May this fireside warmth exude from this book to extend a heartfelt and hearth welcome from my Irish fireside to your fireside, wherever your fire is aglow - Sean Mac Eachaidh
The author is a good friend who lives in Belfast, so it is not that often that we get to see him these days. When we lived up North he would call at our home, often late in the evening when there was a lull in his work schedule, armed with 2 litres of milk, a hint that a cup of tea would not go unrewarded. The reward was an hour or two of his chat as he talked and reminisced.
A natural story teller it seemed just about right that he would produce a book titled A Guide to the Silence of the Irish Other World. In the language of the hearth he refers to the influence of his 'daddy' and 'mammy' without the slightest trace of self consciousness: an innocence of style that makes his writing all the more authentic.
Being a tour guide the author is au fait with the lay of the land and would seem to know more about its less accessible parts than anyone else I am aware of, apart perhaps from IRA quartermasters and its unit the Unknowns responsible for many of the disappearances of people that occurred during its failed campaign.
Normally not the type of book I would pick up, I enjoyed this one. That would not make me a particularly objective reviewer, it invariably being difficult to be detached about the creativity of friends.
Sean writes in that homely way that is his nature. His ‘wee book’ and his 'wee part of Ireland' all endear the reader to the author. It doesn’t work for all who try to wax folksy when all they are doing in the most transparent of manners is to add oomph to a sales pitch. The style succeeds here because here is substance to it and the author has that knack of sounding believable.
When he talks about sitting at fires and the centrality of the fire to the Irish home and family life, no great effort is expended in visualising the scene. He speaks of his family with love and its toleration of him for many years visiting 'the lesser known places of Ireland to seek out another fairy ring, fairy tree, standing stone or sacred well.'
Throughout his life people have prompted him to write a book about the Ireland that he has seen. And he speaks about the support of his anam cairde (soul friends) who 'without prejudice or censorship' encouraged him. Now he has, in a combination of text and graphics, shared it with us.
While he hits out at the violence of bombs and bullets he also points an accusatory finger towards the violent suppression of self expression. 'I am not aware of anyone who has died from talking.' True. Although I would hazard a guess and say that after hearing Nelson McCausland talking people have died from listening. Censorship never writes, merely obliterates and Sean's roaming mind and sense of natural inquisitiveness would have died like the caged lark Bobby Sands wrote about, were the censors to envelop him with their blotters and erasers.
He writes that if stones could only talk 'how much more would be revealed.' In some societies stones are used to stop people from talking, raining down on their heads catapulted in molten anger from the righteous hands of the men from god. Sean seeks to find words in stones other than ‘verbotten.’
Nelson McCausland, one of those men of god, would take enormous offence at the description in this book of the Giants Causeway being around 60 million years old. The Caleb Foundation would beg to differ, insisting that its estimation of around 6 thousand years be given equal status with the scientific information. A real fairy tale.
Sean takes a 'herstory' approach to the book, fed up with the history as seen through the eyes of men. Her story or his story, Sean's story casts a cynical eye over the claims of the great and the good when he reminds his readership that we are in 'another Irish era of post conflict.'
I love his response to the question how should the people of Derry feel about their city being called Londonderry?: 'The same way that people in London would feel if their city was prefixed by the term Derry to make their city DerryLondon.'
He talks of the magical silent Irish other world. I accept the licence with which he writes even though I don't buy into religion or magic, failing to detect any appreciable difference, other than the fact that magicians know it is a con. No culture can afford to overlook its myths and legends. And in this book the legend of Oisin is repeated alongside that of King Lir's children. When the author refers to the parting pales of Ireland which are said to possess a veil like portal separating the passageway between earthly Ireland the otherworldly Ireland, the sense of legend pulsates. And when he talks about the leprechauns the smile on his face registers instantly and vividly. It is a work of sacred fairy trees which even the most sceptical would recoil from cutting down.
Nor does his dismissal of postmodern cynicism upset me. I see postmodernism as a useful deconstructive hammer rather than a trowel, something that takes apart rather puts together, but a necessary harbinger of the new. I love the challenge posed by postmodern scepticism. And in an odd sort of way postmodernism might well allow for the magical structure alluded to in this work to be on a par with other structures.
Sean hopes that the work will complement the tours he so often guides which are for the most part restricted to the North of the country which gives the book a Northern focus. It is offered to the reader through a green lens which the author to his credit makes no attempt to disguise.
And for the inhabitants of West Belfast this is something I don't think I had heard before but which caught my eye - Amcomri Street is an acronym for the American Committee for Relief in Ireland.
Branch by branch of the magical tree the author draws his readers to the top from which the view of the otherworld he writes about is majestic. Many people thinking of visiting Ireland and going on one of the many tours referred to here will discover in this book another little magical twinkling path just waiting to be treaded.