Cultural Traditions in Northern Ireland: Varieties of Irishness, [with] proceedings of the Cultural Traditions Cultural Traditions Group Conference (Belfast: QUB/IIS 1989);

Chair James Hawthorne (Former Controller BBC NI); Ronald Buchanan Dir, IIS, QUB.

Preface: Community relations and cultural diverstiy cannot be separated. While the first is a problen, the second is surely an asset, provided its richness can be celebrated in non-threatening ways ... [vii]

Roy Foster: ‘Gaelic sympathies, Celtic researches, irritation with many of the actions of English government, and Anglicised educations could all coexist, and often did, among the Irish Victorian middle-class intelligentsia. (Yeats, pioneer of Irish folklore and Celtic legends, was first influenced by Scott and Macaulay). The great antiquarian, George Petrie, was also to be the great artistic memorialist of the early nineteenth century Irish landscape, and he derived his highly personalised approach to his native countryside from Wordsworth. The personification and highly-charged nature of the Irish response to the land of Ireland is, of course, a tradition in Gaelic literature too; and it can, poetically speaking, be used to express conflicting and aggressive claims to the land, as in the ’aisling’ poetry, or in Seamus Heaney’s Act of Union. But it does not only belong to that tradition. The Irish identification with the land, its unique appearance, its light and shade, also owes much to English-derived romanticism (a sensation which one paradoxically receives even through tests like Ernie O’Malley’s Iyrical descriptions of bivouacs in the Tipperary mountains in On Another Man ’s Wound). It has inspired masterpieces by Lloyd Praeger and Estyn Evans. And this might indicate that such perceptions can be reconciling and unifying too. I remember Professor J. C. Beckett, in a keynote address for the first Conference of Irish Historians in Britain, talking about those who live outside Ireland, and recalling a meeting with a fellow Ulsterman, a student, on - I think - a long-distance bus journey in Canada. They talked, as he remembered, enthusiastically about the Irish land; the uniquely varied landscape of this province; and its super-charged quality of beauty. It never, as he thought afterwards, occurred to either of them to consider, let alone investigate, what background or which ’tradition’ each came from. Though historic claims to ’the land’ might have separated them within Ulster, when they went abroad their common identification with it acted as a uniting factor. I’m sure many of us have had a similar experience. It was a resonant story, and I’ve often thought of it since.’ (pp.10-11.)

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