National Geographic : 1976 Apr
bringing out the crocks of fresh cream and butter and homemade blackberry jam. "Those old ones, now, they knew the land, each place by name and what grew best there. They wasted not a grain nor straw, and never a thing they needed but they made them selves. When I was a lad, we'd thatch our roof with rushes from the bog, and a fine cozy roof it was in winter, in the floggin' rain. Once 'oo would hear the whir of the spinning wheel in every house. But no more. "Times got bad. I had five sisters and a brother, and away they went to Dingle Town one after another to earn the cost of the road to America. Somebody had to stay, and I was the man. "I am not sorry. 'Oo can live anywhere if 'oo like. I have the grass of 15 cows-about 30 acres, that'd be. I raise calves for market on their mother's milk, and I have 40 sheep on the mountain, on the common land. And my son, he has a fine trade as a boatbuilder, so he'll not be off to England for a job." The gentle voice, touching each word with proper music and respect, stirs echoes in the summertime corners of my mind. I am an Irishman by half, for my mother was born in Cork, and I spent childhood holidays in West Clare, not far north. Brian Og, Young Bryan, they called me then-and sometimes Brian Boru as well, an extravagant comparison with the 11th-century warrior of Munster who won the high kingship of Ireland. THE IRISH WAY with English speech has haunted me since, with its half-wild, half majestic cadences that seem to come from a world behind the one I know. But I heard no word of Irish then, and John Hanifin speaks it not at all. Only 70,000 people in all Ireland speak it as a native tongue today. How, I wondered, had such disaster over come a language that possessed a literature perhaps two centuries before English? Pillars from the past tell of early Ireland, when Christianity came to its southwest corner. The fifth-century Reask Stone (above) marks the site of an ancient monastery near Bally ferriter. At Kilmalkedar a Celtic marker, or Ogham stone (left), rises before the 12th-century church. Early Irishmen sealed agreements by touch ing fingers through the holes in such "treaty stones."