Sean Finnan gets the lay of the land at Fís na Fuiseoige, Aodh Ó Coileáin’s documentary which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.
Something that often gets forgotten about in the constant discussions of the Irish language is the wealth of history that it carries. The educational system and government policies certainly hasn’t helped this in turning the language into something of a bureaucratic necessity, a means of being employable in various civil service jobs, in the educational system and the fact that every legal and bureaucratic document has to be translated into Irish. Not to mention signposts. The language, in this way, has been pushed into a state of stasis where much of its emphasis on its value in the educational system is placed on offering students a means of employment in a field of tedious translation in the depths of meaningless bureaucracy.
Fís na Fuiseoige, the directorial debut by west Kerry man Aodh Ó Coileáin brings to the fore the voluptuousness of the Irish language in both the history it carries, its connection to place and the differing understandings of life that it carries. A far cry from the state supported life support it has been placed upon. Using the ever increasing quality of drone technology, Ó Coileáin offers us a slow contemplative picture of the Irish landscape seldom captured so evocatively before. With such stunning aerial cinematography the timelessness of the Irish landscape is evoked as the camera reflects over places as diverse as the Iveragh Peninsula, the Donegal Gaeltacht, Glendalough amongst others. In each of these various locations, a contributor guides us through the connection of the strong links between the Irish language and place, a connection so strong that in ancient Ireland it even inspired its own literary tradition, ‘dinnseanchas’.
This literary tradition still exists on the fringes of Irish literary life as highlighted by the contributions by the Irish language poets in this documentary, who continue to pursue a knowledge of the land’s relationship with language. In their contributions, the Irish language is associated with a reverence to place itself that pays not only homage to the land but evokes a sense of this land as being timeless, as if its history is ever recurring.
Professor Nuala Ní Dhomhnail’s contribution highlights the different way in which people conceived of themselves as a result of a habitat within a language that, quite literally, gave every surrounding a story and a history based on a tradition.
Such reflections abound in this documentary and offer the viewer another way of understanding the importance of the Irish language that has lost in its bureaucratisation this intimate connection with its surroundings. As Declan Kiberd points out, the loss of the language is something like a forgetting and if the Irish landscape is a manuscript of meaning, we are quickly losing the codes of reading it. In this centenary year, Aodh Ó Coileáin’s beautifully intimate portrait of language and place is a reminder again of the importance of the language in the Gaelic Revival, the cultural rebellion that was the catalyst for the later rebellion. In serving as a pool of traditions that were lost under anglicization, the language was used as a means of re-imagining, of conceiving of a new identity.
Serving as such a reminder, Fís na Fuiseoige is a documentary to be treasured. Few others have made the argument of the importance of the Irish language’s survival in such a subtly celebratory manner while in the process highlighting its absurd vacuous place in Irish official life.
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Fís na Fuiseoige screened on 24th February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 – 28 February)
I fail to understand how you consider the placing of place names in their original, Irish language form on signposts to be a “bureaucratic necessity”. One of the most important points made during this powerful documentary was that when our placenames were anglicised they lost their meaning and so the history associated with them was silenced. As John Montague put it, the landscape became “a manuscript we had lost the skill to read”. Bilingual signposts are, thus, the key to reading our manuscript and to say they are a cumbersome aspect of bureaucracy misses the point entirely.