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Thread: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

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    Default Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    Following on from a thought prompted by my friend Trow who is an expert tracker through the symbols and signals that light up our culture I thought it might be interesting to put forward a thread for discussion of who we are and why we are as we are in the modern world.

    I contend that this cannot be done by a mere accountancy as we have attempted to do in recent years. Nor can it be done by self-flattery through our history. Nor even by looking for a reflection of ourselves in the mirrors of our neighbours, or treaties, contracts with other nations and almost certainly not by reading the public statements of our leaders. Their concern is to homogenise us as the electorate at home and 'the Irish people' when they are abroad- both being pliable and biddable concepts for the politician.

    They say Freud alleged that the Irish were the only people one could not analyse. I doubt he did say that but if he did it was probably because he relied so much upon sex for diagnosis and he died before sex began in Ireland with the advent of the Late, Late Show.

    So what are we left with but the things that make us peculiar and distinctive in the eyes of other people. These things we might not notice so much as they are by definition familiar to us and too close in to us to be thought about often. Our warinesses and superstitions. The way we use language, our own and adopted. The symbols that survive and that we all recognise and end up having to explain to American tourists.

    Some psychologists say that there is a duality in the Irish psychology which is striking.

    'we now turn our attention to the deep cultural importance of the underworld in Irish psychology. While stories of fairies, leprechauns and banshees may serve to instil fear in Irish children nowadays, they are vessels of a deeper culture.xi There is an intense dichotomy between the earth and the underworld.

    The above-mentioned Book of Invasions tells of the Tuath De Danaan (the People of Danuxii), who were the occupiers of Ireland when the Milesians first came. According to the story, the Tuath De Danaan were driven underground where they continued to reside in ‘sidhe’ or fairy mounds and play an influential role in manipulating events in the world above.

    This dualism with its attendant sense of dominant/recessive elements is reflected in many areas of Irish life. The Tuath de Dannan represent the magical, recessive component in the equation.'

    Jonathan Korowicz, Institute for Integrative Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding, Vienna, Austria http://www.iicp.at/communications/pu...%20Ireland.pdf

    Mr Korowicz also points out; 'What is interesting here is the idea that the concept of place and not people is emphasized in defining Irishness. The Irish citizen in mythic terms feels himself to be part of a process i.e. one of many races in the same land.vii However, each race tends to overcome, obscure or dominate the previous race. Irishness is thus an experience combining concepts of destiny, suffering, sacrifice and exile/separation. This final component is evident both in the Leabhair Gabhala where the invading tribes are themselves exiles from other lands as well as in the 19th and 20th Centuries where exile is perpetrated on the Irish race for reasons of survival (the Great Famineviii) and psychological reasons (as in the writings of James Joyce – ‘the quintessential exiled writer of the twentieth century, who obsessively relates to his past by distancing himself from it’.ix) '

    I found this paper on a google search and wished to use it to prompt a discussion of Irish psychology if possible and what symbols from our mythology and folklore might indicate. There is the above and the below- this world and the underworld and that is ancient in our culture.

    I myself refer to 'Tir Na N'og' Ireland whenever I feel we are responding to the theory of things and not the reality- the assumed separation of powers in the pillars of the state, the notion that abortion does not occur in Ireland because it takes place in the 'otherworld' beyond the departure gates and not at home. Tir Na N'og never feels more real to me when I detect this reaching for the theoretical by Irish opinion-formers- the pretence around the Celtic Tiger and the false economy of the boom being a kind of migration into fantasy and a bridge into the never-never land.

    I have questions I'd love to hear answers on or at least opinions from other Irish people.

    Do we undervalue our folklore and mythology and not recognise them as symbols of a language between us to which many of us have lost the key?

    Are psychologists and historians right to pay so much attention to cultural symbols in order to describe traits in the Irish psychology?
    Last edited by C. Flower; 03-11-2011 at 08:16 AM.
    Think National. Act Local. Oh- and superstition is just the dark matter of human history.

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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    Its posts like these that really make this site worthwhile (plus the other posts!). This should be a blog piece on itsapoliticalworld! Anyways back to the topic at hand!

    Essentially Irish people are a multicultural race from years of successive immigration from the De Dannan (if they did exist!) right up to modern EU and non EU immigration . People themselves are individuals, I dont believe we are a race but merely a collection of individuals whom have similar interests or similar aspects of our life. Language is one of the things we have made our own, the richness of the lexicon of Hiberno English which has been influenced by and is testament to our history. Our adaption of English words used gramatically as in Gaelic, the use of Gaelic words, Viking place named, the naming system in which we use Norman names etc .

    I bow to others superior knowledge on the topc if symbols etc! Its not something Im well upon but welcome an education on them
    Last edited by Dr. FIVE; 02-11-2011 at 02:01 AM. Reason: Just removed the OP
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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    Very thought provoking thread. Excellent questions raised there Captain. I will have to give this some thought before I come up with anything substantial though.

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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    Lot's of content in your post Captain Con O' Sullivan and one which i'm glad to see. I'm taking time out to collect my thoughts and then i'm coming back to tear it all apart with you and the others.
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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    A blog post it is.

    Very thought provoking, about land, identity, place etc.

    Maybe relates to loss of language in some way too.

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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    I think one thing that gave the Irish people a unique identity was the overwhelmingly rural nature of our former society, which tied everyone to their specific village or hometown and the symbols and localities that made each place unique. One can see this at work in placenames as gaeilge, for anyone with a modicum of knowledge of their locality and the language will be able to tell almost immediately why the place has its name.

    To get onto the OP's topic about overt and clandestine elements of identity, I think people remain attached to their homeplaces and that formed the clandestine foundations as it were of identity, but that the recent wave of Americanisation of culture has weakened those roots, as well as a kind of arrogance towards the older generations. For all their faults, they are the ones who still have the knowledge of the local history, they are the ones who can trace the family line back several generations by memory and who can remember specific events in the history of the area that others forgot.

    People no longer have this grounding and along with the rise of neo-liberalism (which puts accumulation of profit and blind expansion before everything else), it is that which has weakened regional identities and which played into the worst elements of the Celtic Tiger- the destruction of Tara, Rossport, these were all examples of the greed, hubris and arrogant disregard for history and culture of neo-liberal capitalism. Many people lost the 'clandestine' roots which helped to ground Irish society and which made it stoic, modest and resilient, swapping it for a more globalised identity and values that placed consumption and the trappings of wealth at the top of the list of aspirations. The decline in regional accents (the disappearance of the brogue in Connacht among younger people being a good example) is one of the more visible traits of this. Quite simply, people don't know who they are any more.

    Now how does this all tie into the clandestine/overt part of the Irish spirit? I think a secure identity and knowledge of who you were and where you came from made Ireland a generally cohesive place for quite a long time, and gave the Irish the refreshing lack of respect for authority and for people with airs and graces that distinguished us for quite a long time. To borrow a phrase from Lenin, this was the 'base' of people's identity, the core of it, and the loss of this has made contemporary Irish society a rootless and very insecure place, with a high rate of mental illness and dislocation.
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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    I contend that this cannot be done by a mere accountancy as we have attempted to do in recent years. [...] the electorate at home and 'the Irish people' when they are abroad [..] Do we undervalue our folklore and mythology and not recognise them as symbols of a language between us to which many of us have lost the key?

    Are psychologists and historians right to pay so much attention to cultural symbols
    Timely post Cap'n and will have plenty to add to this tomorrow but things that jumped out at me above. I was listening to the Radio One History podcast last night and the move to drop compulsory history for the junior cycle and I was thinking about compulsory 4th Level Ventures, Generation 21 and the push towards uniformed workforce. Speaking as someone who continued history right up to 3rd level I would be sad to see it go. Children will be encouraged into other more 'practical' subjects and the spark of interest they might have had will be lost. Popular history in Ireland revolves around a single narrative and very narrow set of themes but even within the last century there was regular reference to our mythical past. The proud and brave race we like to think we were and how that narrative and imagery was used by Nationalism and the Gaelic revival and the like. It's one example how we reach back and drag what we think were our biggest strengths into the present to bind us and push us forward. Look through Dev's spin over the years and it was full of it.

    Folklore is something that can be manipulated and used to achieve whatever end. Look at the Nazi (ding! sorry, I know, I know) and how they magpied around picked bits here and there to constructed an aryan identity etc. Here we have done the same in the past but it looks to be falling by the wayside when we need it. It will be tapped by men in Dublin Castle in the name of growth, tapped for consumer confidence but never Irish confidence.

    It's still with us though.

    The Gaels banished the Soldiers of Destiny back below ground but they continue to manipulate the world above through civil service and the odd state board. Tricky lot we should never take our eye off lest they will make our cattle disappear.

    Rambled a bit there but will be back with some of the head shrink stuff when the sun is up.

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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    Thank you for the responses. The idea for the thread was hatched between Trow and myself and something that fascinates me particularly is the notion of identity- not so much in a collection of badges or flags or the passing consumer trinkets of national manipulation but if you step back and try to analyse the Irish people is there a sense of lost identity?

    We seem to me at times uncertain in a world with extreme international peer pressures- an adolescent nation really with ancient instincts. I am concerned that there is a slight inferiority complex at play in recent decades with the visible adoption of a layer of what we see on television as the output of 'successful' societies- or those we are trained to see as successful anyway.

    What I mean by that is the offshoot of televised consumerism- the Essex macmansion with the electric gates as an aspiration. The bland globalisation of youth as trainee consumers. This could be mistaken as a kind of emerging of a middle aged rant against change but really it isn't.

    I worry that we never have a conversation about who we are. There's plenty of advice available on who we should be. Consumers. The digital Irish. Amid all that peer pressure there has been a fairly recent seismic shift in what you might call spirituality in Ireland. Traditionally that word is loaded because of associations with the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and so on. Now that particular foreign belief system is being questioned as never before for reasons I do not wish to become bogged down in on this thread is there space yet for a slightly more meaningful conversation about the things we believe in and keep us going apart from mundane day to day concerns?

    This can only begin with an honest assessment of the national psychology and an introspective conversation about who we are, what motivates us, what is important to us and how we place those emotional belongings on our national shelf.

    I'm going to see if I can dig up some more external views of the psychology of the Irish. I lean, as I think my friend Trow does, towards including the symbols we recognise from our past, the stream that runs underground the topsoil of modern life. I think it would be a mistake to exclude them as they are clues to the Irish psyche and the national personality if such a thing can be said to exist.

    I'm hoping for a bridge between sound rational psychological assessment and an entertaining look at who we are as defined by our cultural output. If anyone can contribute any thoughts, studies or references I'd be delighted to see them.
    Last edited by Captain Con O'Sullivan; 02-11-2011 at 08:43 AM.
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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    I notice the practice of psychology in Ireland is in a fairly fledgling stage and gathered around such activity hubs as child learning and development, autism and matters under the aegis of the Dept of Health and Children- then we have strands such as employment psychology with assessments and motivational work etc, psychology as an academic subject and other attendant areas such as sports psychology and so on.

    Naturally this emerging profession in Ireland will organise itself around certain pillars of activity. But I wonder whether it will be persuaded towards an annual exercise in assessment of a sample of the population in order to draw some conclusions as measured against population based research elsewhere.

    No disrespect to the psychology professionals in Ireland of whom there are too few and who rely via their national association on membership subscriptions alone and I am aware of the constraints on them by funding but I would dearly like to see some kind of measurement of the population against known and accepted psychological tools. It would in fact help to promote their profession and the advantages of assessement by experts of perceptions in society and I note that their annual report goes into some detail on efforts to promote the benefits the profession brings to the nation.

    There is very little in the way of reflection on the population and its perceptions available I think which allows assumptions to be made. We do have Schools of Psychology at Trinity, UCD and Maynooth as well as other university settings and I would love to see this profession advertise itself a little more by issuing some kind of 'national perceptions' report once a year perhaps in the summer months of the political silly season which would serve two purposes- it would meet the needs of the profession in advertising the benefits of such assessment and it would capture the media attention to the possibility of wider research- it wouldn't have to be necessarily agonising soul searching stuff but could be arranged to produce some eyecatching and even novel, entertaining facts about social perceptions in Ireland without becoming twee to the level of mawkish pop psychology.

    Because we have had remarkably little in the way of psychological assessment via survey beyond defined categories such as disability,trauma, and whatever the meme of the university day happens to be we are left to argument between the rangers of the psychological world- writers, poets, dramatists to hold up a mirror to the national personality. This is fine but we should have something to measure perception and perhaps delusion against. Logical, rational society marches in formation as shaped by the landscape it advances through but the writers and poets range to the sides and ahead of the column and often return with intelligence that is later corroborated or discarded by the general staff.

    We need more trained perception specialists to work with the cultural rangers to gain better intelligence on how to move through the landscape ahead.
    Think National. Act Local. Oh- and superstition is just the dark matter of human history.

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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    There's so many avenues that one could take on this topic but Anti got me thinking.

    I've listened to a man give a talk at an anti-fracking meeting and a seperate environmental event recently and he mentioned how we've become, essentially, slaves to an abstract economy. The economy comes first, people service it second, and our environment is merely something to be exploited for the good of the economy. But what we really should be thinking is that, ourselves or any type of economy cannot survive without the natural world around us....that our environment should come first and the economy should service our needs within it sustainably.

    I know I seem to be going off on a tangent there but a lot of our culture and myth has been telling us that all along...and almost in the exact space of time that we've started to ignore our tradition and lore, our surrounding environment here in this country has become substantially degraded. If you think of the ancient Brehon Laws, most of the trees were protected and myths had grown up around some of them to further instill reverence and respect. The whitethorn is probably the most obvious example and maybe even the only one still treated with that type of caution even today. Every tree on the list had a function and meaning and although I don't know were smaller plants given any type of legal notice but from reading a book called Irish Wild Plants, Myths, Legends and Folklore, it is clear that many of these were used practically or ritually by Irish people...some also more recent than others like rushes for St. Bridgets's crosses.

    I look down the list of some of the plants and honestly I think some people today would even struggle to know some of the more familiar ones like flag iris. From reading that though and from what I know about the trees it is clear that the people of this country who have gone before us were conciously tuned with the natural world both on a practical and spiritual level. The faery world seems to have been a constant reminder as well for the need for people to respect their surroundings. As the article you posted Con says, they are viewed as wild and untamed and have the power to control and influence us mere mortals above ground. Much like what the man that gave the talk I mentioned said...we are ultimately at the mercy of the earth and what's in it...we can ignore that fact and live in ignorance but it will come back to bite us.
    Last edited by Fraxinus; 02-11-2011 at 09:35 AM.

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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    You are right Fraxinus and in my opinion not off on a tangent at all. That is exactly the sort of cultural memory and knowledge that is being lost in the storm of modern life and while it may have had heavy symbolic meaning to those who went before us these little social signals growing fainter are a warning to us of a possible loss of identity altogether down the road a bit.
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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    Sometimes, very rarely, too rarely, you see something that lifts your heart and gives you a bit of hope

    Take a look at the Occupy Waterford agenda/manifesto http://www.facebook.com/pages/Occupy...type=1&theater

    Take a look at the 'What we demand for the future' where it makes reference to 'we demand a court system acting under a natural system of law which mirrors the Brehon system of our ancestors' among the other demands of the 99% as elucidated by the Occupy Waterford team.

    Jesus I could kiss them.
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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Con O'Sullivan View Post
    You are right Fraxinus and in my opinion not off on a tangent at all. That is exactly the sort of cultural memory and knowledge that is being lost in the storm of modern life and while it may have had heavy symbolic meaning to those who went before us these little social signals growing fainter are a warning to us of a possible loss of identity altogether down the road a bit.
    I often wonder too do we obsess about death more than other people's and its possible pyschological impacts on us as a result. I'm reminded of the time an American cousin was home and the local death and funeral notices were on the local radio station and in pure disgust she said "this is such a morbid country". Although funeral attendence is still strong among the older generations it doesn't seem to have as big a part in the lives of us younger ones. I wonder does this extra awareness of mortality feed into what seems like a national motto sometimes "we're here for a good time not a long time". And even though that implies that we have to have the laugh and the craic the whole time, there is an underlying melancholy among us....and there is definitely a melancholic air to a lot of traditional music.

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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Con O'Sullivan View Post
    Sometimes, very rarely, too rarely, you see something that lifts your heart and gives you a bit of hope

    Take a look at the Occupy Waterford agenda/manifesto http://www.facebook.com/pages/Occupy...type=1&theater

    Take a look at the 'What we demand for the future' where it makes reference to 'we demand a court system acting under a natural system of law which mirrors the Brehon system of our ancestors' among the other demands of the 99% as elucidated by the Occupy Waterford team.

    Jesus I could kiss them.
    That's brilliant

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    Default Re: Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; the overt and the clandestine

    Quote Originally Posted by Fraxinus View Post
    I often wonder too do we obsess about death more than other people's and its possible pyschological impacts on us as a result. I'm reminded of the time an American cousin was home and the local death and funeral notices were on the local radio station and in pure disgust she said "this is such a morbid country". Although funeral attendence is still strong among the older generations it doesn't seem to have as big a part in the lives of us younger ones. I wonder does this extra awareness of mortality feed into what seems like a national motto sometimes "we're here for a good time not a long time". And even though that implies that we have to have the laugh and the craic the whole time, there is an underlying melancholy among us....and there is definitely a melancholic air to a lot of traditional music.
    That was going through my head when you made that point. My grandmother and aunts listen to the death notices on LMFM in case there is someone they dont know whom has died. All this fascination with death perhaps became a cultural issue with which we became fascinated (a process called ritualisation, a custom becomes practice more or less) to the point that we all approach death with a different view than the rest of the world. We spend a lot of time with the bereaved family, celebrate what should be a sombre occassion and then suddenly as a wake started it stops and what is left? That darkness that we didnt have to face up to in the first few days of the funeral. That awareness of the mortality that we have does push us towards and perhaps contributes to this drinking culture and the fact we love a good aul knees up.

    Five was right about the dialect dying off. What it is being replaced with is this fake Jersey Shore MTV pseudo American accent that the kids are adopting. Alas the world is becoming more globalised and if that is the cost I will accept it ! Still one thing I love and hear a lot is the traveller accent,its almost melodic and rolls off the tongue and into my ear softly softly flowing .
    History is the only true teacher, the revolution the best school for the proletariat - Rosa Luxembourg

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