“To keep the truth and tell the whole tale, the historian uses every good source.”
Irish Folk History: Texts from the North Henry Glassie, pg. 11,
When we are very young we are mostly concerned, generally speaking, with ourselves and our own moment to moment experience. This doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned about the beings around us, or that we have no memory and do not carry with us the wounds and encouragements and learnings of the past. But by and large we are observing and reacting to the present circumstance, and often it seems interminable, that it is what will be forever—which might be a happy thing, or it might seem like the end of the world, and a bad end, indeed.
There may come a time in our lives, often when we are substantially older, frequently triggered when our relatives become aged and ill or die, when we begin to be more concerned with the unknown past of our parents, our siblings, our ancestors, and perhaps of our communities and our world. This new curiosity can lead to intense learning, to awakenings and changes in our understanding not only of others but of ourselves. It can bring us to a stronger sense of connection, and it can unearth elements that disturb us, which take time to absorb, understand, and accept.
Brigit’s people were very aware of the importance of history. The poets learned every story of every geographical feature. They could recite genealogies going back many generations, even to the time of Noah. Their stories were told and retold by others, such that everyone was far more greatly informed about the immediate world around them than most of us are today.
As an example, I’ve lived in the same place for over thirty years. I know many of the stories of the building I live in, but of the street outside my apartment, I know very few. I don’t know why it was named what it was. I do know the year my building was constructed, and the year my particular apartment was created from a previous storage room. I know roughly when the railway cut behind my house was dug, and that it was done with horse teams, and that the earth was used to “reclaim” a wetland area called False Creek. But as to the rest, I know nothing.
Many years ago I made an effort to learn as many stories about my family as I could from the older folk, and I recorded them. Around the same time I began to explore the history and living culture of the Irish, from whom I am in part descended. (The idea was to start with the Irish and work my way through my heritages, but apparently there is no end to the learning and I’ve never yet moved on.) All of these elements opened my eyes to much of what shaped the family I grew up in, and myself.
The tapes I made are still precious to me, but I would have to listen to them again to restore most of the tales to my memory. I am not a great historian. Nevertheless, the excursions I’ve made into my family’s past and that of my ancestors have bit by bit altered my place in that world. Growing up feeling rootless and cut off, I now see how that fragmentation happened, and I feel a kinship with others in and out of my family who suffered similar losses. Roots have established themselves. I feel much more a part of my world.
In the name of the three Brigits
I light the candle of my heart
May I offer it to everyone
gentle and steady
warm and bright
The Irish goddess Brigit “whom poets used to follow”… Indeed, many still do, and more are turning to her every day. Learn about the goddess of poetry and the role of the poet in ancient Ireland; free the poetry in your own soul with Brigit as your inspiration and Mael Brigde as your guide.