Dublin’s Objects: walking back and down through time

At the steps of the Royal Irish Academy founded in 1785 ‘to promote the study of science, polite literature and antiquities’, the start of our walking tour for Colm Cille – The Object. Enter a hushed library with dark wood book casements and galleries above, green lamps hanging low over tables above the heads of readers. It’s reverential, a true repository of knowledge.

The cathach or ‘battle book’, one of Ireland’s most rare objects containing examples of some of the earliest Gaelic writing, has been brought out for display specially for the four walking tours. All that remains of the psalter, allegedly written by Colm Cille (although more likely a later origin) copied from Biblical texts of the period, are the remnants of its pages, torn and browned at the edges, mounted in a modern binding. I can’t take a photo. Cathach means ‘war’ in Irish – the book was taken into battle, a talismanic weapon that ensured victory, which also had other powers – when dipped in a pond the water was made save for cattle to drink from.

The cathach was traditionally kept in a gold and silver shrine, elaborately decorated – now on display next to a crozier at the National Museum. I peer into the glass, listening to our excellent guide from Trinity College. I try to imagine the shrine not in a modern museum vitrine, but slung around the neck of a holy man, leading the clan into battle through mud and gore.

And to the Book of Kells at Trinity College, I strain my eyes drilling into the intricacy of the design, and wonder at the author’s hand, the colours made from natural pigments still vivid after the passing of centuries. […]

By |November 24th, 2013|The Object|0 Comments

A slow approach to Lindisfarne

It was a pilgrimage of sorts, by train, bus, then walking to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh, to experience ‘Antiphonal’, two sound installations by Tom Schofield comprising poetry by 12 North East poets. The poems, also published in pamphlet form as ‘Shadow Script’, were commissioned by Linda Anderson of Newcastle University’s Centre for Literature Arts as a response to the medieval texts and this undulating landscape of historical narrative.
We stayed in Durham to see the Lindisfarne Gospels (on temporary exhibition) first-hand, the pen and colour still so fresh and real, then retraced their dispersal from Lindsifarne following the Viking attacks.
The bus dropped us at Beal, about five miles from Lindisfarne, where we camped overlooking the sea – walking to the island early the next morning with a tent and heavy rucksacks seemed appropriate for seventh century monastic life and Cuthbert’s ascetic existence. But as time went by, and the long causeway and sweep of the Snook stretched out before us, the distant nub of the village and abbey ruins seemed to get no closer. We pondered on getting provisions and building materials onto the island without motorised transport when St Aidan founded the monastery, what could be grown on the island and how hard life must have been. Then as we arrived, the spell was broken by bus loads of tourists, cafes and shops.

The words of poems were broadcasting in the Tower, reaching with the eye into the seascape, and back and forth in time. But others coming in were in a different space, so we descended to Cuthbert’s isle and read two of the poems from Shadow Script to each other.


He’s sad to see […]

By |August 23rd, 2013|The Word|0 Comments

Reflecting on Bradwell

I joined the group of early medievalist PhD students from King’s College London for ‘Interrruptions’ on 25 July at St Peter’s-on-the-Wall, at Bradwell-on-Sea, the opening episode in the London/Essex ‘knot’ of Colm Cille’s Spiral. It was a wonderful experience that perfectly demonstrated the academic-artistic collaboration that the project has set out to achieve.
The group, organised by James Paz and tutored by Professor Clare Lees, had been briefed in May by Marc Garrett of Furtherfield ‘to imagine you had been forced to live in a dystopian world where the internet and mobile technologies are no longer safe to use…where all our information is used against us under the globally networked eye of the ‘Netopticon’, or post-Panopticon’ (uncannily prescient with the recent news of widespread snooping by US and UK security services). The group’s aim was ‘to reclaim social and cultural contexts on our own terms and share ideas, knowledge and crucial information’.
It was bright and sunny, the brutalising A13 left behind as the roads diminished in scale to this isolated end of Essex where the land and sea become almost indistinguishable. St Peter’s Chapel stands on its own on a slight rise, the site of Cedd’s community founded in 654, and strangely surreal, with Bradwell nuclear power station in one direction, wind turbines in another. It does have some special quality, which Cedd must have sensed when he arrived. Even as an aetheist and materialist, I often wonder about this very human response of faith to the material character of landscape and architecture.

I thought about this more with Hana Videen’s Mapping the Human on the Non-Human, a beautifully simple illustration of the seventh century imagination extending into the natural and material world. It was one […]

Vicissitudes, the River Foyle, Derry

It was a moment to reflect, sitting in the Colmcille, a 35ft replica ‘curragh’ (traditional open boat similar to that which Colm Cille may have sailed across to Iona) in the middle of the River Foyle, Derry, listening to Ceara Conway’s ‘Vicissitudes’, in the warm sunshine. Colm Cille’s Spiral is about connecting with the distant past, and the experience felt layered in time and space. Ceara’s gentle philosophical probings made us think about our own personal journeys, feeling quite insignificant in the expanse of water, but also what strengths there might be in collectively responding to our frustration for change in the face of the apparently immovable objects of global corporations, the church and state. We were still in the water, absorbing the  language, but not understanding Ceara’s laments in Irish …for a little time to pause.

It was quite a contrast to the night before, when the Foyle Embankment was packed with some 30,000 people from the city celebrating the Irish saint’s slaying of the Loch Ness Monster, apparently with a panoply of flood lights and dazzling fireworks. The procession earlier in the day brought on a mind boggling eclecticism of imagery – burning Viking ships, monks dancing to apparently Turkish drum and bass, other monks beating to the sounds with bones, young punks and older punks – the fantastic Undertones – and giant shirts (Derry was famous for shirt-making). I’m not sure what it all meant,  nor what Colm Cille would have made of it, but we had a great time none-the-less.

Ben Eastop