This has been my diversion for the last three days..  It turned up in my email at work a couple of months ago from the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies.  It felt like something I could attend to hold the side up for the Presbyterian Archives Research Centre, so I subscribed to attend.

I don’t particularly identify myself as Irish, or Celtic, or Anglo-Celtic.  If anything my quotidian identity is Pakeha, New Zealand European for people who object to the term.  I felt a bit of an outsider, especially since I’m a introspective non-mingling person.  Nevertheless there were a handful of family historians and genealogists present who were happy to discover we existed and we have material into which they haven’t delved: baptismal records, marriage registers, and occasionally ancestors turn up in minutes.

The catering at these events tend towards fried, salty and rice-based.  I don’t think that reflects Irish cuisine which I would suspect tends to potatoes and whiskey.  The latter I missed without regret.  It has an aroma like furniture cleaner to my palate.

The first keynote lecture from Professor Graham Walker reviewed the history of the Irelands and Scotland from partition until the current referendum discussions.  There’s some interesting comparisons between the Republic of Ireland and the Kingdoms of Northern Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand.  The loss of young skilled workers from Scotland in the 1920s sounds comparable to the anguish in New Zealand as our brightest and best emigrate to Australia for work.  And the description of society in the Republic of Ireland with an entrenched rural class, minimal industrialization and the Celtic tiger is sleeping sounds disturbingly familiar.

The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air

Darkness, by Lord Byron

Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and good-bye, Rome!
Hermits upon Mount Meru or Everest,
Caverned in night under the drifted snow,
Or where that snow and winter’s dreadful blast
Beat down upon their naked bodies, know
That day brings round the night, that before dawn
His glory and his monuments are gone.

Meru, by W. B. Yeats

…and I
Delight to imagine them seated there;
There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

Lapis Lazuli, by W. B. Yeats

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

The Stolen Child, by W. B. Yeats

The changeling is a person who can cross boundaries, a third-culture person, someone from one cultural group raised in a second culture, neither finally at home in either.  The half-caste is a changeling.  The sea is a liminal transition between worlds, the migrant’s passage.

Being colonial, a mode of being that is discontinuous with its past — Stephen Turner

There was a presentation on shamans which I found bunk.  It could have come out of a book in the popular spirituality section.  Apparently there is an apostolic succession, a spiritual esoterica, that goes back to the neolithic when druids worshipped the moon goddess.  No mention seemed to be made that this corpus was violently interrupted in the Common Era.  This shamanic tradition is hermetic, separate from observed practice.  No example of exchange between Maori and Irish in New Zealand was provided.  I did think that there was an interesting comparison between this tradition and the Yoruba religion that Stephen Prothero described in God Is Not One.  Maybe the shamans are looking in the wrong direction.  I’m skeptical.

New Zealanders turn up at the pub in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.  Once a jolly swagman they are domesticated wildmen and pirates.  Up from the grave he arose!  I should read this, probably I will have to read it aloud just to understand it.  It sounds like a delightful fantasy novel.

Professor Ronan McDonald from Sydney talked about disciplinity in Irish Studies.  It sounds like that Irish Studies needs to be multi-disciplinary, and not overlook the sciences!  At least Wang Zhanpeng from Beijing was also talking about multi-disciplinary too.  And Professor of Sociology Louise Ryan from London talked about creating a corpus for doing a comparison between migrant groups into Britain.  That was interesting.  I wish I took the chance to thank her.  Our identity is within and against the dominant society.  Anyone who calls themselves an expat is themselves a migrant.  This includes managerial types who can cross half the world to take up a position.  They are often overlooked as they are expected to be affluent and wealthy, and not refugees.

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Among School Children VIII by W. B. Yeats

I managed to get a chortle out of my neighbour when Lyndon Fraser asked the rhetorical question Why should we study death? and I murmured ‘Cause it’s cool!  Yet again studies on Post-mortem practice and observances is another field where comparative studies is coming useful.

Well maybe all that was fun, and maybe I did connect.  I’m back home again, come the long way.  The next conference will be in Sydney in 2013.  I don’t intend to get there as it’s too far to walk.  I wish them well!

Andrew Smith
Every Number Upper Brimstone Walk
Newer Aland