The Celts and Their Cliffs
Editor’s Note: This was the first place essay from Radix Journal’s 2015 essay contest.
Both the Irish and the Gauls believed that their ancestor was the god of the dead and, in the case of the Irish, the afterlife was off the west coast of Ireland.
~J.P Mallory, The Origins of the Irish
THE UNIVERSAL IS LOCAL
I took a weekend off to forget. Forget that I was an Identitarian. My anxiety was visceral. It hurt. But I knew I could still escape. If not the reality, its representation. I needed to get away from the headlines, the newsreaders, the internet trolls, the voices of reason, the footage of invasion… the soft whisper of “Surrender now.” I took my car, my camera and some music and made off along the still primordial coast.
My only refuge, in these moments, is the point where the ocean meets the land and for all that, one ocean and one land. I think that’s preconscious, it’s in my DNA. It is always a returning and a taking leave. A welcoming and a farewell. It’s a place I go when I’m beaten. Not to contemplate my end, but to replenish what is left of my soul.
The waves rise and crash against the cliffs of Ireland. Western Europe ends here in the Atlantic. In limestone and salt and anger. In a mass of ocean which seems to float above you on a clear day, the green blue haze sinking into the haze of the white blue sky. Forever.
I am an Identitarian because everything ends. And where a thing ends, we take the measure of it. We value life because it ends. We value the rudiments of our identity, because they are perishable.
It feels intuitive that in ancient times, a people living on a small island should look out over the surf and mist and see the gateway to another reality, an underworld, an afterlife, the horizon point of meaning. Their beginning and their end. It reminds me that universalism is a symptom of localism. To an isolated community, the surroundings constitute the universe. The sky exists to roof one’s own small patch of earth. The psychology of a people is fused unmistakably to a landscape.
The ancestral connection to a patch of earth, transforms it, makes it live in a different way. It makes it relevant. It makes it primal. This is your landscape. It belongs to your people. You have inherited it. You have a custodial responsibility towards it. Your ancestors lived and struggled here. Your children will live and struggle here. The relationship is intimate. It enflames. Beneath our Christian churches and our modern cities, there is a coarse, pagan landscape where Bronze Age warriors battled and Neolithic farmers built hulking great stone monuments to the hereafter.
We mix and share and derive our myths from other neighbouring European peoples. We live in their cultures and they live in ours. Through invasion, through blood, through religion. But for all the mixing and invading, the various peoples of Western Europe have been remarkably settled for hundreds and often thousands of years. Meaning precedes us. It precedes us in our tribe and in the turf we thread. It calls to us from the past.
WHY OUR LEADERS HAVE NOTHING INTERESTING TO SAY
I am an Identitarian because a warning light has gone off inside my head. I have come alive to a threat. Like an animal that flinches from the slaughterhouse truck. I have wandered the world, asleep, uncomfortable with other cultures and neglectful of my own. I have wandered the world, disarmed by platitudes and lies. But now I am awake.
All heroic stories are circular and one ends up where one began. The battle that I needed to fight was here all along. Behind me. Not before me. In the stories of Ireland –the myths pieced together and embellished by monks in that golden monastic age, twelve hundred years or more ago –each new wave of invaders is usurped by the next and driven finally into the sea. Giants and then gods and then men.
The concept of protecting one’s turf seems to be lost on our current leaders. But can the situation be altered? I look into the eyes of a Juncker or a Merkel or a Sutherland or a Trichet and I see no empathy. Nothing that can be reasoned with. I see what Werner Herzog saw in the American grizzly bear. A blank stare which speaks “only of a half-bored interest in food.” These flabby dead eyed technocrats are bored carnivores, the dysgenic remnants of Teutonic ice ages. And, yes we must wrestle these groveling, wrinkly, sterile beasts. We must wrestle Europe away from them. Or they will eat us. And our children.
The bear hug is treacherous. That suffices for information. It is hardly worth talking any longer about their ideology. They have much to say on the subject of identity. But identity they say, is “not for you.” They believe that the unit of society is the individual consciousness. No meaning precedes us. No God. No standards of beauty or authority. And one is cast as a villain or hero from the start. Innocent. By reason of oppression. Guilty by reason of insanity.
For all their bells and whistles, they treat the world as Marx did, as a revelation of material injustice. To be righted. To be altered. To be fixed. All natural laws must be capsized and overturned. And ultimately, the job of the present is to bury the past… But… and here’s the rub… having buried it they have nowhere to return. The circle cannot close. The hero cannot fulfill his quest. The bear will die in the cactus land. And we will have no origin. That is what they cannot give us. Or give us back.
All they can give us is realised wholes. In the here and the now. Bruce Jenner, Aylan Kurdi, Michael Brown. Moments. Snapshots in a hyper-real present. Requiring no assimilation. No explanation. No history. No future. This is what I see in Merkel’s eyes. This childless wench presiding over childlessness. Nothing but the present. And the present is nothing. The bear hug is the hug of death.
What do people like this have to say, I wonder? Once you cast aside their silly slogans, what wisdom can they possibly communicate? Because Habermas was wrong. Communication is not a means of emancipation for an oppressed subject. It is the quest for origins. Every conversation you will ever have, every encounter, from the most banal to the most exotic, will see you plumbing the depths of some beginning. What seems to be the problem? How can I help you? What happened at school? Can you explain this transaction? Who are you? Where are you from? What’s your name? And so on, forever.
THE FUNERAL AND THE DEATH OF AUTHENTICITY
I don’t think I was ever very Leftwing. But I had strayed after college. I liked to think I was a Left-conservative which was how Norman Mailer styled himself. But like Mailer perhaps, I was fooling with labels. My drift was definitely leftward. And towards nihilism. I had to see a cherished grandmother in the ground before the rot ended. And the Right slammed into me like a wall. I had a black eye but I was home.
We had a good old rural Irish catholic funeral. The English are sometimes bewildered by how quick Irish funerals are. If you die on Monday morning you’ll be waked on Tuesday and buried on Wednesday. That’s a lot of religion, heartache and hard drinking to fit into three days admittedly. She was buried on an isolated hillside graveyard with crooked headstones and some so old the names are no longer visible. They’re just misshapen chunks of limestone. As is the custom, the neighbours dig the grave with shovels and picks. This tends to surprise some outsiders and even people from other parts of the country, more conditioned to professional burial staff or JCB diggers. When the coffin is lowered everyone waits while the dirt is thrown back in. Any bones uncovered in the digging are reconstituted. Nobody is quite sure how many family members have been buried in that plot. And I guess nobody wants to know. I think it’s important to see the earth being piled in. It’s cathartic if nothing else.
The experience remains something of a reference point to me. A reference point for what I hate about this world and what I love. Quite a lot is lost when someone dies. Her generation was the last in Ireland to come of age in a world without electricity. The last living connection to pre-industrial modernity. The last connection to crushing subsistence labour, to oral storytelling and candle lit nights, to rural superstition and medieval fatalism. What one can salvage from a religion is justified at these moments. As the family stands around the coffin chanting the decades of the rosary, one person leading, everyone else following, one is struck by the atavistic wisdom incubated in archaic rituals. As the tears and sobbing slowly subsides, the room calms and unites, the old, the middle-aged, the young… The monotony of the words, repeated endlessly, becomes affirming. Not spiritual really. Visceral. Like a wheel following a groove in the road. A verifiable phenomenon, testable, repeatable, carried on through centuries, a mechanism for exorcising grief. One wishes one could believe. One wonders how many people in the room believe. One cannot say. One cannot ask. One does not want to know. One knows in any case that the true believers are dwindling. Perhaps the last true believer is lying there in that coffin. One wonders if the mechanism described will survive another twenty years or so… I have my doubts. But I knew authenticity when I saw it. And they cannot take that away from me.
POSSESSION IS NINE TENTHS OF THE LAW
I wander up the coast. Driving and trekking and taking photographs. Peering over precipices. Now and then I stand alone. Close to the edge. On a cliff, crumbling as it is, year by year, millimetre by millimetre. Not free. Not emancipated. Not whole. But part of something whole. Something is welcoming me. And bidding me farewell. Meaning is always catching up with us. Preconscious. Life, a series of destinations, rather than a journey. We are always arriving. The traveling has already been done, the journey taken, over eons and by other vessels. Men and women, strange but close to us. Molecules in time and space.
This horizon, the one I’m looking at right now, is my eternity. And this topsoil is the future of my people. It is that or it is nothing. It is that or we have no future. No place to stand and no heart to fight. There are no universal cultures. Culture rises like basalt on a sea plain, out of a place and a people. Out of territory and ethnicity. There is more culture in a dog pissing against a tree than there is in a lot of contemporary art and for this same reason.
Without a strong identity one cannot take ownership of what is yours. Or pride in it. And how then can you create or give birth to anything? Identity is a claim one makes. And culture is the tree that grows in the claim.
The Irish have long stared into the Atlantic and the Atlantic has stared back. It has a claim on us and we on it. It is the entrance to the afterlife, the receptacle of the dead, where Donn the son of Mil perished off the rocky coast of Kerry. It means something to us by the geography of our relation to it. A geography of time and place and intuition. A geography that negotiates death.
It was the sons of Mil who crossed the sea and took Ireland from the Tuatha Dé Danaan, defeating them and casting them into the underworld, to lurk as sídhe or faeries. Think of it, this tale set down by scholars over a thousand years ago, built out of folklore and myth, folk memory and folk history. An origins story. And those same faeries haunted the landscape of rural Ireland up until the mid-twentieth century, when electricity finally and irrevocably banished them. Not to the underworld. But to oblivion.
Think of that line from Equus, by Peter Shaffer, “… life is only comprehensible through a thousand local gods…” And think of every lonely journey you’ve ever made, and every nook or corner you’ve ever stowed a secret in. The extinction of rare animals worries us, makes headlines, but not the extinction of our people. Or our gods. Gods die. Gods lose their potency. People forget them or dismiss them or discard them…. The job of forgetting takes one generation only. And remember, to lose your gods, to lose your forms of affirmation, is to die a living death. And to make of that deathliness, your legacy.
A thousand years ago last April, the Dalcassions broke the Vikings on the beaches of Clontarf. A hundred years ago next year, a band of school teachers, poets, aristocrats and socialists enacted blood sacrifice on the streets of Dublin, for some glittering hopeless vision of the future. A Republic which did materialise and was, like all quenched desires, an anti-climax. But what now? And what forever after?
What will come after us? Who will retain our myths, pursue our passions, recite our songs? Who will feel the weight of centuries and millennia at the sight of our dreary wet hillsides? Who will tremble before our cliffs, our dolmens, our churchyards, our poetry? If not we. For we die when our gods die. Our gods die when we die.
AMAIRGEN’S SONG AND THE FIRST IRISH IDENTITARIAN
It was Amairgen, poet/priest/King, who led the Millesians with his brothers towards the shores of Ireland. It is written that they came from Sythia to Egypt to Spain. And that their uncle spotted Ireland on a clear day from a high tower.
It is written that Amairgen claimed Ireland for the Gaels. By song. The Tuatha Dé Danaan, the godlike people in possession of the island, conjured a cloud of mist to see off the invaders. Amairgen sang. And in singing the mist dispelled. And they prevailed.
David Adams put it thusly: “The poet, in a sense, sings the new Ireland of the Celts into existence, containing within himself, like Krishna-Vishnu in the Bhagavadgita or the persona of the poems of Walt Whitman, all the elements of creation.”
There are various accounts of the song, all of which preserve the same essential meaning. It is the primal realisation of all awakened peoples. Sacred knowledge guarded by priestly castes. The revelation that we are parts of a whole… But the universal is only ever accessible to us through local gods. The specific. The intimate. Eternity is in the detail. It is tribal. It becomes us. It welcomes us. It bids us farewell… Let it not be a final farewell.
The sea’s wind am I,
The ocean’s wave,
The sea’s roar,
The Bull of the Seven Fights,
The vulture on the cliff,
The drop of dew,
The fairest flower,
The boldest boar,
The salmon in the pool,
The lake on the plain,
The skillful word,
The weapon’s point,
The god who makes fire I am.