Akron Irish: The Celtic Spirit
By Lisa O’Rourke
This may be a controversial statement, but in terms of style, I think that it would be commonly acknowledged that the French have it all over the Irish. Or so I thought. While this superiority may be true in the fashion terms, the maxim does not hold in terms of spirituality.
Irish spirituality is trendy. In the Christian world, there were none so Christian as the penitent Irish and for the New Agers, there were none so tree hugging as the Irish. The word penitent has resonance, since the image of Irish Catholics is one of a devout group, so much so that they are often seen as a suspicious and fearful group, waiting in dread for a mythical shoe to drop. There are countless stories of humorless clergy beating religion into free spirited children. Yet this contradicts so much of the everyday life in Ireland since no country I know of loves children and their respective spirits more. It was always an odd juxtaposition.
Illumination on this point happened a few weeks ago when a friend casually mentioned that the French were responsible for the “blood and guts” of Irish faith. He further explained that the Irish, left to their own devices, would have happily contemplated the resurrection much more deeply.
This friend, Fr. Eric Funston, should know of what he speaks since he went to Ireland with the purpose of immersing himself in some of the oldest Irish Gaelic prayers and song. One of the things that he learned, and research confirms, is that Irish Catholicism and therefore spirituality was morphed into a different form by the arch villain of Irish history, Oliver Cromwell.
Honestly, he is worthy of a Batman movie. But I digress, when Cromwell ran the Catholics out of Ireland in 1650, he did so by death and exile of laymen and clergy.
Most of the clergy that was able to flee did so to France and Spain. The missing clergy were eventually replaced by Europeans from those countries, or returned as changed exiles. Whereas the French were consumed by the sacrificial elements of Catholicism, the blood, death and more gruesome elements of the primary story of Christians, trough this process, the more ethereal otherworldly Celtic ideology was replaced by the more European crucifixion bloody stories. I had to insert that the concepts of the spiral of life and the idea of an eternal spirit were present in the ancient pagan religions in Ireland too.
Easter is the quintessential Irish holiday. In it, we see the ancient spirit melded with the contemporary political, and back to spirit again. The cornerstone of the ancient belief system was around the circle of life, resurrection and birth. It seems no small coincidence that the Rising that began the nation happened under the gaze of Newgrange at the time of rebirth.
Easter is the season of rebirth. It is spiritual, the resurrection of the lord the realization of the spirit, the trinity. It was a huge celebration for pagan people since their very survival depended on it.
I love thinking about the ancient Irish, wandering around that cold little rock in the ocean, puzzling out their existence while fending off some giant elk. Their optimism that they would cycle back around is inspiring. It is also inspiring to think of them drawing these ideas from the natural cycles that they observed.
Irish spirituality morphed rather easily into what was then Irish Catholicism. This process was aided by the Roman Patrick, a quick study, who saw the way to win over these people was to co-opt their existing beliefs. Samhain, the Celtic celebration of the end of harvest and the temporary death of the earth, became Halloween.
*Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She enjoys spending time with her dog,, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at ol*****@ic****.com.
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