Ómós Áite – Lifeworlds: Space, Place and Irish Culture International Conference.

This extraordinary and very illuminating event – which has effectively run over four days – finished with a Lifeworlds / Corp_Real roundtable discussion yesterday afternoon. (Corp_Real is a partner symposium to Lifeworlds, and is run in association with Galway Dance Days 2014, which is curated by Dr Ríonach Ní Néill, Galway Dancer in Residence, 2010 – 2014). It was somehow the perfect indicative event, moving across an unbelievably packed spectrum of topics and registers of concern in the space of little over an hour. One issue it raised very clearly was the increasing complexity and ambiguity of the already problematic relationships between the State, legislature, and industry, the cultural and pedagogic role of a third level educational institution like NUI, Galway, and the fluctuating networked meshes of citizen individuals who actively co-produce both culture and education. To map those complexities and ambiguities would require a book’s worth of thinking  in itself. Not least because the Ireland in which Justice Minister Alan Shatter could continue to resist the setting up of a new Garda oversight body at last week’s Cabinet meeting (even after the Garda Commissioner’s resignation and the emergence of the Garda-taping scandal), and where a Judge calls a politician revealing cronyism and corruption ‘a bitch’ for doing so, is clearly one struggling to deal with the full grubby panoply of contemporary civil evils – greed, an overweening and unjustifiable sense of entitlement among the elite, contempt for the process of law, and so much else besides. Not that this is any different, in essence, from the UK. One thing that was very clear, however, was that Ómós Áite (the Space/Place Research Network run by Nessa Cronin and Tim Collins) from within the Centre for Irish Studies, is symbolically very well-placed in a small, cramped suburban house right on the edge of the campus at NUI, Galway.

I’ve attended twenty-one papers or presentations, and talked with both a host of new acquaintances and with old friends. Among all these conversationalists have been Tom Ward, who is actively involved in the politics of cutting his own turf in Kilsallagh bog and more generally, Pauline O’Connell, Cathy Fitzgerald, Deirdre O’Mahony, Ailbhe Murphy, and many of Tim Collins and Nessa Cronin’s academic and creative colleagues associated with NGI, Galway. Also various members of the X-PO Mapping Group, Killinaboy, County Clare; Mná Fiontracha, Árainn, Contae na Gaillimhe; and Tom Varley of Slógadh Eachtaí/Aughty Gathering, Counties Clare and Galway, (not Mike O’Doherty as I first wrote, my apologies to them both) the last of whom spoke eloquently about their application of the ideas of Paulo Freire. And all this since after lunch on Thursday!

So I’m not even going to begin to try and summarize what I’ve learned to date. What is helpful to me, however, is that not only was my paper well-received on Saturday, but informal exchanges with Deirdre Ní Chonghaile – who has become my touchstone for the existence of a polyverse of lifeworlds here – and others suggests that the thinking it was starting to articulate “has legs”.

It’s already clear that what I proposed in relation to the multiple lifeworlds of Ffion Jones – I suggested a minimum of four: that of an upland tenent farmer, that of a rural working mother; that of a performance artist, and that of an academic scholar – has resonances here. (The hecklers who humorously suggested that this was just ‘being a woman’, had a point but may have missed mine). This is to say I am meeting many people here who, like Ffion, are clearly aware of living in a polyverse – a constellation of lifeworlds in which each is both relatively self-contained and over-lapping and mutually interdependent. Interestingly, just as I described her lifeworld as a farmer as ‘marginal’ in a number of senses so, in altogether different registers, those of many of my new acquaintances. Economically they too are juggling creative and academic work in the context of multiple allegiances and responsibilities, all in circumstances that are often based on short-term contracts or similar, require a hand-to-mouth lifestyle, and in the long term look barely viable.

However, as with Ffion and against these notions of ‘marginality’, here it’s necessary to place a rich Irish-language context that includes traditional music and dance that honours and validates valued lifeworlds and taskscapes. Again, as with Ffion, it’s necessary to ask to what extent these cultural traditions will enable people here to manage and sustain their particular polyverse in the face of increasing reduction of all possibilities to those of economic survival, but it certainly raises the important issue of language and rural cultural traditions as factors in lifeworld translation.