Driving back from a harvest festival this evening, RTE Radio had a reminiscence programme on traditional music from the 1950s. An anecdote was told of the recording team arriving late at a pub and the landlord going down to the Garda barracks to ask to be allowed to open later than the permitted 10 pm; the sergeant said it would not be a problem and the music continued until 5.30 am.
Even the thought of a ceili lasting all night seemed exhausting. The word itself brought memories of a woman in the North. The woman lived a very austere life in a little coastal village. Widowed early, she had lived on very limited means, and could have told you where each thing in the room had been bought, and how much she had paid. The little cottage was always immaculate and the tea was always in china cups.
Sometimes the conversation became repetitive, she only ventured out when necessary and the television was a source for information, not entertainment. Perhaps she was conscious that there was never much to say that had not been said before, for one day she declared, “I don’t ceili”.
I was taken aback at the comment. My understanding of ‘ceili’ was that it was a dance, in the tradition of that described on the radio programme. In my mind it was associated with lively music, glasses of stout and much tobacco. This was a lady who was ‘good living’, (in the Ulster Protestant sense of that term!). I could not imagine anything more unlikely than this wee woman being in a smoke-filled room where the band were beating out a raucous version of ‘Finnegan’s Wake‘.
It seemed such an odd comment, that I went away and looked up the word. ‘Ceili’ in its original sense meant to visit someone, to gather in a house; it did not originally have all the connotations with which I had associated it.
The woman was saying that she didn’t call with her neighbours, she didn’t spend evenings in story-telling and conversation.
How many more people have become like her? Ireland was once a great country for the ‘craic’. In parts of the North your whole quality of life could be summed up in response to the question, ‘How’s the craic?’
Now what do we do? We have things like Facebook. What on earth is happening to us? I have a telephone account that gives me free calls to the whole of the island of Ireland. I have a Skype phone that will connect me to anywhere in the world for a matter of cents. Whatever happened to being with people, sitting at the fireside and talking? What happened to sharing a glass and laughter? What happened to noise and raucousness and staying out rather too late?
Perhaps the wee woman is not alone, perhaps we have become a nation that will no longer ceili.