“IT IS the time of Samhain and I am heading south to Killarney. Every year at this time I find myself on the road to somewhere. The reason – Oireachtas na Samhna. It has been going on now for well over a century but, in reality, it has been going on for thousands of years since its original incarnation at Tara. I am part of a tribe, and the tribe is on the move.
Oireachtas na Samhna, or the Oireachtas, as we call it, is the annual gathering of the Gaels. A festival which will be attended by 10,000 people from all Gaeltachts and beyond, and which will host some of the most prestigious competitions of our traditional arts. Sean nós singing and dancing, storytelling and oration, lúibíní and many others. Champions will be crowned this weekend, immortality bestowed. Hundreds will gather in hushed halls to hail new heroes and the families and communities that produce these champions will claim title to nobility.
Samhain is there since the beginning. It was the annual feast of Tara, where hundreds of thousands gathered to celebrate the last harvest. The word literally means summer’s end, the threshold of the dark. It is the time when we are closest to the otherworld, when the barriers between us and our ancestors soften. Our immediacy fades. We briefly become aware of the eternal.
I will meet people I haven’t met since last year’s Oireachtas. No matter. The distance of time or space is made redundant by the story we share. We’ll pick up where we left off. Like a family which meets for a wedding or an anniversary, familiarity will bathe us, and our handshakes, hugs and greetings will be as joyous as they are authentic. We’ll all be conscious of the significance of our gathering and put our best side out.
Language is more than communication. It is expression too. It provides us with another way to see the world, another way to make sense of it. And it is universal. Irish speakers of all backgrounds and ethnicities – from America, Japan, Russia, Africa, Australia, Canada and other countries are heading for Killarney right now. The Oireachtas is our festival. It’s what we do. It is our Haj, our Ploughing Championships, our novena, our Oxegen.”
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