Friday, 25 February 2011

What We Leave in Our Wake

People who know me would not think it strange for me to say that I am (at best) somewhat bemused by life.  The shape and values of the tide of life often seem in permanent ebb and most of our culture is like driftwood, smoothed and blunted by saltwater and sand.

What We Leave In Our Wake (trailer 21st) from Harvest Films on Vimeo.

It is invigorating to see an Irish film taking up Joyce's great challenge to ' forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.' Pat Collins has made an important  film whose contribution to the Irish may be greater than anything arising out of tomorrows 'most important election in our lifetime'. It has certainly stirred thoughts in my mind and I will be taking advantage of it's presence on the RTE Player to watch it again before it disappears. (It's there until Monday 14th March)

He shows us an Ireland of garage forecourts and stone walls, of nondescript urban landscapes whose inanity is a challenge to identity. The land gives back remnants of our past like a Connemara navvy spitting his bloody teeth on a Kilburn sidewalk, his very language already stolen from his mouth.

We see feet trudging up and and sometimes tripping on the broken stones of Croagh Patrick - Catholic drumsticks beating a pagan drum. The layers of history buried like the navvies' bloodied teeth beneath the bogs and mountains and rivers are invoked; the Tuatha De Dannan who melted into the underground; the children of sun worshippers insisting they be buried facing the rising sun; the land hunger born from famine and copperfastened by evictions; the social deprivation sprouting from political indifference.

The mixed legacy of British colonialism is raised, the stark modernity of things such as our National School system and postal service in the early nineteenth century balanced against the undercapitalisation of  society as wealth migrated to Britain like the myriad dispossessed. The greater colonisation of our culture by Catholicism is also interrogated, a slavery brought to us in part by our slave trade. The narrow personal morality that came to define Irish catholicism a barrier to spiritual exploration.

The visual fabric seems to push against the words, well chosen archive giving a depth to the musings on our history, our future and our geography. A petrified forest seems inhabited by the spirit of our emigrants, or perhaps these are their bodies and it is the spirit that has fled.

These fleeing spirits leave us almost as emigrants in our own country, language and culture left to the museums. The question is posed if we are any better than colonists if we desecrate Tara for the unborn generations. Meaning has been reduced to self help, how we see and not what we see being the issue to be solved. Democracy is a devalued ritual hiding the fact that the choices offered are just two sides of the same coin, and coin of a devalued currency.

Hope lies in the fires that consume the old growth to make way for new planting and the fact that it is when you are lost that you are most likely to discover something new, or rediscover something old. We owe a debt to our ancestors and a promise to our descendants. It's time we thought about that debt as much as we think of the IMF.

The words of Joyce, the voice of Yeats, the song of the Uilleann pipes, the mist over the midlands, needles filling veins with oblivion, buildings overwhelmed by the shadow of their own impending obsolescence, globalisation, technology, wealth, churches and car alarms calling us from our sleep. Dare we open our eyes.


  1. Nicely put, I'm headed for the RTEPlayer - ironic that what I don't have to have a license for will deliver the programming while the signal can't be picked up for the licensed apparatus.

  2. You'll need a license for each working eye soon.