It seems to me that there is more regard for the old customs now than there used to be. In the 60’s and 70’s there was great emphasis on getting ahead economically and culturally. There was, among many in the population, a sense of inferiority about Irish culture: language, music, dance etc. The future was the American way, as indeed so many Irish had freed themselves from the constraints of Ireland and taken themselves off to the U.S. In those days, American flags, icons etc were commonplace in towns and villages throughout the country, the flag almost as prevalent as the Irish flag on occasions when towns were in festive mode.
That time is gone, even through the current hard times. We have come to be proud of ourselves. Witness the number of times a tricolour is seen waving at sporting events all over the world. Under each is an Irish person proclaiming his/her nationality.
Part of this is a new found pride in old traditions and customs. Even though the original beliefs behind the activities are gone, people see the value in retaining the practices, for their colour, social implications, for the difference i.e. we are Irish and this is how we do it.
And so, for example, wakes which were heading for extinction a number of years ago are surviving; mirrors are covered as in the old days, the viewing rituals have been revived, the social aspect is recognized as valuable.
A step back from the globalisation of culture; and a good thing too.
These two poems were inspired by images from John Minihan’s book “Shadows from the Pale, Portrait of an Irish Town” published in 1996. They were first published in The SHOp, A Magazine of Poetry.
At Katy Tyrell’s Wake1.
When Katy Tyrell’s eyelids were closed,
they stopped the clock,
covered the mirror,
and she was waked.
Entwined in her hands, a rosary beads,
‘Je suis L’imaculée conception’
was embroidered on her shroud;
everyone said she looked every inch a Cherokee.
2.After she was laid out, and the ticking stopped
and a sheet blocking the devil’s door,
he said, “ Let’s sit down to a game.”“Shuffle the cards, dale herself in.”
“Layve the window open
and mind, don’t step in her way.”