I recently finished listening to the audio of The Spirit of Ireland by Alan Cooke. I had listened (and read) Naked in New York where the author explores his adventures and experiences in New York, that I’ve reviewed in the past and again recommend. I’ve also watched his movie Home that I feel is a good companion piece of Naked and has the advantage of documenting Cooke’s personal journey whilst incorporating the views of New Yorkers old and young, famous and unknown, native and immigrants. He well deserves the Emmy for his writing in the film and I am at a loss to account for the lack of distribution for it.
The author, an Irish actor, now turned writer, voice coach, and creator of audio and video sketches, returned to Ireland after his visit to the US. The Spirit of Ireland is his memoir of the process of rediscovering his country, his nation, his culture, and himself. In some ways it picks up from where Naked left, but in my opinion it goes further and deeper than the previous book.
Mr Cooke combines purely autobiographical episodes (I find his remembrances of childhood scenes particularly touching) with passages where he sets his spiritual/real travels. In his trips to places known (his parents’ house, villages they used to visit when he was a child) he notes the changes experienced, the contrast between his expectations, built through years of dreaming about “home” from afar, and the sometimes stark reality. He also observes the changes inside, and how he sees and feels differently now.
In his travels to new places, places that call to him, he feels at times a communion with the elements, with the spirit and soul of Ireland that he embraces fully.
His descriptions of quasi-mythical animals (the horse that visits his house and seems to symbolise the untamed Celtic s spirit of the island), of primeval landscapes (that reflect the magical and ancestral power of the land), of people and faces will touch you, even if you, like me, have not a drop of Irish blood running through your veins. The author seems to tap into something that is at the same time profoundly personal but also universal, and through his voice he takes us to a place that is wondrous, exhilarating, frightening and raw. A place where we have to confront ourselves, and if we survive, we’ll finally be Home. I wonder if this is what Carl Jung was talking about when he referred to the Collective Unconscious.
The collective unconscious – so far as we can say anything about it at all – appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents. In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious… We can therefore study the collective unconscious in two ways, either in mythology or in the analysis of the individual. (From The Structure of the Psyche, CW 8, par. 325.)
Having visited a tiny bit of West Ireland a few months ago I recognised some of the descriptions (loved the Isles of Aran and adored CD 4). I could also identify with some of the experiences (I remember my thoughts during my First Communion too). I gladly accompanied him on his visits and would love to meet the many characters he comes across, that always have stories to tell and help create a quilt of experiences and voices to illustrate the nature of the place and its people. The author, a bard and raconteur, is narrator, protagonist, interpreter, and performer. He has said in interviews that above all he is a performer and he can connect and communicate with people live in ways he feels is not possible by writing on the page. I feel he is too modest, although I must admit that the combination of the words with his voice and reading makes it irresistible. (And I take the opportunity to recommend some of his other audios too [A Christmas Carol, De Profundis, Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales…]. You might not want to listen to anybody else’s work after that but…).
The memoir genre has become oversubscribed. Sometimes it feels as if everybody wants to write one or has written one. Don’t worry, though. This is not your standard memoir. Although the author shares very personal and even intimate experiences (the image of his mother’s reaction when she heard of the death of her own mother, the author’s grandmother, run over by a lorry will stay with me forever), it never becomes an exercise in self-indulgence. He is the consciousness of that spirit, and you won’t get any gossip or know the everyday details of life in the Burren. I leave you a link to an interesting article posted at BerkeleyUniversity on memoirs. According to Christopher Booker’s seven basic plots, The Spirit of Ireland probably falls within the plots of ‘quest’ (Odyssey being a very apt word), ‘voyage and return’ and ‘rebirth’. And if we look at William Grimes’s article: ‘We All Have A Life. Must We All Write About It?’ it would probably fall somewhere between ‘the spiritual-journey memoir’ and ‘the spirit of place memoir’. It is all of that and more. If you want to go to places you haven’t been, get in touch with your own spirituality, and connect with collective myths, whilst listening to a beautiful and engrossing voice, I recommend you the audio of The Spirit of Ireland.
Mr Cooke sells all his work through his own website, here:
There you will also find links to his Facebook pages (where you can follow his posts, including samples of new work, photographs, etc.), his e-mail address if you want to contact him, and you can also access updates on his projects.
Thank you for reading and as if you’ve enjoyed it, remember to like, comment, share and of course CLICK!
This is the link to the article on memoirs:
- The Spirit of Ireland – An Odyssey Home – Audio Book Launch and live performance with Alan Cooke (celticmusicfan.com)
- Psychology in Writing: The Collective Unconscious – Introduction (wtjowett.wordpress.com)