Photo by Stephen Dedalus
Whilst on holiday in Dublin a couple of years ago I discovered the National Library of Ireland. It’s a grand old building that houses exhibitions on Irish authors and literature. My idea of heaven.
When I was there they were hosting productions of short Yeats plays. In the one I saw a young Irish republican makes his escape after the Easter Rising by hiking under cover of darkness. Whilst walking he meets two masked figures, the ghosts of a strange man and young girl who are locked in a weird purgatory where they can see but not touch each other. They beg the young man to release them from their torment by forgiving them for their crime of falling in love, but he finds he cannot.
For some strange and stupid reason I got my ancient Celtic love triangles mixed up and, with the passing of time, became convinced the ghosts were those of the legendary Tristan and Isolde, an Irish princess who had an affair with her husband King Mark’s adored nephew.
It’s funny how your head plays tricks with you and replaces gaps in your knowledge with the nearest thing to hand. I was totally wrong, they were actually the ghosts of Diarmuid MacMurrough and Dervorgilla, historical figures in 12th Century Irish history. Diarmuid, chieftain of one of the Irish tribes, stole Dervorgilla from another prince. When the offended prince threatened to retaliate, Diarmuid called upon the assistance of the Normans. This turn of events worried the English and Henry II sent in colonizing forces, thus beginning 800 years of oppression. Which means the play makes far more sense.
When racking my brains and the internet years later to try and find out what play it was I saw I inevitably hit a brick wall. Googling ‘Yeats + Tristan + Isolde’ and similar proved fruitless because no such thing existed. But this is the beauty of the internet – I stumbled across a Yeats Discussion Group, joined, emailed them my query and got a full explanation the very same day: the play was The Dreaming of The Bones and my memory’s shot.
This was a real revelation to me – I could source something that I had scant and just plain wrong information on by finding experts within something as obscure as a Yeats Discussion Group. When I wondered aloud people looked at me as if I’d only just seen a mobile phone and went, ‘yeah, so?’ I feel like Rip Van Winkle waking up. At 31 years old, I’ve just discovered how bloody brilliant the internet can be, undoubtedly years after everyone else.
I still get emails from the group and, despite having an answer to my Yeats question, can’t bring myself to leave. The subject headings are things like “The Torso of Apollo”, ‘as the leaves of autumn wither and fall…’, ‘That knowledge increases unreality…’ and my favourite so far: ‘Like yourself, Annette, I also am haunted by lines and images of The Statues, “l’ve lips pressed against a plummet measured face”’. I’ve the most beautiful spam in the world clogging up my Inbox.
But where I see the light, others inevitably stumble in the dark. I met a maker of quality rocking horses last Saturday who said the internet had killed his business by opening up the market. Try as people present did, there was no convincing him that he could somehow convey his superior craftsmanship to online customers, who would all buy the cheapest, crap rocking horse they found on Ebay. Which is as insulting to online consumers as it is harmful to his business.
It seemed so sad that someone who should have thrived in a new marketplace did the opposite because he just wasn’t ready for the world of possibilities the internet opened up. Go on! Go forth into the wilderness, on your handcrafted wooden steed, and conquer. And if you come across a young Irish republican on the run, offer him a lift.