Manchán Magan, Thirty-Two Words for Field: Lost Words of the Irish Landscape, ★ ★ ★ ★
It’s time for another #SpellbookSaturday, and one that feels timely, given the greenwashing seen around St. Patrick’s Day. As a celebration of the spread of Christianity and the (often violent) eradication of pagan beliefs (ie, the “snakes” driven out by St. Patrick), this “holiday” has never really appealed to me, but as an American with some Irish ancestry I have occasionally found myself on the periphery of the shenanigans that constitute St. Patrick’s Day in the US—pubs serving green beer; folks wearing “Kiss me, I’m Irish” shirts; and so on. Personally, I’m of the opinion that if I never hear another Dropkick Murphy’s song again it will be too soon, and I have never felt particularly connected to the “Americanization” of this branch in my family tree.
Manchán Magan’s Thirty-Two Words for Field: Lost Words of the Irish Landscape came to me then as a subtle gift, exploring the subtleties of the Irish language and the significance of language in both shaping and reflecting our understanding of the world.
The richness of a language closely tied to the natural landscape offered our ancestors a more magical way of seeing the world. Before we cast old words aside, let us consider the sublime beauty and profound oddness of the ancient tongue that has been spoken on this island for almost 3,000 years. In Thirty-Two Words for Field, Manchán Magan meditates on these words – and the nuances of a way of life that is disappearing with them.(source)
Much has been written about the cultural losses surrounding both the spread of Christianity and English colonization, but in Magan’s hands this is something new and captivating, a comprehensive linguistic journey that invites readers to think about our individual and ancestral relationships with the land. Even without a knowledge of basic Gaelic pronunciations I found the text to be equal parts clear and lyrical, and I found myself meditating on passages about the otherworld and the magic of the landscape long after I had finished reading. Deeply engaging and thoughtful, I recommend this book to all with an interest in the magic of language and “re-wilding” our relationship with the land.
P.S. I discovered Manchán Magan through a beloved podcast, Blúiríní Béaloidis. Listen below for a sampling of his work…