Iris na Gaeilge    Marta 2004    uimh 6

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Léas ar ár Litríocht

Publications which explain or investigate the Irish language, its history or range, are scarce indeed for the general reader today. Recently, one such volume in English by Aodh de Blacam, the very readable 'Gaelic Literature Surveyed' , was discussed in 'Iris na Gaeilge'. Its contents surprised one young Language enthusiast who, until then, thought that Irish writing really started in 1916……another terrible beauty, of course. She was reluctant to believe that writing in Gaelic goes back to the seventh century, at least.

A more recent book to explore the work of some of the Language's most able writers this time in good, attractive Irish is "Léas ar ár Litríocht". It was written by Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, a Maynooth priest at the time, and now a Monsignor in Co. Kerry. It is a collection of 18 essays and based on public lectures which he gave in Irish to folklorists, medical doctors, teachers, students, and local groups throughout Ireland. It is highly readable and very interesting.

In the chapter 'Allagar na h-Inise', we have a fine account of, what most of us regard as Tomás Ó Criomhthain's second book after 'An tOileánach'. Its many surprising features are investigated and explained by the writer, especially its likeness, in some parts, to the sonnet form in its, almost daily, pen-pictures of life in the Blaskets. It shows O Criomhthain at his best in this outstanding journal in Irish. In a following chapter the poetry of the Co.Cork poet, Dáiví Ó Bruadair,is discussed at length and to great effect.

Although the work of the interesting diarist, Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin, is touched on, it is a pity that a whole chapter was not devoted to this charming writer in Irish. His diary runs from 1827 to 1835 and gives an intriguing look into the Ireland of those pre-Famine days. Most Irish town libraries have copies of O Súilleabháin's work. Pádraig Ó Fiannachta's views on it would be welcome in this book.

There are neat chapters in 'Léas ar ár Litriocht' on many aspects of Gaelic literature-'Táin Bó Cualinge', the epic, satire, the annals, Aislinge Meic Coinglinne, early Irish lyrics, bardic poetry, Séamus Mac Cruitín, documents of Co. Clare. And all written in limpid, sparkling Irish.

A surprising chapter has many examples of how priests approached preaching in Irish down the years. Fifty-six brief, separate paragraphs are given. Most are devotional and seem to come from a collection, which later found its way into Queens University, Belfast. It can be interesting to compare them with the undistinguished and pedestrian preaching so common now.

The longest chapter of the eighteen is on medical documents in the Irish language. Whether they were dealing with their own work or practices, or with documents which came to them from Europe, the doctors seem to have translated them and to have written the substance down in good, clear Irish. So, there is now a huge number of such documents, many of them untouched and waiting to be researched .There is indeed an extensive record of native medical practice in Irish. Some of the early references go back to one of the old Irish gods of medicine, Dian Céacht. Occasionally some of the cures, medicines or practices escaped out into Irish folk medicine and survived in daily use in rural Ireland to recent times - and long after they were abandoned elsewhere by the doctors.

'Léas ar ár Litriocht' certainly lives up to the meaning of its title - a beam of light on our literature. It was published by An Sagart, Ma Nuad, in 1974. It is in hardback and has 189 pages. It cost £1.60.

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