Imagine There’s No Countries

Deep in research for the next wave of writing I just finished Bob Quinn’s book The Atlantean Irish. Provocative work. This Connemara man, author and film maker makes a well researched and persuasive argument that the Irish are not, in fact, Celtic people. Fragments and pieces of prior readings are falling into place and I am compelled to purge the term ‘Celtic’ from my writing. But that’s another thread to explore.

Hugely fascinating is Quinn’s idea that the Irish, like other peoples living in coastal communities before any significant road building, were connected to each other and other people by the sea – and that through these interactions and connections the various cultures were so europe mapinformed by one another they became more similar to each other than to their inland neighbors. Writing about the “continuity of seaborne contact between Ireland and the entire Atlantic coast, from Scandinavia to Senegal, taking in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa,” Quinn concludes that “traditionally, the sea did not divide peoples: it united them.”

At a time when geographic boundaries were pushed back and forth between warring kingdoms, when rulers struggled to declare and then sustain their territories, rallying people around a sense of national identity, those at the water’s edge continued to work and live their unifying coastal and seaborne identity. Inland machinations were irritating, inconvenient and largely ignored.

In a time when countries were warring to unite people under one flag, these people were united by having no countries. Imagine.

Legacy Lite

For only $99, one of the ancestor search sites offers a simple DNA test that can tell you a lot about who you are and where you come from. Where you come from may be easily discerned, but who you are is vastly more complex than anything a DNA test will tell you What testing and ancestor searches won’t give you is what you come from. And it’s the what that stitches together the who and where into deeper meaning and knowing, It’s the what that holds the complexities of cultural, spiritual, and intellectual heritage.

My maternal grandmother used to tell us we were related to Lady Godiva. She delighted in sharing this dark family secret, always careful to tell us when no one else was Lady Godivaaround. Perhaps she was avoiding the possibility of being contradicted but I suspect it was more likely a factor of modesty. After all, the woman was riding naked. And although this 11th century English noblewoman was protesting her husband’s oppressive tenant taxations, that was never part of what we were told. For my grandmother the whole and only point was our relationship to a famous person. Riding naked was just a provocative bonus.

Being related to a famous person. Like striking gold while mining for family history. But without the contextual story, it’s just a name. A woman riding nude through the streets of Coventry is interesting. Lady Godiva’s story is fascinating. And it’s story that holds depth of meaning. Anything less is just legacy lite.