Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A silence close to mystery

Bernie Long (Bearnard O Lubhaing) is the uncle of our local postmaster Jim. Jim's family have been valued friends since we first came to Ventry 32 years ago. Jim was then a boy of 12 years who played with my son. He is a third generation postmaster.

Bernie's memoir of growing up in Ventry in the 30s and 40s has now been translated from the Irish into English. It is a lovely book, wonderfully evocative of a way of life that has passed away. It begins: "In the days of my youth there was a silence close to mystery in the world quite unlike the noise of today. In everyday life would be heard only the whinnying of the horse, the cart squeaking on the untarred road, the dog barking, the soft plash of the oars as the currach steered for the slipway of a yellow autumn evening, the song of the hammer on the anvil from the forge near the slipway."

All gone now. From here on the hill we can hear from all over the parish the whine of petrol-powered strimmers, the growl of mechanical excavators, the occasional scream of jet-skis in the harbor, the rumble of traffic on the Slea Head road, the high hum of the jumbo jets making their way to America. It was in the chapter on "Sounds" that the author of Walden made his famous remark about needing "a broad margin to my life." It is in the silence of the margins that we encounter whatever it is in the world that strikes awe and wonder into our souls. Thoreau said: "If the soul attends for a moment its own infinity, then and there is silence."