Of mercy & forgiveness

Perusing, once again, what remains of the family archive (still not satisfactorily filed, years after the demise of my parents), with a particular view across Gaelic Cape Breton, and the Hebridean isles from which those ancestors came — who did not think themselves Scottish at all, but only “Scotch” in some North American context — I became enwrapped in a long sentence, which threatened to sprout more thistles here and there, among the innumerable subsidiary clauses. … Aye, thistles, man. … Too, I became a little more aware of what might be described as a genetic disorder, shared generally by the “Celtic” peoples, from Shetlands and Orkneys to Galicia.

“Celtic” is of course a creation of the modern academic mind, which keeps tidier files than I do. There never was, in fact, such a race or people. They were just a bunch of mongrels driven west, ever west, until they came against The Ocean — while the more settling tribes established their European lebensraum.

Also, perhaps, they flit north, and east, but let us put those refugees out of sight and mind, as most were made extinct. For I refer expressly to “the people of the fiddle,” who, when delivered to the New World (invariably by some persecution), instinctively found the least arable land, and scattered up anything that resembled mountains. We find them still today not only in “the highlands” of Cape Breton, but right down the Appalachian cordillera, where they dug in as “hillbillies” and such. They remain the ethnic backbone of our English-speaking armies, ever eager to sign up.

It is a proud ancestry. I have previously written in praise of the Zomians — the peoples of that alpine orogeny that spreads from Afghoon across the roof of Asia. They are much the same type, it seems to me, driven to the least habitable realms by the expansion of this “civilization” thing, which never appealed to them. (It besets them on both sides, in the case of Asia, which began as two reasonably flat continents, impacting together.) They are people unaccustomed to following orders, or even hearing them, above the din of battle; the consternation of all the neatly drilled; people whose own immigration policy is, by tradition, to kill all intruders. (Yes, my dear reader, Trump is one of us.) They have many virtues, to be sure; and the vices corresponding.

There is a special section in Hell — “The Isles” it is probably called — consisting entirely of my Celtic or Gaelic or Dalriadic or even Pictish ancestors, to say nothing of the Northmen, from the days when they were sailing and marching about the farthest reaches of Europe, putting each other in their respective glens. Perhaps it was their historical experience that made them such a touchy lot. Perhaps it was their freedom from literacy, among other chains that shackle the lowland dwellers. The literates record their histories, then forget them. The illiterates never forgive nor forget.

Here and there they spilt into lowlands themselves (as green Ireland in the first Christian centuries), and became civilized in spite of themselves, sending their missionaries into still-pagan Europe for the redemption of all humble peasant souls. Egypt, then Ireland, were the lights that came on, with the little lights that flickered in the two Romes (Rome and Constantinople), wiring gradually together along all the travelled roads. But that is another story.

This morning I write after a dream in which I committed a rather messy murder — though not without cause, I insist, gentle reader — write, of those soi-disant “Celts,” whose grievances were nursed over centuries, millennia. But now they have all been taught to read and write, and to accept their pogey, so that they swim in the waters of Lethe, with only the occasional crocodile irruption of the ancient foiled pride and cussedness.

Gaelic (or anything Goidelic or Brythonic) is lost, and for a very simple reason. Once one sees it written down, one loses heart. One doubts that anyone could ever have spoken it aloud. Every word of this “mouth music” looks plainly unpronounceable; and proves unpronounceable to those unprepared from birth to speak it, not only from the centre of the mouth, like an Englishman, but from both sides, and every other part of the anatomy. (Compare: desert Arabic.)

Reading a few passages from yellowing letters, and recalling a few more from the lips of the deceased, I fix on this unforgiving quality. And more positively, upon the joy in it, deliciously conveyed in so many Gaelic phrases, sadly lost upon our lazy modern ears.

“The Isles of the Unblest.” … I think I visited them in my dream, and found them peopled by ancestral sprites, fighting through eternity among themselves, for a little more of the clan territory that must soon be surrendered again. Each disfigured by the accumulation of his hideous injuries. Left by the Devil, to rule themselves, since he isn’t masculine enough to tame them. I imagine it the happiest region in Hell; as the field of a perfect human liberty, exulting in perpetual gore.