The Preservation of Irish Heritage
There are many different ways that the Irish choose to remember and portray their culture, heritage, and history. Some schools, especially those in rural areas, use Irish as their primary language and English as a secondary language. For example, our tour guide on the horse carriage at Inis Oirr said that it is customary for families to use Irish when speaking at home to neighbours, friends and other family members, but English is taught as a separate subject in primary and secondary schools.
During our tours of Derry and Belfast, another method used to preserve the memories of important historial events became apparent. The sides of houses, businesses and walls were often painted and decorated with colorful murals. Some of them were hopeful in nature, such as one we saw that exemplified many positive aspects of feminism and being a woman. Its purpose was to empower women in the surounding area and remind them of their strengths.
Many other murals, however, were solemn, exposing the darker side of Ireland’s past and present. One of the most memorable was of an Irish rebel wearing a gas mask and weilding a homemade petrol bomb in one hand. This image references the Battle of the Bogside, a tragic conflict during which British soldiers hurled hundreds of toxic gas cans into the Bogside area, killing many innocent Irish Catholics. In return, rebels threw petrol bombs back over the walls in a feeble attempt to fight back. The battle erupted because of the relentless persecution of Irish Catholics at the time. Another somber mural depicted victims of Bloody Sunday attempting to flee from the bullets of British soldiers in the special Paratroopers Unit One.
Lastly, the tourism industry plays a vital role in keeping Irish heritage and culture alive. This powerful industry also largely decides how to portray Ireland and its people, thereby deeply affecting how they are perceived by foreigners. There are several symbols of significance that are stressed by vendors in Ireland. Some are related to agriculture, such as the sheep stuffed animals found in most shops around the country. Leperchauns and shamrocks are also depicted on many souvenirs, emphasizing the importance of folklore and superstitious ideas of luck in this society. Similarly, one traditional Irish blessing is often used on decorative items: “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm on your face, and the rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.” This quote demonstrates obviously the more Christian and religious side of Irish thought, but there is also the famous blessing of luck: “Wherever you go, whatever you do, may the luck of the Irish be there with you.”
On a related note, jewelry and woolen goods tend to sell well in Ireland. The knitwear and wool products again stress how important sheep are to the economy. Jewelry is popular because it beautifully captures Celtic, Druid and Christian symbolism, of course with much mixing of the three. Keeping such a symbol on your person is a kind of reverence for the old customs and traditions, that aren’t necessarily practiced anymore. Some emblems blend Norse mythology and the Christian faith, such as the Tree of Life. Originally, it stands for Yggdrasil, the ancient ash tree between worlds, which was revered by vikings and Norsemen in the past. Yggdrasil is a vital component of Norse mythology, but the symbol within the circle can represent a continuity or cycle of life in general, making it somewhat applicable to several other religions.