridge into the never-never land.

I have questions I’d love to hear answers on or at least opinions from other Irish people.

Do we undervalue our folklore and mythology and not recognise them as symbols of a language between us to which many of us have lost the key?

Are psychologists and historians right to pay so much attention to cultural symbols in order to describe traits in the Irish psychology?

Captain Con 3.12.08

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