A gentle soaking in Celtic mist

Tuesday Book: THE OXFORD BOOK OF IRELAND EDITED BY PATRICIA CRAIG, OUP, pounds 18.95

IN IRELAND, people discuss rain as others savour wine. They dwell on the subtle differences in its quality, the drama of its manifestations and, of course, the likelihood of its occurrence. Its persistence can make some think, as Heinrich Boll once noted, that Ireland is full of holes and we'll all be drowned.

But it is essential to character, and some of us simply love it. Rain is a way of connecting with nature. Only a dip in the sea can compete as a means for blurring the boundaries between self and the elements. I never walk down a grim London street during a miserable downpour without recalling the delight of being gently soaked in Celtic mist.

As the travel writer William Bulfin said at the turn of the century, Irish rain "is a kind of damp poem. It is humid fragrance, and it has a way of stealing into your life which disarms anger. It is soft, apologetic kind of rain, as a rule; and even in its wildest moods, it gives you the impression that it is treating you as well as it can under the circumstances."

Another enthusiast, Robert Lloyd Praeger, described the west coast as having "an atmosphere that recalls blue eyes with tears in them: the only conditions under which it can look simply unattractive is in dry weather ... better than that, honest rain sweeping in from the Atlantic, and the sea shouting on the rocks".

It is just such gems that make Patricia Craig's collection of writings about Ireland exciting and provocative rather than merely a recapitulation of oft-repeated perspectives. She even manages a quotation exploring how rain was the undoing of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. Many survived the burnings of the civil war, but few could afford to mend the roof.

Once you have got to grips with the rain issue, you have to tackle other senses titillated by Irish experience. Smell, for example. John Betjeman saluted the "turf-scented air".

And sound. Lord Dunsany suggested that the manager of any theatre wishing to evoke an Irish atmosphere should "have the sound of the curlew calling occasionally in the distance and send into the auditorium a whiff from a smouldering sod of Irish turf".

Then there is colour: the infinite variety of greens captured in so many photographs but hinted at only in passing here. Nor is taste - the flavour of food and drink - much tackled. Nevertheless, it is a treat to see this book capture the elemental feel of Ireland that lies behind Seamus Heaney's verse: "And on Iona Colmcille sought ease/By wearing Irish mould next to his feet".

There is much else, besides, to amuse. Some sections are predictable, though interesting, on Dublin, emigration, famine, the West, rebellion, emblems of nationalism, and the disaster that struck Northern Ireland for the last quarter of the 20th century. I would have preferred less from books, more from the wealth of Irish journalism as well as song. There is, however, space for quirky humour - such as Percy French's parody of Queen Victoria making an after-dinner speech in Ireland, as if she were a working-class Dubliner. There are wonderful snippets from VS Pritchett's observations in Midnight Oil, not least of taking tea with WB Yeats as the distracted poet struggles for somewhere to cast the old Lapsang leaves.

Healthy and frequent doses of irreverence from Flann O'Brien and others prevent this collection from becoming precious. My favourites are O'Brien's lampooning of Irish politicians and their obsessive lip-service to Gaelic culture. There are also frequent allusions to tensions between the Irish bawdiness that can be found in Gaelic but, in Anglicised Ireland, is so often suppressed by Catholic chastity and Protestant puritanism.

As Brian Moore wrote, the Irish are "a nation of masturbators under priestly instruction". Sections translated from The Midnight Court, written in Gaelic in the 18th century, are thoroughly modern in their descriptions of sex.

The confusion of what it means to be Irish is ever present, starting with Louis MacNeice's observation that "It gives us a hold on the sentimental English/As members of a world that never was,/Baptised with fairy water".

Then there is Roy Foster's excellent description of Yeats's cultural duality, which pulled him back and forth between his Irish and English identities, caught "between provincial, rooted Ireland and the metropolitan temptations of England".

Patricia Craig is Belfast-born and so has full access to that frequently neglected powerhouse of Irish culture - Ulster, to which she devotes a chapter.

If there is a weakness, it is that an English-speaking reader can only glimpse (thanks to translators) through a barely-opened door at the riches that lie beyond, in the Irish language.

Jack O'Sullivan

Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003