An opportunity to celebrate ‘Irishness’ and the environment in which it grew.
Exploring & Celebrating people’s interaction with the Irish Landscape over the last 10,000 years?
The year 2016 will be marked in some manner, as a notable milestone in this nation’s development. We can presume that public monies will be used on activities, projects and events to mark the occasion, regardless of the broad spectrum of opinion regarding 1916. This is a political reality.
The Government has already established a planning committee examining what should be done in 2016. The perceived wisdom, amongst media commentators, is that the Government is anxious to avoid any overt political or nationalistic overtones that could spark any public disorder and damage the fragile peace process.
So this discussion paper, suggests one concept that could be discussed and explored before developing it, if it was deemed a worthwhile exercise.
What might we celebrate in 2016? The Arts, Sporting, Cultural, Educational, Business and Community sectors will all have their own proposals. But the Golden Eagle Trust propose the concept that we could celebrate how people on this unique island or landmass have developed a rich cultural heritage in close association with its environment and natural heritage, over the last 10,000 years, since humans first arrived on these shores.
We could explore, highlight and celebrate the hidden influences of our countryside on a wide array of cultural life. These subtle influences, such as the climate, our coastal or island status, the type of food we grew or caught, our seasonal patterns, the woods, mountains, rivers and bogs all shaped our unique identity and lifestyles.
One can deliberately emphasis and celebrate the wide variety of influences that came to Ireland through waves of early and later peoples or through trading contacts across Europe and even as far afield as the Middle East, since the Bronze Age.
The influence of nature and the environment on our society, and equally the influence of society on our landscape, is sometimes hidden in Archaeological research or historical records. These include Celtic, Norman, Viking, Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Gaelic and Ulster-Scots documents or oral traditions. We could aim to add to our growing understanding of our rich (if slightly overlooked) cultural connection with our landscape. This concept will not gain public or political support if it is focussed on the landscape itself. Therefore it needs to be rooted in people and our evolving society.
We need to present this concept as an open invitation to all cultural and community groups to explore how their origins evolved in tandem with the landscape in which they were based. We need to encourage other groups, to re-examine their ancient relationship with the landscape. If our national population were magically removed and lived in France, New York or Turkey our shared culture would be quite ‘different’. So we need to celebrate this small landmass in the North Atlantic and explore its influence, over Millennia, on our current cultural identity.
Wildlife people are primarily engaged in improving our landscape through management, policy, education, planning, legislation and awareness. But we often encounter pre-conceived negative attitudes, amongst key decision makers and the public, toward the environment. So we recognise the difficulties in overcoming these attitudes amongst society and sectorial representatives.
If we try to develop this concept, beyond this deliberately vague initial outline, we will face at least two immediate queries;
1) How relevant is this proposal to the respective goals of wildlife groups?
2) How can we make this proposal relevant to Irish Society in general?
1) Our shared goals are focussed on the current status of the environment and wildlife in Ireland. We are aiming to improve the status or condition of our relevant targets. But most of our goals are trying to restore or improve a landscape that has been shaped by previous human generations – sometimes in the distant past. We cannot achieve our goals, normally, without public support and therefore we need to examine and understand this history before plotting an agreed future.
Many of us may not have the time, or see the immediate practical relevance, of exploring these issues. But if students, academics, volunteers or community groups start to look at their environment with increased awareness we can all benefit from the increasing environmental and nature ‘lore’ or wisdom and bring it to a wider public audience. We can either lead projects or assists others with same. This has significant public and political awareness potential, which will in turn help our respective current management priorities.
2) Community Groups, in particular, can become part of this landscape celebration. Placenames, old maps and oral traditions can be brought to the fore and placed alongside several seminal books on the cultural traditions based around the environment and the academic works on the early Irish environmental laws (Brehon Laws) as outlined by Professor Fergus Kelly. This can be used to enhance the pride and sense of place amongst local communities. This need not be limited to rural communities.
For example, the people of Clondalkin, West Dublin, could be encouraged to establish a small local native meadow to reflect the prefix in their local placename, ‘Clon’, which was translated from ‘‘Cluain’, which is Irish for meadow. Basically, if we are imaginative, we can unleash a wide variety of small projects to celebrate or improve our landscape, if we can connect it to our human or cultural footprints. This could have environmental, cultural and social benefits.
This brief outline, gives a flavour of a much more elaborate plan we could develop, in the autumn. These ideas need not be the sole aspect or the leading aspect of the 2016 events. But equally, could we suggest that we be as bold and as imaginative as possible.
The Gaelic revival in the late 19th century sparked renewed interest in the Irish language, Gaelic games and Irish Literature and theatre. The rather unexpected Riverdance performance in the Eurovision song contest renewed interest in traditional dancing. At some stage, we need a “step-change” in public attitudes to the Irish environment, landscape and nature.
In the current economic climate, the public and politicians will be looking for “added value” in any celebrations funded by the State. A mere 14 years after the event, how many of the National Millennium Committee projects have had a lasting residue?
Could we establish an ancient farm and farm practices, from various periods, and manage an interesting array of wildlife in these habitats.
Could we establish a national ancient wetland site with wet woodlands, bogs and reed beds?
· Could we replant trees in areas with pertinent wooded placenames? -see www.logainm.ie
Could we see a Brehon Law visitor centre outlining the rules of one of Europe’s most ancient environmental law tracts?
Could we establish an Irish Placename Visitor Centre? Just as our Diaspora have a keen interest in family genealogy, an Irish Placename Visitor Centre could explain the meanings of townland names, so many of which are connected to habitats, animals, birds and trees. Apart from family names, our Diaspora has the name of their original home/farm’s townland name etched in their family lore.
The idea of celebrating the influence of nature on Irish culture can be of real benefit to the Tourism and Agri-Food sector. Both place so much of their foreign marketing and promotions on the Green image of Ireland. The idea of celebrating the interaction of humans and the environment can also create local and social benefits and be elastic enough to accommodate a wide array of Irish society.
Presumably, in 2016, we will celebrate this Nation or Country, in some manner. A Country made up of dozens of separate groups of peoples who arrived here across the sea, since before the Iron Age. These people shaped the environment and wildlife, where they settled and lived. But crucially, these people and their culture were equally shaped or influenced by the same environment and wildlife of their new home.
So this is a real opportunity to celebrate ‘Irishness’ and the environment in which it grew.