chapter  5
22 Pages

Rhythms and Identity in Boyne Valley Landscapes

Each Autumn I take first year third level geography students on field trips to the Boyne, County Meath, with the aim of reintroducing them to this holistic discipline emphasizing human-environmental relationships and sustainable development. The majority has studied history to 15 years old, and a minority continues with it to Leaving Certificate level. A vast majority of the students are bilingual in English and Irish, and come from areas outside Dublin (Figure 5.1). In orienting the voyagers, maps and time-slice landscape representations are juxtaposed with archaeological sites, bocage farm-scape, Valley contours and seasonal rhythms of the flood plains. Different knowledges are used: empirical data from physical geography, archaeology, history, political economy and other systematic data, but also anthropology and tourist interpretations. Without these voices including poetry, music or painting, much of this landscape could become static museum-scape (Buttimer, 1980). Combinations of Boyne sites are used, but narratives of human-environmental rhythms and power relations can be traced in the landscape. Besides empirical data, students have inherited images of the region through tale and legend. Boyne River rhythms and seasonal migrations of eel and salmon call to mind the Salmon of Knowledge legend retold to each generation. Romances of Gaelic jleadhs and feiseanna (celebrations and competitions) from Ireland's Celtic Golden Age come alive at Royal Tara (Beresford Ellis, 1994). Like Tara, the Bend of the Boyne (Bm na Boinne) and Slane are associated with St Patrick. Then come school-hood memories of 'invasions - us and them' - Vikings, Normans and English, and defeat at the Battle of the Boyne (1690) resulting in 'foreign' landlords, famine, revolution and eventually national independence with renaissance in wealthy 'Meath of the pastures.'