James at the bookshop had the bright idea that, because speaking without a projector, it might be nice to provide an alternative visual accompaniment to the talk – whether people want to look at it in advance, scroll through on phones or tablets during the event, or wait till afterwards to fill in their imaginings of the places, people, sealife, tides & swells we’ve discussed. (If the experiment works I’ll make a habit of it, so feedback welcome…)
Map of the Journey
This was a route designed to present a different perspective on Britain & Ireland than those in most general histories/geographical books:
If this (rather than the SE corner) is taken to be the islands’ centre, do the narratives we use for British & Irish history (things like Enlightenment or Modernity), and the ways we usually understand Britain & Ireland, still work? Or does that shift mean we need to start by forgetting a lot of what we think we know?
This project began from finding ways to immerse myself in those very different past & present coastal worlds. Through several forms of engagement:
Archives – incredible collections of images & oral histories:
Planned & random conversations, arranged in advance with artists/poets/archaeologists/ecologists – happening by accident in the fishermen’s pubs & coastal cafes that were an unexpectedly important resource (promise I don’t usually look as mean as in this photo – had been a rough day coming round Slyne Head in Connemara!).
How Boats can be Better than Desks
Useful ways of piquing interest & starting conversations…
Tim Robinson (cartographer of the Irish West coast):
Once, a wealthy friend with a big car offered to help me in my explorations of Connemara. Since I wanted to revisit a few remote glens I accepted, and we roared off. Then, ‘I must call in at that cottage,’ I said, and we squealed to a stop. I knocked at the door, but apart from a twitching curtain there was no response – whereas if I had sweated up the hill, fallen off my old bike at the gate, asked for a bucket of water to mend a puncture, etc., all the lore of the valleywould have been forthcoming over tea in the kitchen. But even bicycling is inferior to walking in this context. To appear out of the thickets behind an Aran cottage, or scramble down from the bare moon-mountains of the Burren into a farmyard, is, I find, a disarming approach, introducing me as obviously unofficial and dying for a cup of tea.
[arriving off the water, in a state of total beddraglement, might be even better still]
…And a kayak’s eye worldview is both unique & rooted in historic experience
On days when kayaking is like mountain climbing…
…the sensation created by rising & falling on the swell of the old sea routes is one that’s retained in the body so that land seems to rise & fall all night:
This is a different world from that observed from the shore, full of species that wouldn’t normally be seen:
And where more familiar species show, once you’re part of their world, unexpcted confidence:
Life subject to weather: immense contrasts created by even small shifts.
Interpreting the world by boat:
Poetry – Norman MacCaig
The boat need carry no more than a living person…
And there’s a meaning, a cargo of centuries
Watch this one, ancient Calum, he crabs his boat
Sideways across the tide, every stroke a groan –
Ancient Calum no more, but legends afloar.
No boat ever sailed with a crew of one alone.
Scottish & Irish poetic boat traditions:
From Gaelic Odysseys – The Birlinn of Clanranald – to Seamus Heaney’s mythic whale roads & ‘secular powers of the Atlantic, thundering’.
Today: Atlantic-edge poets who insistence on close observation, against grand narratives. Rereading histories, reinvigorating language, rewriting what counts as marginal/central:
Jen Hadfield, Nigh no Place & Byssus
Christine Evans, Island of Dark Horses
Roseanne Watt, Moder Dy
Moya Cannon, Carrying the Songs & Donegal Tarantella
Kathleen Jamie, ‘the very act of paying attention, of taking heed, of noticing, is a political act‘.
‘The View from the Sea’ (beginning of the last chapter)
The Dingle Peninsula & the Blaskets:
A Shetland Story of Setting off:
Burra Firth & the illusion of calm. Turn left for the Atlantic, right for the North Sea:
That ‘immense dynamism’ of life & water:
Stupendous cliffs & surprise breakers:
Tides that appear as solid walls of waves:
The island on which I spent the first night, by an old fishing store, after a day on which I almost gave up:
The Western Isles & the gifts of Cuan Siar (beginning of chapter 3)
From Sea to Page
Cover art, Joe Maclaren
Seaweed section breaks (the second of these three images), Christina Riley:
And one last video, made before the journey: