So, after 5 weeks in Ireland, during which time I was assured that the weather was well-above-average, I can vouch for the famous grey skies and the bright greens of the countryside, as well as the pelting rain and personal cheeriness of Dublin. I spent most of my time at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, meeting a few foreign-types like myself (from USA, Canada, Spain and Andorra) along with many Irish artists, from both Northern Ireland and “the Republic.” Happily, I got a bunch of music written, including a full scene of the opera, which Jennifer and I are now calling Until the War is Over. More on that later.
Being on an old estate (Annaghmakerrig) in one of the border counties of the Republic, there’s a lot of recent complicated history surrounding the Centre. Some of its funding in the recent past has come directly from reconciliation projects, and its one of the few things supported by both Irish Arts Councils. My sense was that the artists from various parts of Ireland 1) always knew many of the same people, given that the Irish arts scene is that of a smallish country, and 2) were circumspect about discussing anything political until the social lay of the land was clear. Since many of the artists stayed about a week, and the social scene therefore changed every week, the level of talk about the old “Troubles” or anything like that was completely different from week to week, depending on the people around. One week, there’d be a bunch of artists from Belfast, another, a few from Galway. There were also some that, while Irish natives, were working in London, Edinburgh or Cardiff, especially given the still-bad economic scene throughout Ireland.
So, I got various perspectives on the whole scene, some optimistic and some not. Many books and films were recommended, which I’ve started to go through, bit by bit. One book was handed to me in a second-hand store by one of the artists – it was only 2 euros, so I went ahead and got it. Turned out it had been a bestseller back in the day, Are You Somebody by Nuala O’Faolain. Every one of the female artists at the Centre had read it years ago, and I have to say it’s a pretty good read, though a bit depressing as well – a combination of autobiography (starting from the 1950’s) with reporting from the 70’s-80’s. I think the Irish artists also got a kick out of my attempts to say the author’s name, which I still have not quite mastered.
After my month in Monaghan Co, I went to Dublin and met Davy to be a tourist for a few days. The Irish do not fool around with their historical memorials – note the huge notice of the hundred-year anniversary of the 1913 Lockout seen next to the Customs House:
We also saw a full plate of Georgian architecture (which made the point about how bad the 1800’s must have been in Dublin, since there are really no significant buildings from that era at all – the town goes from early 1700’s straight to modern architecture). The number of places devoted to the many famous Irish writers was impressive, though not surprising – I’d arrived on the weekend when Seamus Heaney died, and noted that the Irish Times had this on the front page of the paper for 5 days in a row (my friend Pat noticed proudly that it even made the front page of the NYTimes). Many of the artists at the Centre had known Heaney personally, and several went to one of the big memorial services in Belfast. There was even some consternation that Heaney did not receive a state funeral, but it certainly seemed like a national event from my perspective, official or not.
Now, I have some work to do around home, both in Maine and in Maynard, before heading out to another residency later this month. Looking forward to hearing some of the UMaine students perform bits of the opera next month – they’re working on a few numbers from Scene 1, in which H.D. and D.H. Lawrence talk about poetry. Jennifer will be talking with them about the people they are playing, and I know that both of us will appreciate hearing the numbers done live. Back to work on the whole opera soon.