The uncolonised mind: an aspect of the poetry of Joe Steve Ó Neachtain

Gearóid Denvir


This articles argues that the poetry of Joe Steve Ó Neachtain emanates from the same imagined world described by Seán Ó Ríordáin in his poem ‘Na Blascaodaí’ (‘The Blaskets’) as the ancient mind (‘seanaigne’) of the Blasket islanders, the same world which the poet Michael Davitt claims is portrayed through the medium of the word by the ‘old language musicians’ (‘seancheoltóirí teangan’) of the region. The author contends that this ‘ancient mind’ belongs to the uncolonised unanglicised Ireland that Ó Ríordáin imagines in his classic poem ‘Fill Arís’ (‘Return Again’) where he asks the reader to make the imaginative leap of faith that Ireland was never conquered and that the Gaelic tradition survived intact and uninterrupted. The article shows that the poetry of Joe Steve Ó Neachtain is rooted in the same traditional understanding of the nature of poetry seen in the work of poets like Raiftearaí and de Bhailís in the 19th century and also in the later compositions of community poets in the Connemara Gaeltacht. The article brings to light some of the traditional customs, beliefs and practices which permeate the poetry of Joe Steve, with particular emphasis on the modes of discourse utilised by the poet: the use of metaphor, the use of metre from the folk tradition, and especially the wide-ranging use of varied intertextual references. Particular attention is paid the rich use of the poet’s native Connemara Irish throughout the poems, described by the poet himself as the ‘cruachaint’ (‘hard speech’), the ‘Sean-Ghaeilge’ (Old Irish’), the ‘glaschaint’ (‘cross-talk’) and the ‘caint thráthúil fhileata’ (‘witty poetic speech’) of the old poets who challenged each other in verse. The article also argues that the early poetry of Joe Steve in his first two collections, Fead Ghlaice (1986) and De dhroim leice (1990), is rooted in the oral tradition, but that the mature work in his later collections, An Dé Deiridh (2008) and Fad Saoil (2015), engages in a more nuanced manner with the contemporary world and the internal mindspace of the individual in that world as is the norm in modern, as opposed to traditional, literature.

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© Comhar Teoranta, 2020.
ISSN: 2009-8626