Embodying homage and outrage: Ómós do John Millington Synge by Máirtín Ó Direáin

Deirdre Ní Chonghaile


Mulling over John Millington Synge’s entire corpus, Yeats famously eulogized: ‘He loves all that has edge, all that is salt in the mouth, all that is rough to the hand, all that heightens the emotions by contest, all that stings into life the sense of tragedy’ (1911: 20). Eighty years later and with a similar concern for truthful writing, the broadcaster and author from Árainn, Breandán Ó hEithir, praised Synge for revealing the bitter actuality of contemporary life in Aran: ‘Only in the writings of Synge do we find any impression of the frequent assaults, maiming of horses and cattle, boycotts, victimizations, evictions and allegations of forced conversions that arose constantly in the history of the period’ (1991: 61). Ó hEithir goes on to temper his praise of Synge, however, saying he did not go far enough, not as far as ‘the frank, often scathing realism of the novels of Liam O’Flaherty’ (62). Ó hEithir’s characteristic tip-of-the-hat to his uncle’s literary achievements constitutes an islander’s invitation to consider the strategic selectivity of Synge’s representation of Aran, which conceals much that did not suit Synge’s own purpose even as he revealed the islands in vivid detail. Via a close reading of a poem by another islander, Máirtín Ó Direáin’s ‘Ómós do John Millington Synge,’ an homage he first published in 1953 and amended in 1957, this article considers Synge’s impact on Aran’s iconic canon of literature and, thereupon, on the islands themselves. Re-appropriating Synge’s appropriations of Aran and speaking for Aran by embodying in and through his poem her voice and her concerns, Ó Direáin warns that any failure to acknowledge the local voice constitutes an act of discrimination. His homage thus highlights Synge’s role in efforts to secure social justice and cultural and linguistic equity for Aran.

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ISSN: 2009-8626