And now the story of how we got there...
The first documentary excerpt we watched was form “Men of Ventry.” These farmers reflected on their current farming practices, especially in relation to how they used to be. Some of the topics that preoccupied them the most were the introduction of automatic milking machines, ranging from semi-automated to fully automated, and the usage of “silage,” or feeding cows per-harvested grass rather than letting them graze. Hearing these stories made me realize how much change had occurred in the lifespan of these men, and how different people adapt to different new technologies.
The second excerpt was from “Bibeanna,” and was on the subject of superstitions. The elderly women were interviewed on the various ghost stories and myths they had heard of or experienced. This gave a lot of insight on the types of beliefs that can be found in these populations. Many of these tales linked back to various parts of Irish folklore, such as stories of banshees and fairies, and all were very interesting. This segment reminded me of the magical realism movement in art and literature. Just as the authors of this movement felt that in order to fully capture the human view of reality, we must accept what we rationally consider to be 'unreal,' the Bibeanna accepted superstitions as part of their worldview. As a lover of folklore, this segment was particularly fascinating to me. The way tales and experiences are passed down through generations is very interesting, as are the different superstitions in each culture, and this documentary explored these aspects of life very thoroughly.
The third expert, also from “Bibeanna” touched on arranged marriages, and what is was like to grow up in a time when arranged marriages were an accepted norm, as well as what it was like to live within an arranged marriage all your life. Most of these women spoke very favorably of their arranged marriages, which was very interesting. As much as I can see why the idea is so strange to people who haven't been brought up with it, this documentary shed some light on how and why it was so accepted and viewed as beneficial by the people of Dingle, who had been brought up with it.
Certain parts of the Bibeanna documentary can be found online, thanks to TG4, the station which originally aired them. Below is the segment called “Ghosts,” which is the one we watched that touched on superstitions. The segments "Religion" and "School" are also both available.
While watching the documentaries was very educational, getting to have question-and-answer time with Brenda, the Bibeanna, and the men of Ventry was simply amazing. They were very friendly and kind, and very interested in what sorts of questions we had for them.
The first question asked was what their favorite technological advance was, which raised a few laughs. The first, enthusiastic reply was the washing machine, followed by electricity, running water, and the automatic milking machine. All of these were fondly remembered as advances the made life exponentially easier on farms. This really made me reconsider how much I take for granted, and how something that we might consider a given in our lives was once (and still is) a revolutionary change.
After a few beautiful songs by the Bibeanna, they began asking our class if we had any songs to sing. Sheila (second from the left in this photo), who is fluent in French as well as English and Gaelic suggested that the two of us sing a duet of "A La Claire Fontaine.” I was incredibly nervous, but singing with her was a very positive experience. We each knew a slightly different version of the tune, but the whole song came together well, and I can say I got a firsthand look at this singing tradition. While we did not sing one of the Gaelic songs, it was interesting to partake in this tradition in my own way. The idea of singing for fellow guests was totally new to me, but by the end of the tea, I had a much better grasp on why it was done. Hearing other people sing the songs of their people and singing a song of my own with Sheila certainly made me feel as though the group had created a sort of emotional bond. The singing was followed by some humorous stories, mostly told by the men. While several had punchlines that referred back to things we didn't understand, it was fun to hear them all the same, and the whole atmosphere was very bright and happy thanks to all these stories.
This entire afternoon was a surreal experience, in the best of ways. The Bibeanna were so kind, and their willingness to spend this time talking to us was wonderful, and Judy and Brenda did a marvelous job orchestrating this get-together, and our whole class is very grateful for all they did for us. Getting to hear so many new stories and outlooks on life from people who have had experiences that are so amazing and so different from mine was great, and definitely gave me a new point of view on technology, superstitions, and how our world is always changing.