- Feb 2018
All that I have given up to this let them serve as examples of the way in which the Connaught peasant puts his love-thoughts into song and verse, whether it be hope or despair, grief or joy, that affect him. (147)
In these final lines of the book, the reader is offered Hyde’s selection of songs as a faithful and complete insight into vernacular Connacht song about the theme of love. Moreover, Hyde suggests that in reading this anthology one achieves a good degree of familiarity with an idealized, essentially native ‘Connaught peasant’.
Although speakers in the songs are variously male and female, and the reasons for separation from absent lovers differ, the experience of love is fairly uniform throughout. It is a sore experience of unrealized desire. That scenario produces a pronouncedly virtuous image of the ‘Connaught peasant’ for a number of reasons.
The reader encounters deep loyalty where admiration is unstinted by forbiddance of love because of emigration, lack of requital, or death. ‘Úna Bhán,’ for example, is preceded by a long passage explaining how deeply a bereaved lover missed the fair Úna after, until he himself passed away. Also, Hyde’s anthology is particularly rich in its examples of similes drawn from the natural world. See ‘my love is of the colour of the blackberries’ (5) in ‘If I Were to Go West’, ‘I would not think the voice of a thrush more sweet’ (27) in ‘Long I Am Going,’ and ‘My love is like the blossom of the sloe on the brown blackthorn’ (31) in ‘An Droighneán Donn’. In the vivid rendering of these images, the beauty of the desired lover is stressed, and the delicate sensibility of the speaker is inherently implied. The Connaught peasant is thoroughly valorized as a result.
Accounting for consistencies among what anthologies include, and among what they exclude, can highlight their organizing agenda. One obvious example in the area of Irish Studies is the Field Day Anthology controversy, detailed in depth by Caitríona Crowe in The Dublin Review: https://thedublinreview.com/article/testimony-to-a-flowering/
In the case of Hyde’s Love Songs, consistencies among excluded material strengthen our perception of how actively he sought to contrive an estimable image of the Connaught peasant. Though Hyde claims his selection is emblematic of the love-thought of that idealized personage, he does not provide any examples of la chanson de la malmariée. This variety of song is so widespread that Seán Ó Tuama, who was the principal authority on the theme of love in Irish folksong, included it as one of five major genres in his article ‘Love in Irish Folksong’ (in the book Repossessions: Selected Essays on the Irish Literary Heritage. Such songs are an expression of grief by a young woman unhappily married to an elderly man.
If we are to view the songs anthologized by Hyde in a broader context of Connacht songs about love, an awareness of the chanson de la malmariéé is required. Faoi Rothaí na Gréine (1999) is a relatively recently published collection of Connacht songs. The collecting work was done in Galway between 1927 and 1932 by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, and latterly edited by Professor Ríonach Uí Ógáin. ‘An Droigheán Donn’, ‘Úna Bhán’, and ‘Mal Dubh an Ghleanna’ are common to Faoi Rothaí na Gréine and Love Songs of Connacht. The inclusion in the former of two famous songs of the malmariée genre, ‘Dar Mo Mhóide Ní Phósfainn Thú’ (I Swear I Wouldn’t Marry You), and ‘Amhrán an Tae’ (The Tea Song) demonstrate the strong presence of that genre in the ‘love-thought’ of vernacular Connacht song.
This way of framing discussion of Love Songs of Connacht invites close interrogation of Hyde’s biases. The choice of material for inclusion and exclusion is ideologically cohesive, to the specific end of creating a valorous image of the idealized native peasant. In my M.A. thesis, I might further refine the line of argument pursued in this annotation, and use it as the basis on which to build a discussion of Hyde’s particular ideological motivations.
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This website provides important context for the exploration of a research question I am addressing in my M.A. thesis preparation.
The portrayal of female personages in revivalist literature sets them in signally passive roles. This is most clearly at issue in the work of that period’s two foremost dramatists. In W.B. Yeats’ Cathleen Ni Houlihane, the female protagonist does not pursue her own course of action, but rather serves to inspire male heroism (P.J. Mathews discusses the play’s portrayal of female passivity at length in a piece, see http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/literature-and-1916). In The Only Jealously of Emer and The Countess Cathleen the value of women to society is achieved through acts of self-sacrifice for the benefit of significant male others (Christina Wilson has argued similar points in great detail: http://chrestomathy.cofc.edu/documents/vol5/wilson.pdf).
In John Millington Synge’s Riders to the Sea, we encounter a blending of the taste for passive female characters with a revival fascination with the rural west. Old Maurya’s reticence and stern faith in God, following the drowning of her five sons, established her as the moral centre of her native Aran community. Her monologue in the play’s ending concentrates our attention on the community’s willingness to surrender to tragic fate, which is always threatened by the danger of the sea (the play is available to read online at this link: http://www.one-act-plays.com/dramas/riders_to_the_sea.html).
What is interesting to me is that images of a massive female subject, favoured by Abbey playwrights who sought to stress the cultural specificity of Ireland, differ strongly with some prominent portrayals of the female subject in vernacular literature in Irish. In my annotation of this archive, I will provide examples of some genres of folk song – composed by females, and traditionally sung by female singers – that contradict ideas of a female subject as passive sufferer of fate. Annotations will include translations to English.
After highlighting these features of oral literature in Irish, I will have laid down substantial grounding for a discussion of the ideological motivations of revivalist authors’ depiction of female subjects. It is interesting that certain tropes of a national identity, which these authors consciously sought to create, can be seen as divergent with realities of the social group which was most fundamental to that identity. This observation encourages consideration of European intellectual currents which might have influenced revivalist writers, romantic nationalism in particular.