The geographical imagination of Luka Bloom

There are very many geographical themes and metaphors in the songs of Luka Bloom. (1) If we take Geography as being concerned with, to paraphrase Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), the study of the Earth as our home and if we follow the common practice of identifying Space, Place, and Environment as the fundamental building blocks of geographical theory, then, Luka Bloom’s art is profoundly geographical.

Let me begin with environment or nature. About half the songs written by Luka Bloom have nature as a direct concern or a central metaphor. Antinuclear politics are evident in several songs including, ‘Rainbow Warrior’, a celebration of the Greenpeace campaign to end French nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean. There is also a surprising commentary upon the environmental damage wrought by consumerism expressed in a song of respect for a homeless man whose ‘CO2 emissions are pretty much zero […] a model urban citizen’ unlike the singer for ‘if everyone lived like me, we’d need about four planets just to keep it all going’ (‘Homeless’). Metaphors drawn from nature are ubiquitous from the contemplation of endless change in ‘Here and Now’, to the comparison of the fever of love to the rush of a rain in ‘Love is a Monsoon’. There are dozens more and certain motifs return. For a child of the Midlands, Bloom has a perhaps surprising love of the sea. ‘Moonslide’ treats the plunge of commitment as akin to swimming while ‘Salt Water’ treats swimming in the sea as perhaps an activity out of time that releases someone, at least for a time, from the claims of history. There is something pagan and pantheistic about the reverence for nature in these songs. It is ‘[o]utside the churchyard walls’ that one Sunday, the singer offers the sacrament of song, for ‘[e]very note is sacred | Every word’s a little prayer | As the blackbird’s call | Or the last leaf’s fall’ (‘Sunday’). In ‘The shape of love to come,’ the singer remarks that ‘[p]eople are leaving God’s houses | Looking for footprints in the sand’ and goes on to anticipate a love of nature celebrated in the open air of a circle rather than the cloistered space of a church.

If place is a sort of effect produced by people being in each other’s presence, then, as we know, this can produce a strong sense of rootedness although that is certainly not the only form of place that matters. Luka Bloom was born in Newbridge, Kildare. The region features in several of his songs. I just described as a broadly pagan account of the worship of nature, ‘The shape of love to come,’ yet the song also recalls Brigid with her ‘cell of oak’ and Luka Bloom has shown a particular reverence for the memory of the patron saint of Kildare. In 1995 he was involved with a music festival associated with St Brigid’s feastday, ‘singing The Curragh of Kildare to accompany the lighting of St Brigid’s flame on the Hill of Allen’ although in talking of this event he made a fairly secular pitch for tourism: ‘[t]he fire has been lit and there’s no going back […]. From now on we have to make sure that Kildare is seen as a place to come to rather than to come through.’ (2) More recently, in praise of Maura ‘Soshin’ O’Halloran (1955-82), a young Irish-American woman who trained as a Buddhist monk in Japan but who then died in a coach crash while on her way back to Ireland to set up a Zen centre, Luka Bloom offered that ‘She could have become a 20th Century Brigid.’ (3) The Brigid that he cherishes in ‘Don’t be afraid of the light that shines within you’ has more to do with nature and the seasons than with any specifically Christian witness and it is perhaps the goddess Brigid who rather presides over his prayer: ‘[o]ut of the cold, dark winter space | We come together, looking for Brigid’s grace | We dip our open hands deep into the well.’

Kildare as a place is championed in the very funny, ‘I’m a bogman,’ a song which challenges what the singer feels as the condescension of so many towards the Midlands, a place with ‘[n]othing to do for the body | Nothing to do for head.’ For Luka Bloom, though, the bog promises ‘[t]urf smell’ that ‘warms hearts | ’Til the huggin’ and kissin’ starts | Bog love surrounds you | A beautiful place to come to.’ He even called one of his albums, ‘Turf’ (1994).

There is an achingly beautiful evocation of place in another song that relates place to memory, to death, and to continuity. In ‘Sanctuary’, Luka Bloom contrasts the ‘calm’ of the Kildare fields with the ‘shock’ of time passing, as registered in the ‘loss’ of someone very dear to the singer. But he can ‘leave daffodils where you lie’ and be warmed by a memory that is as ‘[a]n easy voice making everything all right | Sanctuary.’ A sense of rootedness is produced by the association of one’s co-presence with someone very dear in that place, and then of one leaving that person’s body into the soil of that place. Yet, not all is dead and interred with their bones. In another arresting elegy, ‘The man is a alive’, he sings of being ‘brought up near the riverside | In a quiet Irish town | An eighteen-month-old baby |the night they laid my daddy down.’ This did indeed happen (4) but in the song Luka Bloom finds that his father is yet alive, ‘[a]live and breathing | The man is alive in me.’ If the son brings the father with him, so will home, place and people also travel. In ‘Tribe’, Luka Bloom asserts that ‘[h]ome’s a place inside, I take it with me | I meet my tribe wherever I may be.’ This conclusion was wrested from the strict schoolmaster of the open road and it recalls directly the central chapter in James Joyce’s Ulysses where another Bloom, Leopold, the Irish-Jewish man, is baited with the question, ‘But do you know what a nation means?’ (5) In the song, Luka Bloom is dissatisfied with those who ‘stand saluting, saying this is who I am | A piece of cloth, a field, an island’ and recalling that ‘Joyce lies in Zurich, Beckett lies in France’ asks ‘[w]hat anthem has the tune to their dance’ before posing the rhetorical question, ‘[w]ho is my tribe, is it only green | Or is it the rainbow of my dreams.’

Those dreams were, in large part, ‘Dreams in America.’ The wisdom of ‘Tribe’ comes from travel, diversity of experience, and the different lessons to be learned from the various ways of living of different people in different places. Recalling among other things perhaps, W. B. Yeats criticism of the fanatic that ‘[h]earts with one purpose alone | Through summer and winter seem | Enchanted to a stone,’ (6) an early song about leaving Ireland used the image of the ‘Treaty Stone’, to represent Ireland. (7) Although the Treaty Stone recalls the conquest of 1691, the notion of an Ireland ossified by an inglorious treaty could as easily apply to the state of politics in the Republic at the time that the song was published (1978) with the contending parties of national politics claiming to distinguish themselves from each other on the basis of their attitude towards the Treaty that created the Irish Free State in 1921. In the song, he promises soon to ‘leave the treaty | Say goodbye to the stone’ admitting only that he is ‘sometimes sad to go.’ In another early song, ‘Mother, father, son’, a son tells his parents that he has no wish to go back to their home, ‘[n]o I won’t go back there | Not this time’ for ‘[c]hasing wealth and discipline | Have been your only goals’ and he can no long live with the injunction to ‘[h]ide your feelings.’ In his mid twenties he spent time in Holland but in his early thirties, he left Ireland for the United States and Barry Moore now became Luka Bloom, after the affecting Suzanne Vega song about child abuse, ‘My name is Luka,’ and the pacifist hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Leopold Bloom.

Using the relations between how life is lived at different locations to think about proper conduct is certainly to invoke the geographical framework of space. One of the songs on his first album as Luka Bloom concerned a Chilean exile, ‘Rodrigo’, living in the United States but who is drawn home by fond memories. But he arrives to find the place turned into a charnel house by the vicious military and ‘[o]ne young Chilean soldier smiles to his friends |And douses Rodrigo’s body in gasoline.’ Nostalgia is a treacherous siren. Safe in New York, Luka Bloom took pleasure in being ‘An Irishman in Chinatown’: ‘[s]he says “I come from China” | I says “I’m from Ireland” | And “Isn’t this a fine small world.”’ A ‘fine small world’, indeed, and several songs from this period give a sense of comparisons being made. In ‘100,000’, he explains why illegal Irish workers want to stay in the United States since back home in Ireland is no place for ‘a young lad | there is only bitching and begrudging and there’s no jobs.’ In ‘Colourblind’, he sings of ‘[a] rainbow of faces’ that ‘walks alongside me, right beside me.’ The melting pot of New York promises a chance to ‘let go of all the pain I left behind,’ to ‘leave my Irishness at home,’ to ‘leave all sense of race behind | To be among you colourblind.’ But four years in the United States was enough and he sang in ‘This is your country’ of feeling a ‘tug […] | Inside your heart’ which recalls the happy days of youth ‘[b]efore the age of the cruel and the unkind’ and which ‘is your country waiting for you | Come back home.’

But a mind enriched by life in Europe, in the United States, and soon nourished also by extended stays in Australia, would not confront Ireland in quite the same way as before. Local engagements could now be nourished with foreign experience.

Rosa Parks, 1956

Thus in ‘Freedom Song’, the attempted eviction of a Dublin traveler community is resisted by one woman who stood her ground to assert her dignity and her dream that her children should be ‘loved | As Irish brothers and sisters by and by’ and in the song Nan Joyce is inspired directly by the example of Rosa Parks with her comparable fight for fair treatment on behalf of African-Americans through the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama: ‘[s]he lit the flame and the fire is still burning | Inside every heart that’s longing to be free.’ (8)

Nan Joyce and her family, 1971

In ‘Gypsy music,’ he turns the comparison around and uses the freedom and mobility of the traveler lifestyle as a new paradigm for the post-1989 Europe where ‘[a]ll the old walls are tumbling down | Bringing us freedom for moving around.’ The mobility of movement in space is a very important imaginative resource in Luka Bloom’s songs. In ‘Change’, he enjoys ‘the moment of change […] when the road is clear.’ Just as he celebrates freedom as movement, so that means he accepts the immigrant as readily as he does the emigrant. With the brilliant phrase, ‘No matter where you go, there you are,’ Luka Bloom knits together space and place. In this marvelous song, a young Muslim forced out of his country by his refusal to go to war, finds a new home in the sound of the Irish music he first hears in Paris and that he follows to Galway, ‘[f]or the music in his spirit, is his shelter and his home | Mohammed’s fir ignited with the ancient jigs and reels.’

These connections and comparisons between here and there might be thought of as a sort of spatial moral imagination. With ‘I am not at war with anyone,’ Luka Bloom insists that he doesn’t ‘need to be friends with everyone |But I’d like to live in peace with everyone | This rush to war is wrong | And so I sing this song | I am not at war with anyone.’ In ‘Listen to the hoofbeat,’ Luka Bloom sings of a Native American ‘medicine man’ who brings the tribes together, calling for ‘[s]haking off ancient pains’, ‘a wiping of tears’ and thereby ‘mending the sacred hoop.’ The relevance to Ireland was only implicit in that song but has been explicit in some of Luka Bloom’s newer songs about Irish history. He invites people to set past hurts aside for there is little to be gained in ‘[c]ounting our sins on the path to forgiveness | Hoping we’re heard by a merciful witness.’ Far better, as in the title of the song, to engage with ‘Right here, right now.’ Making peace with the past is the only way to engage fully with the present and in ‘Forgiveness’ he sings of the ‘[o]ne word’ which ‘[b]rings freedom home at last’: ‘Forgiveness … | For the ancient wounds still hurting | For the wrongs I’ve never known | For all the children left to die | Near fields where corn was grown.’ In ‘The miracle cure,’ he promises ‘[n]o losers, no winners | In forgiveness | Together we’re free.’

It may be that only someone who spent time away from Ireland could put forgiveness and the famine in the same song, only the imagination of space and not just place could recognize that much hurt is indeed for wrongs that the present generation has never truly known. This fierce adherence to nonviolence has been nurtured by the travels of Luka Bloom. It has been fed by his appreciation in the United States of the achievements of the civil rights movement there, and has also been watered by Buddhist teaching. Luka Bloom has great respect for the Dalai Lama and has not only written a song about him, ‘As I waved goodbye,’ but also has performed the song as the curtain raiser for the monk’s Australian concerts. In ‘Primavera’ Luka Bloom continues with his reflections upon the need to cultivate an ethic of nonviolence as the only salve for ‘this cold, dogmatic world | Where the righteous are on song | They talk God on every side | And all humility is gone.’ Cultivating humility through experience is part of this troubadour’s métier and while ‘Background Noise’ dramatizes doubt – ‘[w]hat the hell do I know– | Crying out for love,’ it also gives the reassurance of lofty ambition – ‘[w]e all need a new speech– | The words of love.’ There is true grandeur in the geographical imagination of Luka Bloom.

Gerry Kearns

(1)  I have given a listing of Luka Bloom songs on our Department website. I also give there links to the lyrics for most of the songs, and to live or radio performances of many of them (from Youtube).

(2)  Katie Donovan, ‘Kildare festival remembers St Brigid,’ Irish Times (3 February 1995) 2.

(3)  Quentin Fottrell, ‘Reviews, cues and predictions,’ Irish Times (3 January 2009) B16. Luka Bloom has himself written a song in her honour, ‘Soshin.’

(4)  Andrea Smith, ‘Brothers striking a chord: Christy Moore and Luka Bloom have inspired each other through lives filled with music,’ Sunday Independent (9 August 2009).

(5)  James Joyce, Ulysses (London: Bodley Head, 1986 [first edition, 1922]) ch.12, l. 1419.

(6)  W. B. Yeats, ‘Easter, 1916’ [1916], ll 41-3, in idem, The Poems (London: Everyman, 1990) 229.

(7)  The Treaty Stone is in Limerick and is reputedly the surface on which the treaty of 1691 was signed.

(8) Nan Joyce is a traveller woman who has collected songs and stories and whose life story has been published: Nan Joyce, Traveller: An autobiography (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1985). There is a discussion of this book in Paul Delaney, ‘Sean Maher and Nan Joyce,’ Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 93:372 (2004) 461-472. Rosa Parks (1913-2005) was a civil rights activist in the United States who began a boycott of local buses in Montgomery, Alabama, when, on 1 December 1955, she refused to move out of a seat in the whites-only (front) part of the bus when asked. You can watch an inspiring interview with her here. The photograph of Nan Joyce and her family is from the George Gmelch Collection, South Country Dublin Libraries, http://hdl.handle.net/10599/7594. The photograph of Rosa Parks is a United Press photo from the New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/083_afr.html#ParksR. It shows Ms Parks sitting at the front of the bus after the Supreme Court ruling of 1956 confirmed her right to do so.

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7 comments

  1. To get the ball rolling, i have picked out a geographical aspect of Luka Bloom’s a.k.a. Barry Moore’s song “I am not at war with anyone”…

    This article will focus on two specific lines of the song “I am not at war with anyone” (Moore, 2003). The two lines of lyrics although quite short manage to convey and interesting perspective.The lyrics of this song expose a simple yet powerful geographical philosophy. Eg. that a sense of place is important, but nationalism does not have to come into the equation. Moore rejects the notion that humankind should categorise itself by the geographical lottery of birthplace we all all subject to. In Moore’s mind the geography of humanism has a different spatial slant to it than the geography of nationalism. This songs portrays the geography of humanism as being three dimensional as opposed to the two dimensional geography of nationalism. The song was written to be a part of the anti Iraq war campaign in Ireland and was written on the eve of the US offensive against Iraq in March 2003.

    In this song Moore presents an interesting perspective of the geographical boundaries that he feels should bind humanity together. His humanistic geographical perspective has an additional dimension and also looks in a different direction than the traditional geographical boundaries that belong to nationalism. For him the geography that should bind humanity should run in a “heavenward” direction, perpendicular to the earth or as he puts it “We could live as one, between the sea and sun” (Moore, 2003). This is in stark contract to Nationalistic geography, which is one that strives to bind people together based on a two-dimensional geography that runs parallel to the surface of the earth and is defined by an arbitrary lines known as a border, that can be spatially expressed as a series of x,y co-ordinates. Moore’s geography is literally at a right angle to this, and interestingly has a third dimension (z, for the distance between the earth and the sun).

    In these two short lines Moore manages to spatially express his preferred geographical boundaries that he feels should be how people spatially organise who they identify with on a human level, and expresses a desire to change the small minded perspective that seeks only to serve narrow national interests. By adding the additional spatial dimension (z) he defines a new geographical border that is all inclusive to humanity.

    References

    Moore, B. (2003) I am not at war with anyone. Track 15 of Innocence, Big Sky Records.

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  2. M.Mitchell · · Reply

    I will discuss the luka bloom song “the city of Chicago” which most of us would associate with luka’s brother Christy Moore. Anybody who has heard the song will be aware of the obvious geographical topics that underpin the lyrics. Issues of emigration, colonialism, famine and the environment. The song is in essence a tribute to the spirit of Irish emigrants forced to leave their home land during the famine of 1847.
    “There are people dreaming of the hills of Donegal” portrays a sense of nostalgic retrospective and vision of the former Place and subsequent loss of place. This is without doubt a powerful line representing how Irish people might have felt during the 1847 famine. “Deadly pains of hunger, Drove a million from this land” the two lines have strong geographical connotations with forced emigration due to food shortages and colonial rule.
    There is then a reference to nature and the environment as highlighted in jerry’s previous blog with the lines “A voyage of survival, Across the stormy seas”, the lines also have poignancy when conceptualising the journey through spaces. Furthermore the environment and dangers associated with foreign environments is evident in the lines “they died upon the plains”.
    In the beginning of the 3rd verse the lyrics deal with social stratification and inequality, both powerful themes in modern social geography. This deals with the fact that although suffering can be felt by the multitude, it’s usually the people most socio-economically challenged that will face the biggest losses.
    The final part of the song with the lines “they brought their songs and music to ease their lonely hearts” describes how culture can somehow cross landscapes and transform place through reflective familiarity.
    Finally it’s clear that Luka Blooms song City Of Chicago represents many treads of geographical taught most notably place, space and the environment and changes to these.
    References
    Moore, B. (1984) City of Chicago. Released on Christy Moore’s. Ride On. Roadrunner Records

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  3. Luka Bloom’s song ‘The Fertile Rock’ is a telling rendition of the relationship of human and land that is at the heart of a geographical sensibility. (1) Giving voice to that relationship in a song of the earth shows the rock at its most fertile. It is not so much scattering the seeds on a barren land to see what will grow, but it is rather harvesting the lines, the cracks, the tufts of grass and heather, the puddles and trickling waters that appear to glide over its surface. The song itself is ostensibly referential to the Burren and where Cromwell’s associate is said to have coldly commented on its lack of resources, a place where “there isn’t tree to hang a man, water to drown a man nor soil to bury a man”, (2) a song such as this knows better. It celebrates the charms of a raw, inspiring power that can’t be bought or sold in an “[a]ncient Place/Not for sale” There is fertility but it is of a less obvious sort. It is something that may be found in more subtle and nuanced ways. Here, the waters run deeper than they appear. The rock is fertile with stories and as humans we go about the land to find them with the slightest tinge of excitement, as though finding them was never to be expected in the first place. The invocation to “[w]alk there, walk there” is basic but plainly needs to be said since in the sheer simplicity of the act it may be denied its potential. The creative artist exults in the fertility of the rock, delighting in its character, rejoicing in its nuance and its detail. There is give and take, when you harvest the fruit of the rock, you give something back and make the harvest bountiful and rich.

    It is about being open to engagement with landscape, asking that you: “[d]on’t be afraid of the light that shines within you/Let the light protect you/Let the light direct you”. (3) In this and ‘The Fertile rock’, to just cite a couple of a multitude of examples, Luka Bloom shows an innate and natural understanding of what is in essence, a geographical sensibility. It need not be a professional or scholastic sensibility, it is the history or rather the geography of the world: that connection of human and land where each defines the other in particular ways. Such ways find particular voices. The advice given in a lyric of ‘The Fertile Rock’: “Find a deep well to draw from/And give back as you can” is indeed apt for a geographer, turning as it does on the give and take, the synthesis of human and land in togetherness – a fertile relationship bursting with potential energy. The song, and ‘The Fertile Rock’ is just a singular but very salient example of this, is a means of kinesis, a form of energy that is also well captured in the deceptively simple ‘No matter where you go, there you are.’(4) In the spirit of creation, to recall a line from ‘Don’t be afraid of the light that shines within you’ – “Where our rivers run to, who can tell, who can tell.” It is not so much a question as it is a matter of course. “I am a river passing through/This is what we do”. (5) What it means to be creative in ongoing and myriad ways through the conduit of a geographical insight is the particular richness of such songs.

    References
    (1) Moore, B. (1994) ‘The Fertile Rock’, track 11 of Turf, Warner Bros. UK.
    (2) Monaghan, P. (2004) The Red-haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit, California, New World Library, p.30.
    (3) Moore, B. (2008) ‘Don’t be afraid of the light that shines within you’, track 15 of The Man is Alive, Union Station Productions.
    (4) Moore, B. (2005) ‘No Matter where you go there you are’, track 11 of Innocence, Cooking Vinyl.
    (5) Moore, B. (2007) ‘I am a river’, track 3 of Tribe, Big Sky Records.

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  4. Gerry Day · · Reply

    Geographical Perspectives of Luka Bloom

    The song “Lighthouse” shines forth as a musical composition worthy of further investigation. Lighthouses, in and of themselves, are guardians of a lonely, turbulent landscape. They brave torrents and all the onslaughts that Mother Nature can throw at them and yet still they set their white stone, flint like, haughtily to the most tempestuous storms. The lighthouse is a beacon of light in the stygian pitch, cutting through fog like a wire cutter through stilton. This last sentinel , not cursing the darkness, but illuminating it. It is a claustrophobic environment where the lighthouse keeper perhaps finds himself talking to the stone walls and patting them affectionately. This is the obvious interpretation, just as the lighthouse proudly stands phallic like above the surface of the swell.

    What is even more intriguing is the Buddhistic landscape mapped in the song. This evoked reflections of the Enlightened One sitting under the Bo Tree. The Dzogchen Tibetan Buddhist Centre in the Beara Penninsula is referred to in the denouement of the track. Perched on the edge of the cliff top the religious community performs much the same role as the light giver above, except in a spiritual context. Those who need light to penetrate their very souls find their way to landfall in Kerry. Luka invokes the words of the Buddhist meditation practice the Metta Bhavana when he incants “May you be well, may you be happy.” This practice aims to develop Loving Kindness and this concept is mentioned in the first verse of this track. It is so edifying to hear that Loving Kindness can “soften hate and fear.” “The red boat cutting through salt water “is reminiscent of my Buddhist Dharmachari Ratnabandu being ferried from his two week solitary retreat on the Blasket Islands by a local fisherman. The fisherman sat beside the Buddhist monk and they both marvelled at the kaleidoscopic setting sun, without uttering a word. Then at an appropriate moment they both climbed into the vessel and silently slipped through the evening air aimed for terra firma.

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  5. Keith Richards · · Reply

    Luka Blooms ‘An Irishman in Chinatown’ touches on a number of geographical themes. These include immigration, multiculturalism and urbanism.
    Luka is an Irishman in New York, an immigrant to the New World. He has followed a path well trodden by the Irish diaspora who went before and since. For centuries Irish men and women left these shores to start a new life, and hopes of better times. Most immigrants left for economic reasons. Luka left in 1987 during the long lasting recession of the 80’s which had seen another wave of Irish immigrants leave for the USA.
    Luka having settled in New York takes a ‘walk down Broadway’ and meets a girl ‘from China’. This mix of cultures would have been hard to envisage in Luka’s hometown of Newbridge Co. Kildare in 1987. The multicultural melting pot of New York provides the opportunity for such mixing of races and culture. It may even demand it.
    New York’s urban landscape has traditionally been a divided one. The five borroughs, geographically separate, have a cultural uniqueness. Its immigrants and inhabitants are divided by this landscape, and usually along cultural and ethnic lines too. The traditional Irish domain of Hells Kitchen, Little Italy and Chinatown all point to these divides. However Luka and his Chinese friend manage to cross this cultural and ethnic divide and make a connection. This meeting, however brief, gives hope for the integration of different peoples in an urban setting.
    Luka and his Chinese girl ‘went down to the village’ to walk ’hand in hand’. Greenwich Village as the traditional bohemian, open and progressive area of New York may provide a refuge for this otherwise frowned on affair. Unfortunately there in is the suggestion that such intimate mixing of culture and race, and the bigotry it entails is never too far away. ‘But then again’, lets hope not, afterall ‘dreams in America’ are made.

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  6. Mary Kelly · · Reply

    Dublin 4

    One of the difficulties with the interpretation of texts (song, poetry, film, literature) is the extent to which we might be able to locate its meaning – be it the author’s intended meaning (or meanings) or the range of possible meanings that audiences (themselves listening from a range of geographical vantage points) might take from it. With this in mind I explore the geographical themes documented in the song map ‘Dublin 4’.

    The song takes as its title and point of departure ‘Dublin 4’, a geographical area that incorporates the neighborhoods of Sandymount, Ballsbridge, Donnybrook, Ringsend and Irishtown but which has come to be understood in much narrower terms as a place that represents a very particular kind and level of affluence, exclusivity and outlook. The Dublin 4 mapped out here is that narrower place characterized by café society and a cosmopolitan culture as well as by jaguars MPVs and condominiums. However, despite the affluence associated with this place and its attractiveness as a residential location, the song bemoans the extent to which this place is alienated from a wider Dublin and from a wider Ireland; the two other imagined spaces and cultural spheres that make up this song map. Populated by known northsiders Glen (Ballymun) and Damien (Donaghmede), Ronan (Swords) and Bertie (Drumcondra) this wider Dublin is a more diverse cultural and political world and is a place that is connected to a wider Ireland of Irish songs and country people. Here people know and inhabit the imagined places of Christy Moore and Mundy songs and share in the communal experience of singing and being listened to. Damien sings ‘to the nation’. The Irelands imagined in the works of Christy (the ordinary and every Irishman), Mundy and Damien Dempsey are too broad to chart here but encompass well known places: Lisdoonvarna, the Irish music festival landscape and the world of the Galway girl. However, despite the connection that exist between the northside of the city and the wider (more real) Ireland the relationship between these worlds is also problematic. Despite their familiarity with Lisdoonvarna the location of the Burren in the geographical imaginations of northsideres is unclear. Moreover, the ‘country people’ clearly have their own culture, mannerisms, and clothes, ‘in their suits, their Wellington boots, And their mannerisms, cute and brute’ as well as drinking habits and a physique that seem out of place in either Dublin or Dublin 4.

    Yet all worlds collide. The ‘country people’ infiltrate Dublin 4, even if only in the confined spaces of the RDS, while affluent northsiders are attracted to the sourthside as a residential location as they head down with their acquired Jaguars, Beamers, and MPVs, as are singer songwriters ‘with their CDs’. It would appear that this singer songwriter may have himself been attracted into the exclusive world of Dublin 4 as he sips his G&T but now bemoans his geographical location and cultural isolation.

    Is this song the outcome of the crossing of social and cultural terrains? If it is, then perhaps we can also see it as evidence of the fact that the words charted here and are by no means mutually exclusive. How many of those who inhabit Dublin 4 are really country people? Perhaps Dublin 4 is not as unconnected as we might imagine.

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  7. Cian O' Callaghan · · Reply

    No matter where you go, there you are
    I went along to the Luka Bloom gig today hosted by the Geography Department, which was a really great event full of songs and storytelling in the warm communal atmosphere of a slightly reshuffled Renehan Hall. I must admit I am not too familiar with Luka’s work and I was hearing many of these songs for the first time today. But this certainly didn’t detract from my enjoyment of them, especially given the stories and discussion that framed them.
    Anyway, despite my lack of expertise in the matter, in the spirit of the discussion here I will throw my hat in the ring and have a go at discussing one of his songs. I am going to discuss “No matter where you go, there you are” (one which Gerry touches on in the original post).
    The song is very obviously geographical, charting a (forced) migratory path of Mohamed a man from Algeria to Ireland via Holland, France, and Italy. It deals with issues of identity, belonging, home and displacement, and the relationships between geographical place and emotional wellbeing. But what I find interesting about it are the different layers through which the song deals with these interweaving elements. On the surface, there is a narrative of a man who is forced to leave his home due to war, spends some years drifting in lands both geographically and culturally foreign, before he is enticed through fiddle and friendship to Galway, where he finally regains some sort of sense of place. The four verses that make up the song locate Mohamed at different geographical junctions: verse one tells of Mohamed’s life in Algeria in “a desert town” which he is forced to flee leaving family and loved ones behind, in the second verse Mohamed wanders through “Amsterdam, to Paris and to Rome” where nowhere did he “feel at home”, verse three, though located in Paris, provides the cataclysmic event linking Mohamed and Algeria to Ireland when he hears “the music of a stranger [that] helps the dreamer move along”, and the final verse locates Mohamed in Galway where “He sometimes chants in Arabic across the Galway fields”, thus finding a new home, albeit in a foreign land.
    The questions that the song asks relate to what constitutes a sense of place and a sense of belonging. The title of the song evocatively suggests how place is both essential and inconsequential to our sense of self. No matter where you go, you are still essentially you, but, as Mohamed’s story suggests, the ‘where’ is nevertheless intrinsically important to the sense of self experienced and thus the ‘you’ that this signifies. So why when France, Italy, and Holland are alienating does Mohamed find a home in Ireland? Although the song might, as Luka suggested today, “leave the question hanging”, it does offer some possibilities. I will quickly suggest two of these. Firstly, in terms of the landscapes evoked, there is an oblique comparison (as strange as that might sound) between Algeria and Ireland in the sense that verse one and four both evoke natural landscapes (fields and hills and deserts and towns), while the middle verses recount an urban experience. While the components of the landscape may differ considerably between Mohamed’s “desert town” and the “Atlantic sea” near Galway, his commune is with these naturally occurring phenomena which connect his prayers and chants across the ocean to “the land he had to flee”. Secondly, and more significantly I believe, is the evocation of music and a universal language. Hearing the Irish fiddle music is an emotional experience for Mohamed, which he connects with Algeria, and which also brings him to Ireland. Thus music provides the pivot around which his sense of self is given licence to reconnect with a place that is not his home. Music provides the relational geography through which he reconstructs his transnational sense of self and sense of belonging.

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