Ag siúl go dtí an tsaoil, le aoibhneas
(Walking toward life, with joy / work in progress…)
A guiding question asked within the Regenesis dialogues was “What does it mean to be indigenous again today?”. Far from giving answers, this question opens up a very wide and deep dialogue about what is, what was and what could yet be. Emerging concepts relating to living in harmony with nature appear to be new, but in fact, their core idea is nothing new at all. Much of these emerging systems simply RE-connect all of us to ideas, visions and values held by ALL our families, at some stage in the past, regardless of who we are today, what we are, where we were born or where we live now on this little planet.
Cloughjordan’s little river has created an odd situation. A mile long stretch of the Ballyfinboy river forms part of the county border between Tipp to the north, and Offaly to the south. Not only is this little bit of a stream a dividing line between 2 counties, it also forms the division between 2 of Ireland’s 4 provinces. The strange thing is that you go down south to Leinster, and up north to Munster… Hence, Cloughjordan is a little bit of an upsidedown world. This is not a bad thing, it’s different, but with difference comes interesting questions.
One very important old spiritual attitude was to see rivers as gods and goddesses and to value the true worth of that most magic of entities of this earth, water, or uisce (pronounced issshhhh-kaaa) as it is called in gaelic, the Irish language. Similar to how old Chinese spiritual attitudes saw it; the Tao, that which flows through all things, stemming from something formless and perfect, before the universe was born… Taking a lead from current Andean traditions in Peru and surrounding countries, Pachamama is venerated as a natural female goddess entity, mother earth. The “god” is not an abstract and male entity, disconnected from the here and now, who passes moral judgements.. the “god” is that which we are part of, in a glorious whole, the mother from which we are born. It’s not a question of belief or not, it is simply recognizing the natural laws of existence, living with nature, and being aware of the utter beauty and magic and strangeness of it all.. The old Irish attitude to rivers, understood this. To stand in the river, to drink it, was to be it, to be moved by it, to allow for the world of magic and spirit seep into your soul. The Māori’s in New Zealand have a super phrase, ‘Ko au te awa ko te awa ko au’ meaning ‘I am the river and the river is me’. After 140 years of negotiation and battle in the legal system, in 2017 a Māori tribe won a court case which has opened a new precedent; recognizing river basins as living entities, with same legal rights as human beings.
Returning to Cloughjordan’s mile long stretch of the Ballyfinboy river we see how rivers became boundaries, lines of disconnection, disputed lines battles fought around for political gain. The Ballyfinboy River rises close to Moneygall in County Offaly, Ireland and flows in a generally northwesterly direction into Lough Derg at Drominagh, it is about 25km. It flows through the towns of Cloughjordan and Borrisokane and past Ballyfinboy Castle which has Sheela na gig built into it, a strange old pagan fertility symbol sculpture found around Europe. The lake is part of Ireland’s longest river, the river Shannon, the Ballyfinboy River is part of the Shannon river basin, which serves as a base for the bioregion that Cloughjordan is part of. Also important is to remember “To hell or to Connaught”, one of the most vicious stories of ethnic cleansing in Ireland, when Cromwell arrived in the 1650’s to drive savage Irish across the River Shannon to Connaught (Clare was part of Connaught then too), no doubt many died attempting to cross. Cloughjordan itself translates as “Jordan’s stone”, after a Captain Harrison, an officer in Cromwell‘s army, who had been to Jordan and brought a stone back which forms the foundations of one of the corners of what is today’s Cloughjordan house. 300 years after Cromwell’s exploits the River Shannon is still held as a divide, between different sorts of people. This authors own great grandparents when hearing that their daughter was “doing a line”, or courting, a man from Labasheeda in South Clare in the 1940’s, exclaimed “They’re all mad west of the Shannon”. Some would argue there is truth in that argument, that there is indeed a madness in the people from beyond the opposite bank. But, they’d argue, it is a good madness, a wildness of spirit, that is still deeply connected to people and place, and never forgot the older stories…
Cloughjordan has an incredible potential for infinite ripples to allow a regenerative culture to emerge, at all scales, in the town, in Tipp, in the full island of Ireland and the wider world. To grow its vitality, viability, and capacity for evolution, the following goals could be considered:
- Create river guardian groups for communities living within Ballyfinboy and Shannon basins. Use the Maori’s Whanganui river legal precedent, to ensure river water will be freely drinkable.
- Seek a Unified Ireland that speaks Irish and English, accepts everybody and lives ecologically.
- Based on Thomas MacDonagh’s vision, develop a post colonial, multi lingual, non sectarian culture of radical change. Facilitate all citizens involvement in a citizen-led politics, from the bottom up.
- Develop an open, unfolding communication process over time, using artistic & cultural communities, spaces & walking. Explore Michael D Higgins amphitheatre opening speech with East Belfast unionist communities, the two Johnnies, GAA and rugby people, suicide prevention groups, new migrants to Ireland, local farmers, climate activists, Latin American indigenous groups, human rights activists, you.
This is a section of work done with the Lisbon Cohort’s ongoing work with Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Ireland, with Regenesis Institute for Regenerative Practice. Its bobbing to the surface, is a story for another day.