Global Aspirations and the Reality of Change is a collection of papers from the 6th C?®ifin Conference, which is held annually in Ennis, Co. Clare. The theme of this latest volume is societal change and how people can put more emphasis on action and begin to translate analysis into reality. Contributors conclude that action will take place only when more people participate in society , and are empowered to do so.
Among the subjects addressed are Change in Ireland Over the Past Ten Years, Corporate Responsibility in a Changing World and Family Well-Being in Ireland , What Makes a Difference?
Contributors included pianist M?¡che?íl O Sóilleabh?íin, Tom Hyland of the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign, author and lecturer Michael Cronin, Paídraig OCaidigh, MD of Aer Arann., Ged Pierse of Pierse Contracting and Sinead Donnelly, a consultant in Palliative Medicine.
ABOUT THE EDITORS
Fr. Harry Bohan, Chairman of the Ceifin Centre, qualified as Sociologist in the University of Wales and is currently Director of Pastoral Planning in Diocese of Killaloe and Parish Priest in Sixmilebridge, Co Clare. Believing in family and community as the two vital systems in fostering human relationships he founded the Rural Resource Organisation. This organisation was responsible for encouraging communities across Ireland to participate in determining their own future and resulted in the building of 2,500 houses in 120 villages, in 13 counties.
In 1998 he founded the Ceifin Centre for Values-Led Change to carry on the conversation on the direction Ireland is taking. The purpose of Ceifin is to reflect, debate and direct values-led change in Irish society. He was appointed to the Task Force on Active Citizenship by an Taoiseach in 2006.
Recognised as one of the leading social commentators in Ireland today Fr Bohan has written extensively on the subjects of christianity, spirituality and economic development, the importance of the local responding to the global and on understanding change. His books published include Roots in a changing Society and Community and the Soul of Ireland and he is editor and contributor to all 10 previous books of published papers from Ceifin Conferences. He has broadcast widely on national radio and television. Fr Harry is also well known for his involvement in sport and Clare Hurling in particular.
Gerard Kennedy is the co-editor of this book.
Fr Harry Bohan has been a priest in the diocese of Killaloe for over fifty years. A qualified sociologist, he is a pioneer in the areas of rural housing and community development. He established the Céifin Centre in 1998, a think tank for values-led change. One of Ireland’s leading social commentators, he has written substantially about Christianity, spirituality and economic development. A hurling enthusiast, he is also former manager of the Clare hurling team.
Edited by Harry Bohan and Gerard Kennedy, this book examines the issues which arise from the speed of change in our world and argues that this necessitates another kind of change, both at a global and at a local level.
Just imagine being transported through the revolution that Ireland has experienced in the past decade , the rise and rise in consumption, the acceleration in the pace of work and personal life, the effect of communication replacing transmission, the means overcoming the end but despite all that, imagine that change is possible. Imagine a revolution of deceleration
Indifference will not be allowed, imagine the challenge of these five words!
Just imagine having a whole morning to reflect on the possibilities of influencing the system of power that keeps us politically docile and economically productive. Imagine the joy of realising that power is present in every moment, in every relationship and there is ultimately no small act
Just imagine all that the camaraderie and the energy of spending two days with three hundred people who want to do things differently, who want to effect change. Imagine conversations , at early and late hours , stories, dreams, ideas, debate, energy.
- Catholic Ireland
- CHAPTER 1: Listening to difference: Ireland in a world of music (M?¡che?íl O Sóilleabh?íin)
Listening to the river
While I was preparing this talk the Irish phrase came to me: p?¡obaire an aon phort meaning the piper with only one tune! It is a derogatory reference to someone who has only one song to sing. But for the past few years I have found myself speaking to public gatherings in a wide variety of settings , and saying what may well be the same thing, although I hope at least saying it in different ways. If what I say this evening hovers in the realms of the poetic then bear with me as I attempt to ground the poetic with poetry itself. Translating that poetry into action is quite another matter , and the aim of this sixth C?®ifin Conference is, after all, to put more emphasis on action. Nonetheless, while I have my own ideas as to how that can be done, in certain arenas and instances at least, I will happily leave that process to what follows at this conference over the next few days. My hope, at any rate, is that my words may provide some point of general reference, and may encourage us into a receptive mood for what is to follow:
After all, the Russian composer, Stravinsky, said of Vivaldis music that he wrote one good piece and kept repeating it, which is one way of looking at it , or at least listening to it. Or we might think of the example where people hear traditional music in Ireland from their own perspective, and wonder how musicians can sit and play what seems to them to be the same tune all night!
And this is what I mean then in my title , Listening to Difference. It usually takes some concentration and some learning to focus the ear , much as the eye can focus , and thus to start the process of noticing the little differences which make a big difference. Mind you, in the absence of the concentration and learning, it is heartening in my experience that a little bit of common sense, even on its own, goes quite a long way.
Basically, the message these words are intended to bring is that there is hope, that there is light and that the struggle for an active peace on this multi-coloured planet that we share is well worth making. And I suppose that is what C?®ifin is all about , seeking out the value of human existence and holding it up like a light for all to see. Look! it says. Here is a light on the banks of the Shannon in the county of Clare in the west of Ireland. It is our light. It is our contribution to a world of lights. And within our light there is a world of different lights. And within that world of different lights there is a shared brightness, a luminosity that penetrates the darkness and heralds yet another dawn. And Nature teaches us that it doesnt only happen once. It has to happen every day like a birthing, or like a spring at the source of a river. For that reason, we need to listen to the river.
?ëist le fuaim na habhann agus gheobhair breac.
Listen to the sound of the river and you will get a trout, the Irish proverb tells us. I want to bring you on a journey up that river to its source where we will find the inspiration, which was the remit of C?®ibhfhionn, the early Celtic Goddess for whom this organisation is named. In order to make that journey I will make use of poetry, music and language , all three linked as sound as we listen to the river.
I start with St Kevin of Glendalough, and our opening scene shows him fasting during Lent with his two arms outstretched. His cell is so small that his hands are out through the windows on either side, or a bird nests in one of his upturned palms. Here is how Seamus Heaney captures it: (1)
St Kevin and the Blackbird
And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, the cell-is narrow, so
One turned up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
And lays in it and settles down to nest.
Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,
Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.
And since the whole things imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time
From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth
Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in loves deep river,
To labour and not to seek reward he prays,
A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank, forgotten the rivers name.
The rivers name of course for us here is the Shannon, the longest river, named for the early Irish Goddess Sionna who sought out the hazelnuts of wisdom which in ancient Ireland were believed to contain ?®igse, the spirit and inspiration of poetry.
Sionna was seeking what C?®ifin had. This she found next to a pool , the well of knowledge , which was surrounded by nine hazel trees. The hazel is linked to autumn and to the festival of Samhain. As the ripe nuts fall into the water they burst into a purple spray. The salmon of wisdom who live in the pool eat the nuts and for every nut they eat, a red spot appears on their skin. The nuts also cause bubbles of inspiration in the water, which are constantly carried downstream. Sionna leans over the pool to gather the nuts, but loses her footing and falls in. The pool is angered and rises up over her and sweeps her down into the sea, thus birthing the river, which still carries her name.
The hazelnut, with its round hard shell and nutritious core is a symbol of the heart in many folk tales. Thus, Findabairs heart broke like a nut inside her when she heard of her fathers death in battle. And Acaill wept for nine days until her heart broke like a nut inside her when she heard of the death of her brother, Erc. (2)
The poet, Moya Cannon, expertly marks the connection with the heart as a hazelnut of wisdom:
I thought that I knew what they meant
when they said that wisdom is a hazelnut.
You have to search the scrub
for hazel thickets,
gather the ripened nuts,
crack the hard shells,
and only then taste the sweetness at wisdoms kernel.
But perhaps it is simpler.
Perhaps it is we who wait in thickets
for fate to find us
and break us between its teeth
before we can start to know anything.
Another part of the necessary wisdom of the times we live in, and a wisdom which is surely at the heart of C?®ifins concern, is an understanding of the dynamic between the local and the global. (3) How do we make the movement between what we were, what we are, and what we are becoming? Listening to the difference between the local and the global is like listening to the difference between self and other.
The art of listening (4)
Music is the Art of Listening. And my musings here are about the Art of Listening, in particular the Art of Global Listening. Whenever we respectively cross the boundaries that border our musical experience from that of another, we move something on. Every movement of respectful knowing we make creates another stepping stone where someone may follow , or indeed someone may come across from the other side.
I find my text again in Heaney where he reminds us that for the Romans, Terminus was the God of Boundaries, and that the image of Terminus, which they kept in the Temple of Jupiter on Capitol Hill, had no roof and was open to the sky. This was redolent of the templum or sacred space where the future might be foretold. The word templum originally stood for that section of the sky where the stars might be read or the movement of birds be observed. Later it came to mean that particular space on which you stood while speculating the stars. And indeed the word terminus appears in Irish as tearmann, which is found in many Irish place names meaning the glebe land belonging to an abbey or church, land that was specially marked off for ecclesiastical use. (5) How we enter and exit the sacred space of listening and of speculation seems important. The Entrance Hymn and the Recessional are key moments in the ritual. In 1994 while writing the music of Missa Gadelica, (6) a poem came to me as if to put me on alert to find the point where light and waters meet. I found myself using it as the inspiration for meditation music, which was to prepare the listening congregation for the moment of crossing.
The sea is a temple.
Vested in seaweed,
Priestly fish find coral waters.
Undercurrents beat time.
Overhead, where light and waters meet,
Blind ships take soundings.
My temples are riverbanks for the templum of the sea.
I stand at the crown of my sacred vessel
Trusting the North star,
We can take the idea further into another Irish word , not related but all the stronger for that , the word t?íirseach, meaning threshold. This is the word for the lintel of a door, the boundary between the inner and the outer world, between the local and the global. It is a place of great creativity and fertility. Folklore in Ireland has it that Saint Bridgit, whose feast day on 1 February marks the beginning of spring and of the agricultural year, was born with her mother having one leg inside the threshold of the door and the other without. Based upon an earlier Celtic Goddess called Ainu, St Bridgit is an earth goddess and a keeper of the flame of creativity. St Bridgits flame, which was kept alight in her monastery in Kildare, is the light to mark the passage of those of us who are drawn towards the borders of difference. It is the light of knowledge and of true understanding, which comes through a studied listening. And above all it is the light of respectful listening. A listening at the borders of difference.
Terminus of course also carries the meaning of an end of something. We speak of being terminally ill. Or of something being terminated. It is as if the various slantings of the word are telling us that an end is also potentially a beginning. There is a mystery and an accompanying obstacle of darkness, therefore, which may accompany a boundary crossing which is why we need the light of creativity to see us through, to keep us, as it were, safe and sound.
The musical challenge we face in our own times is to address the global multiplicity of voices as never before. To continue to work like a good cartographer drawing the educational map of the location of the stepping-stones. Everyone must find them in the end for themselves for the experience to be as wholesome as it should be, and everyone will find them in their own way and at their own rate , something that must also be respected. But as mediators or leaders, or facilitators, our task is to hold the light steady for the duration of the passing to and through the terminus or the tearmann. And to pass from what I call the tempus (that which is finite) to the templum and back again, and in this way to go beyond the metronome of existence to the cantabile, or singing, of understanding.
We do it with our feet on the ground and our heads in the clouds, and with our eyes closed. Heaney quotes the seventeenth-century Japanese poet Basho: (7)
What is important is to keep our mind high in the world of true understanding, and returning to the world of daily experience to seek therein the truth of beauty. No matter what we may be doing at a given moment, we must not forget that it has a bearing upon our everlasting self, which is poetry.
It is this ability of music, and of the arts in general, to encode connections that links its intelligence with the intelligence at the heart of politics and at the heart of identity itself. And it is this power within music to encapsulate, represent, and at times actually be at the quick of things, which sets it up as a potential barometer of the times. This may also be the reason why people within a culture can react so deeply when music changes. Music, and the other arts, can at times reside at the crossroads of becoming where the dynamic of cultural change is being generated. The current debate within Irish culture about the speed and nature of change within traditional music is a case in point. (8)
Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism: (9)
No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separateness and distinctiveness as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connection between things.
The lobality of the world
The balance between locus and globus is a key to unlocking those connections, the key to the music within, the key to making the body of a culture start to sing again. Linking the local to the global may be something of a clich?® now, but it is one that remains pregnant with meaning and relevance. As an example of this, my attention was recently drawn to a cultural village architectural concept, which the Italian architect Renzo Piano designed for New Caledonia off the coast of Australia. It is a strikingly beautiful series of buildings based on the local tribal huts of the Kanak people. Someone once described this kind of architecture, which was at once local and global as glocal. As I thought about the world , especially its hardness and almost musical aggression , I was drawn towards a different amalgamation of the two words local/global into lobal. Quite apart from its softness, lobal carries resonances of the lobe of the ear, of a kind of respectful listening, of a capacity to listen to difference.
Because what we-might now call lobality listens to the process of becoming, because it is, as T.S. Eliot puts it, the dance at the still point of the turning world, because in Yeats words it calls the Muses home, it leads us towards what George Steiner has called real presence , a place where creativity resides. If I put these words together I get this statement;
The real presence at the crossroads of becoming is the globality of the world turning at the still point of existence.
Here lies the heart of intelligence, the juncture of survival, Saids connections between things.
That combination of fear and prejudice alluded to by Said can short circuit this process. Sometimes the dynamic of a musical tradition can disturb old haunts, challenge established settings, seek to replace old gods. At its worst, the reaction against this can breed a cultural fundamentalism where outrage is tainted by fear. At its best it can help to redress an emerging imbalance within a tradition by counteracting crass commercialism, or by challenging dishonest political manoeuvrings within institutions. It is in finding a balance that a culture reaches towards its healthy aspects, and it is fundamentally within the individual that this balance emerges. The encouragement of choice seems essential to finding that balance. The continual opening up of other ways of doing what has been done before seems to keep tradition alive.
We have to learn to listen for that process. Listening , which is the theme of my talk , is a kind of waiting, a kind of suspended alertness which, again, Eliot tells us will be found, At the still point of the turning world.
The deafness of indifference
I want to take as my text here at this point two poems by the twentieth-century Irish language poet Seán O R?¡ord?íin , one insisting on the local, the other insisting on the global. The central question is raised, therefore, as to whether you can have both? My experience as a musician is that you can. The very contradiction at the heart of the equation is what drives the dynamo. The contradiction is its own answer. And the emergency, which powers that answer, is human creativity.
In the poem Fill Ar?¡s (Return Again) O R?¡ord?íin tells us to head westwards towards the Dingle peninsula where the Irish language is for him the hazelnut of wisdom:
T?®ir faobhar na faille siar tr?íthnóna gr?®ine go Corea Dhuibhne,
Is chifir thiar ag bun na sp?®ire ag r?ítha?¡ocht ann
An Uimhir Dh?®, is an Modh Foshuiteach,
Is an tuiseal gairmeach ar bh?®alaibh daoine:
Sin ?® do dhoras,
Dón Chaoin f?® sholas an tr?íthnóna.
Buail is osclófar
Dintinn f?®in is do chló ceart.
If we get there, he tells us, we will find at the skys edge the play of language on peoples lips. The village of Dun Chaoin lit by an evening sun will be outdoors towards the fingerprint of our own soul. What interests me about this poem, apart from its startling beauty, is a line in it, which says: N?¡ dual do neach a thigh n?í a threabh a thr?®ighan. (It is not in the nature of the soul to abandon its home. (10))
Recently I became aware of the other O R?¡ord?íin poem, which I want to mention here:
N?¡ Ceadmhach Neamhshuim
N?¡l cui, n?¡l leamhan, n?¡l beach
Dar chruthaigh Dia, n?¡l fear,
Nach dualgas dóinn a leas,
N?¡l bean; n?¡ ceadmhach neamhshuim
A dh?®anamh d?í n-imn?¡;
N?¡l gealt i ngleann na ngealt,
N?ír chu?¡ dhóinn su?¡ lena ais,
?ü thionlacan an fhaid
A iompra?¡onn thar ?ír gceann
?ür dtinneas-ne na mheabhair.
N?¡l alt, n?¡l sruth, n?¡l sceach,
D?í iargólta iad, n?¡l leac,
B?¡d?¡s thuaidh, thoir, thiar nó theas,
N?ír cheart dóinn machnamh ar a su?¡omh
Le gean is Ie b?íidhiocht;
D?í fhaid uainn Afraic Theas,
D?í airde ?¡ gealach,
Is cuid d?¡nn iad ó cheart:
N?¡l ?íit ar fuaid na cruinne
Nach ann a saola?¡odh sinne.
Here we are told that the only real sin is that of indifference born of fear. Every man, every woman, every living thing, all of nature no matter where it exists is part of our heritage. There is no place on earth where we have not birthed. So we must reconcile the souls nature to hold to its home with the souls global birthright. This is the nature of the times we live in. To my mind it can only mean one thing: the local is the global, the home is the planet. But that movement must be achieved with respect to the agricultural reality of our starting point. In the process of this necessary contemporary transformation: indifference. Indifference is not allowed. Compassion, therefore, is necessary. And for compassion to find its voice, you must have global knowledge. And for global knowledge you must have an education system that is beyond commercial and fundamentalist manipulation. You must have a print and electronic media system that is free from interference. In a word, you must have freedom of voice in order to have freedom of choice. Anything else is beneath our human dignity. Anything else is inhuman.
O R?¡ord?íins poem explores the common ground of human heritage. And while that search for common ground is a vital one, we must also search out the boundaries of difference, which unite us as a truly global community.
In one sense, what we do is what we are. And how we do it is what we do. Human doing is human being. And human being is manifest in the rituals of artistic expression in a unique way. We must re-teach ourselves and teach our children how to express themselves. How to find freedom of voice through freedom of choice. This is the heart of the matter. The show of humanity. The saying, the singing, the moving, the sounding, the tracing, the marking, the making , all putting out the human heart on display so that we can be sure again and again that all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
Where the singing comes from
The common chessboard of joy, of grief, of hope and shattered hope, of love and disappointment of birthing and of dying , all of these and so much more unite us in our difference, and our difference is held firm in the ritualistic expression of human art and artefact.
The globe spins on its own axis and is ours. It circles the sun. It moves within the solar system through its galaxy. And it races within its galaxy through the universe. Human imagination is as limitless as the mystery of that outer universe, and that imagination finds reflection in the inner world of each human body. These rituals of embodied human communication, in poetry, storytelling, music, dance, in how we chose to build our houses and temples, in how we cultivate the soil , all these speak of an agriculture of the soul, of the inner spark or spirit, of the digging of the humus through the emotional leaves of our lives which we display and shed, and through the ultimate humility which brings us to our knees despite ourselves in the face of life and nature. Eliot, in Four Quartets, reminds us that the only wisdom we can hope for is the wisdom of humility.
Is this our search for wisdom? At the well, within which if we look deeply enough we can see our reflection in the waters at the bottom? Or if we listen deeply enough we can hear our own voice coming back to us as an echo. We are exiled from our true selves and our lives are a journey back to the beginning all over again. Without even realising it we frantically search for the combination lock which will release even the slightest sighting of ourselves, the merest hint of an echo.
In his poem, At the Wellhead (11), Heaney says:
Your songs when you sing them with your two eyes closed
As you always do, are like a local road
Weve known every turn of in the past ,
That midge-veiled, high-hedged side-road where you stood
Looking and listening until a car
Would come and go and leave you lonelier
Than you had been to begin with. So, sing on,
Dear shut-eyed one, dear far-voiced veteran,
Sing yourself to where the singing comes from...
Yet we stand petrified. We do not know what to do. We do not know where to go. And we do not know whom to turn to. We stand alone on the hilltop of desire, the sun at our backs, the rain in our face, a moon to one side, a tapestry of stars to the other. Around us is an ocean.
Shared artistic ritual allows us to descend into the valleys of artistic communication where fear is assuaged, indifference is outed, and we can be sure once again that even in our aloneness, we are not alone.
We come to love these valleys, these poems, this music, that dance, those places, I, ourselves. We own them as we own up to them. They are our vales of honey, our sun palaces, our bailes and town lands of the familiar, the soundscape of our lives, the landscape of our dreams , a home to go to, a warmth, a comfort, a womb with a view!
These are our traditions, our inheritances, our heritage, things passed through and passed on. They identify us. They are our dynamic selves, the human body out on a limb, the bird singing at the very tip of the branch, the nest left behind for a time for this purpose , to enact and re-enact, to confirm and reconfirm, to tell and retell the human story.
The music of Ireland is such a valley, such a palace, and such a place at the tip of the branch. These soundings on the island can tell us of places of fertility and hope, of wounding, of courage and surprise, and of comfortless noises, as when Heaney was visited by a presence during the Northern troubles who spoke through him: (12)
My people think money
And talk weather. Oil rigs lull their future
On single acquisitive stems. Silence
Has shoaled into the trawlers echo-sounders.
The ground we kept our ear to for so long
Is flayed or calloused, and its entrails
Tented by an impious augury.
Our island is full of comfortless noises.
Imagine coming back to your own ground like a child, your own valley or mountain, and standing on it to sing out into the heavens so that your voice can be heard right across the world? Imagine if more and more people could do that? Imagine finding that freedom of voice, that freedom of choice, that unlocking of joy, which is our birthright?
The poet Siegfried Sassoon marks such a moment in lines which capture the flight path of what might even be that of the hatched and fledged and flown blackbird which eventually rose out of St Kevins warm hand in the Heaney poem that we started with. Sassoon is best known as a war poet who documented the misery and duplicity of the First World War. In this poem, Everybody Sang, despair gives way to hope, and sadness turns to a joyful vision of completion, of wholeness and wholesomeness, which haunts the human mind as a deeply embedded genetic utopian calling which we cannot and will not leave go of, just as out of the misery of the trenches of war, Everybody Sang: (13)
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on-on-and out
Everyones voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears, and horror
Drifted away... O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will
Never be done.
I would like to end this evening with some music. (14) Celebrating difference isnt always about looking outside, or looking across. Sometimes it can be a movement of looking behind, or looking within or to the side. Celebrating difference can sometimes be the same as celebrating tradition. Hearing our own music with new ears. Returning to the wellhead for sustenance.
In order to do that, we do not need to travel vast distances. The wellhead is only up the road.
1 St Kevin and the Blackbird by Seamus Heaney from The Spirit Level (Faber and Faber).
2 Niall Mac Coitir, Irish Trees: Myths, Legends and Folklore, p. 74 (Cork: The Collins Press 2003).
3 The following section is a development of part of my Sabhal Mór Ostaig Annual Lecture 2002, Isle of Islay, entitled The Truth of Beauty: Towards a Global Listening (in press).
4 Seamus Heaney, Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001, p. 49.
5 A setting of the mass in Irish, English and Latin commissioned by the Irish Christian Brothers (unpublished 1994).
6 See Templum, CD recording by the author (London: Virgin, 2001).
7 Quoted in Heaney, Finders Keepers.
8 Fintan Vallelly, ed. The Crossroads Conference (Dublin, 1999).
9 Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism, p. 408 (London, 1993).
10 Authors free translation.
11 At the Wellhead by Seamus Heaney from The Spirit Level (Faber and Faber).
12 Extract from Triptych II , Sibyl by Seamus Heaney from New Selected Poems 1966-1987 (Faber and Faber).
13 Siegfried Sassoon, The War Poems, p. 144, (London: Faber and Faber, 1983).
14 The lecture ended with local fiddler Paddy Canny playing tunes to the accompaniment of the author on piano.