Steve Coleman is an American anthropologist at Maynooth University who studies the Irish language and the Gaeltacht way of life. As part of that project, in the 1970s he got to know the legendary sean-nós singer Joe Heaney, whose music we talk about here.
Steve also talks about how the linguistic anthropology approach can influence our understanding of one of the great Irish novels of the 20th century, Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille.
What kind of musical and literary tradition emerges from a marginalised and often radicalised community, whose cultural products are valued in theory more than in practice? And what influence did American listeners have on the way that sean-nós singing was packaged and delivered by Heaney and others?
The anthropological view looks at the ways that tradition, culture and everyday ways of life influence each other. How much does language form a group’s world-view, and how free are its members to think beyond their linguistic limitations? And what happens when two languages, English and Irish, co-exist in comfortable and uncomfortable proximity over the centuries?
This interview includes some extracts of song performances by Joe Heaney and directs listeners to where they can keep listening to this unique musical tradition (see the link below also).
Further Listening and Reading
Steve Coleman in interview on Raidió na Gaeltachta (mp3 download, 38 min).
A brief article from The Irish Story website on the history of the Rathcairn Gaeltacht.