In this special three-day series, various writers celebrate the life and work of Máirtín Ó Cadhain who died on 18 October 1970
He knew the truth of life sooner than anything else
Louis de Paor
I was nineteen years old when I first saw the work of Máirtín Ó Cadhain. At that time I had no practice in Connemara Irish and it was about swimming through a sweet swamp passing through the author ‘s own Cadhnúint in places. The world around me felt melting as I walked every step of the way, the lowlands and the terraces in my head, with Brigid on the road to the white city. If I had no experience of the countryside or the life she lived, that story proved to me that it was possible to place full confidence in this writer who clearly had the truth of life sooner than anything else in his storytelling. He is closer to Dostoevsky than Joyce and Beckett.
Like the Russian, Ó Cadhain’s work is so ‘three flames’ that his warmth lives on in his heart despite his technique sometimes being an ‘automatic beat’, as he himself admitted. Even though it is clear from everything he wrote that Cadhnach was a master of language, it is clear from his fiction and non-fiction that he did his best to create and present a form that was perfectly suited to his desires.
If he is finally getting his right at Cré na Cille as a work that is not confined to the language or homeland of the writer, they are originally the most short stories embedded in my head from a lease. To the extent that I was impressed by the best of them in the past, I am now more urgent in their insight into the plight of the woman in bondage to poverty and the law of the land, who understands that she must go on even further. there is no escape from misery; for the city man who is stuck in a system that is being nurtured and banished at the same time, that there is no way to break the door to free himself.
Fifty years after his death, Máirtín Ó Cadhain continues to speak on behalf of those fleeing the violence of poverty and anti-human bureaucracy that still prevails in our own time.
This writer had a relationship with us, he was one of us
Máire Ní Fhinneadha
Reading it aloud I first heard Cadhnaigh ‘s work – yes The Broghach Drop, Cois Caoláire and Cré na Cille on the world before me. These books were the soap operas of my childhood because reading Irish on my grandmother was hidden at school and anyone who had a smattering of reading was pressed to read them by the fire. Like every play there was a lyricist, the old dream adding goodness to the good speech and all the ‘my blessings to you’, ‘quite said’ and ‘more devils now’ added to Cadhnaigh ‘s script.
It ‘s a miracle to have our own talk in a book as they talk about the little cowardly quarrels we heard in our home – donkeys plaguing, land being plundered by riders, women’ s intimidation or lack thereof, and stories about the friend and about mines. You could swear on the book that he was talking about our little corner. This writer had a relationship with us that we thought was one of us.
The books were a license to scold and skin each other on the hearth – raccoons, barges, bricks, rotten feet, snacks.
A story often told on the hearth about Cadhnach and a group from Cois Fharraige led by him at the funeral of Tony Darcy from the Headford area who died on hunger strike in 1940. The storyteller was more surprised by a white lamb. to bear berries is a solemn funeral march.
The Cadhnach forgave his sin for the Connemara crossbred sheep man when he himself saw the surprise that lured him over the fence. The graveside speech was given by An Cadhnach on that turbulent day and the Curragh concentration camp soon became his own garden.
As I was growing up I saw that women had a very difficult life – working in and out, trying to make a pound out of a shilling, knitting, sewing, drawing water non-stop and hanging pots. heavy water and feed on the fire, giving birth and feeding and tending to the elderly and their husbands, some of whom were well-to-do. It was like slavery for the young girl and it was in Cadhain ‘s short stories that I realized that one other person had seen that ungrateful crap.
I walked every step of the way with Brigid to the White City with a basket of butter and eggs on her back, a “tonnage” under her belly and shoes, pennies, saving everyone but herself. I felt the strangeness of the bride with the honey gap and shore.
‘Spring Clean’ was the tune of every old man I know, ‘The Trunk’ and its sad story were in every house in the town. The acquisition of ‘Fios’ and more nicknames for each other – half-sleeved, crooked-necked – was an oil on our hearts. Every house had a pad and a bad light and we understood ‘Smál’ sweetly. We did not know the man well one-step in ‘The Decay of the Rod’? In 1970 in the story ‘In a City Bus’ the author proved that he was as ingenious in expressing the spirit of a city boy’ s conversation.
We realized that Raidió na Gaeltachta was our own when a dramatic version was broadcast Cré na Cille in 1973. There was not a house in the town that was not watched until it started even though a neighbor advised my father to choke the boys that it was full of bad talk. From the clay himself sent by Máirtín Ó Cadhain Renewal in our way of reminding us how life was spent before YouTube.
It occurred to me that I had read a scholarly analysis of the work – too wordy, too novel, too folklore, too wordy, too restrictive in spelling, too curious, too dialectal, etc.
I do not understand or am too interested in the scholarly formulas of good literature but I take pleasure and satisfaction anew from Cadhnaigh’s work every time I read any taste of it. We were fortunate to have such a thing and he was unfortunate that the poem of the language, his people and his country, was a torture to his great Irish heart.
Moving Cré na Cille to Dutch in my underwear
I happen to be writing this article on the anniversary of my own father’s death. My brother sent me an email wondering what my father would say about today ‘s life as he’ looked down on us from the clouds’. I don’t know what he would say alive – and I think any attempt to answer that question would hide the opportunity for my father to grow in the 24 years that followed his death, to change his mind about certain attitudes, to come to a different understanding of other comments. He was a man of the 20th century and his speculation about the 21st century was nothing but talk in the air.
Máirtín Ó Cadhain did not look down on the workers in the Conradh na Gaeilge office on Lower Dominic Street in Galway, where there was a bronze statue of his crooked, crooked face. Maybe still. I often noticed the same statue when I was inside that office when I had a cafe across the road.
What would Cadhnach say about the coronavirus? About Connemara in the year 2020? About contemporary Irish literature?
Onder de Zoden – ‘Cré na Cille’ translated by Dutch to Alex Hijmans and available today
These are baseless questions because they cannot be answered.
However, Cadhnach is up there, on some shelf in my mind – and I would say that I am not the only Irish language writer who feels his eyes on me while I am writing.
Maybe that was part of the reason (as well as the heat) that I switched a lot of it Cré na Cille to Dutch and wearing only my underwear. Childish, chance. But it is in the destiny of every son that he has to challenge his father and in the same way it is in the destiny of every writer to free himself from the giants that came before him.
Oh, I learned a lot from Cadhnach, and I’m grateful. But from the fault most imaginable with his writing I learned the most: while uttering complex, wordy sentences to the reader, he taught me to keep things simple.