Home now from Ireland, with this marvellous extract from Flann O Brien’s “At Swim-Two-Birds” that somehow captures my experience of living a week in Ballyvaughn listening to the rush of na Gaeilige spoken from the mouths of scholars and poets and activists and to the floating tunes on the air of the night as I walked home from O Loclainn’s pub with the taste of Green Spot on my lips and my skin kissed by the breeze off the sea.
Of the musics you have ever got, asked Conan, which have you found the sweetest ?
I will relate, said Finn. When the se
ven companies of my warriors are gathered together on the one plain and the truant cleancold loudvoiced wind goes through them, too sweet to me is that. Echoblow of a gobletbase against the tables of the palace, sweet to me is that. I like gullcries and the twittering together of fine cranes. I like the surfroar at Tralee, the songs of the three sons of Meadhra and the whistle of Mac Lughaidh. These also please me, manshouts at a parting, cuckoocall in May. 1 incline to like pig grunting in Magh Eithne, the bellowing of the stag of Ceara, the whinging of fauns in Derrynish. The low warble of waterowls in Loch Barra also, sweeter than life that. I am fond of wingbeating in dark belfries, cowcries in pregnancy, troutspurt in a laketop. Also the whining of small otters in nettlebeds at evening, the croaking of smalljays behind a wall, these are heartpleasing. I am friend to the pilibeen, the red necked chough, the parsnip landrail, the pilibeen mona, the bottletailed tit, the common marshcoot, the speckletoed guillemot, the pilibeen sleibhe, the Mohar gannet, the peregrine ploughgull, the long eared bushowl, the Wicklow smallfowl, the bevil beaked chough, the hooded tit, the pilibeen uisce, the common corby, the fishtailed mudpiper, the cruiskeen lawn, the carrion seacock, the green ridded parakeet, the brown bogmartin, the maritime wren, the dovetailed wheatcrake, the beaded daw, the Galway hillbantam and the pilibeen cathrach. A satisfying ululation is the contending of a river with the sea. Good to hear is the chirping of little red breasted men in bare winter and distant hounds giving tongue in the secrecy of fog. The lamenting of a wounded otter in a black hole, sweeter than harpstrings that. There is no torture so narrow as to be bound and beset in a dark cavern without food or music, without the bestowing of gold on bards. To be chained by night in a dark pit without company of chessmen-evil destiny! Soothing to my ear is the shout of a hidden blackbird, the squeal of a troubled mare, the complaining of wildhogs caught in snow.
Relate further for us, said Conan.
It is true that I will not, said Finn.
With that he rose to a full treehigh standing, the sable catguts which held his bogcloth drawers to the hems of his jacket of pleated fustian clanging together in melodious discourse. Too great was he for standing. The neck to him was as the bole of a great oak, knotted and seized together with musclehumps and carbuncles of tangled sinew, the better for good feasting and contending with the bards. The chest to him was wider than the poles of a good chariot, coming now out, now in, and pastured from chin to navel with meadows of black manhair and meated with layers of fine manmeat the better to hide his bones and fashion the semblance of his twin bubs. The arms to him were like the necks of beasts, ballswollen with their bunchedup brawnstrings and bloodveins, the better for harping and hunting and contending with the bards. Each thigh to him was to the thickness of a horse’s belly, narrowing to a greenveined calf to the thickness of a foal. Three fifties of fosterlings could engage with handball against the wideness of his backside, which was wide enough to halt the march of warriors through a mountainpass.
I am a bark for buffeting, said Finn, I am a hound for thornypaws. I am a doe for swiftness. I am a tree for windsiege. I am a windmill. I am a hole in a wall.