A Founder's Note
Dónall Ó Héalaí
A Chara, I would like to say thank you for your time and attention in visiting this website. The initiative of Celtic Consciousness was created to offer to you something meaningful and enjoyable. Below is the story of how this idea came to life.
At the foot of Mount Brandon in the Dingle Peninsula is where my grandfather's house stands. Growing up, every summer was always there. On any given night the family might hop in the car and seek out a session where the local musicians were enjoying their traditional Irish music.
Here, I watched the fiddle bow glide over the wooden instrument’s silver strings, while the accordion player pushed down and in on the buttons of his magic box of sound. I saw my parents and all present, come alive, as this music filled the room, feet tapping and faces smiling as the jigs, reels and polkas soared through their bodies.
There would always be songs at these sessions, where everybody was hushed to silence, something always easily got, mind you. Respect for the sean-nós singer has remained steadfast amongst native Irish speakers. Sometimes it would even be my mother who would share a song. She sang in Irish to me for as long as I can remember. And being a daughter of the well-known Connemara singer, Vail Ó Flathartaigh, Sean Nós was in the genes.
Then, depending on the crowd, Dad could be asked to tell a story. His story might involve supernatural beings or legendary heroes but very often he would share a humorous traditional tale or two!
It was the Gaelic language that informed all these art forms, this was the bond that kept the people of this westerly place and their culture in tune and intact. It was during these gatherings that the seed for Celtic Consciousness was sown.
Of course, in the moment, I had very little idea of how precious that which I was witnessing was. I was far too busy eating my crisps and drinking my 7Up! It wasn't until years later, having distanced myself from this indigenous culture that I fully came to embrace its language and heritage.
When you grow up speaking Irish all the time you take it for granted. You take for granted the lens through which you see the world. For example growing up in Connemara you would be greeted by the Atlantic ocean each morning. If it was a choppy sea we might say;
Tá bláth bán ar gharraí an iascaire —
The fisherman's garden is under white flower.
You see, this language connects us with the landscape and environment in a way that is beyond the visible and the obvious. It allows one to set foot into what the writer and philosopher, John O’Donohue called, The Invisible World. One feels a harmony with nature within this language. Gaelic has a remarkable capacity to make things beautiful and personal.
For example, the Irish word for a wolf is
Mac Tíre -
Son of the land
And the Irish word for a ladybird is
Bóin Dé -
God’s little cow
The acclaimed philosopher and writer John Moriarty recognized this when he wrote: 'The Irish language is a way of seeing and knowing things’. But it was not from reading that I came to realize this. It was by living in its absence that it became strikingly apparent to me.
Moving to America in my mid-twenties to further my acting career, I found myself in the heart of New York City. Leaving the Atlantic waves and broad western vowels behind me. I was immediately consumed by the rush and buzz of it all. This lasted some time.
Then last Christmas, I was at home in Connemara. Dad and I were having a chat in the sitting room about the endangered state of the Irish language, a conversation that is often had in our house. We spoke for some time about the position of the language in Ireland, finally coming to the conclusion that its future as a spoken language was very uncertain.
I then asked him, what the real tragedy of the loss of this language would be?
His answer was very simple:
‘The death of beauty.’
This statement had a profound impact on me. I returned to New York City but something within me had changed. I no longer had the same interest in telling other people's stories. I realized that within me, was my own personal cultural narrative that I wanted to share.
Here, was a precious ancient language, that had been passed on to me. Its stories and songs had given such meaning and purpose to my life, and now much of its insights and beauty were at risk of being lost forever. What if these songs and stories could enrich the lives of others?
With the passing of so many of what might be called the elders of Irish language communities, I felt a sense of urgency to pursue this work at this time, while these examples of the simple beauty of the language were still in use.
I had always heard and been aware of different programs that aimed to get more people speaking Irish or improve one’s fluency in the language, but I felt that no one was focusing on sharing the wisdom of the language itself and learning from its ancient way of seeing.
And so in Sept 2017, I took a sabbatical from acting. I made a decision to focus on sharing the beauty and humanity voiced in the Irish language with the wider world.
I have personally experienced how the expressions of Celtic Consciousness can comfort, encourage, inspire and evoke a deep sense of aliveness and meaning in the modern world.
I've been filled with a new-found passion and purpose in bringing this idea to life. I look forward to the community that might come together in a shared interest in this realm.
And so, let this be an invitation to you;
Whether we meet online or in person, on a tour or at a talk, I want to take this opportunity in advance to say:
Do chéad míle fáilte abhaile, a chara.
A hundred thousand welcomes home, to you, my friend.
Dónall Ó Héalaí