Irish revolutionary Pádraig Pearse said, “Tír gan Teanga, Tír gan Anam.” In English, “A country without a language is a country without a soul.” Irish, the native tongue of Ireland, continues in the present to be poignantly expressed in the mythology, poetry and language of the land.

18th and 19th century Irish immigrants to Ontario carried their aspirations and dreams with them, and cultural memory informed through millennia of Indigenous lived experience on the land. This experience profoundly affected their relationship to place, sense of belonging, and in some instances, identification with other colonized societies. Thought you’d like to see some of the images that illustrate this idea for me, and figure in the second chapter of my new project, “Field”.

Above: Benbulben, County Sligo, Jane Fairburn
I shot this image from the roadside — it captures only a sliver of the mystical significance of one of Ireland’s great mountains. Benbulben figures prominently in Irish mythology and the poetry and prose of W. B. Yeats.

Above: “Lady Lavery as Kathleen Ni Houlihan”, John Lavery, National Museum of Ireland
So rooted is the land in the concept of Irish identity that the mythical Kathleen ni Houlihan was set against the Killarney lakes and fields on the first Free State banknotes.

Above: “Gorta”, Lillian Lucy Davidson, “Coming Home: Art & The Great Hunger”
The Great Famine in Ireland (An Gorta Mór), from 1845 to 1852, is now viewed as the most significant human tragedy of the nineteenth century. More than 1 million Irish people died, many of them buried in mass graves on Irish soil. Dispossessed from their land, even greater numbers sought refuge in America and the British colonies, including Canada. Their experiences contributed to a strong sense of cultural memory among their descendants, and how they view the land in their adopted countries.

Above: “A Connemara Village”, Paul Henry, National Gallery of Ireland
This lovely painting captures the power of the landscape of “The West” of Ireland (Connacht). Though no area of the country was spared the devastating consequences of the Great Famine, the West is one of the great portals through which many nineteenth century Irish travelled to Ontario.

Above: Famine Wall, Termon House, County Donegal, Jane Fairburn
During the Great Famine, the dispossessed and starving were paid a pittance to build stone protective walls around English plantation houses. This is a detail of a famine wall I shot at Termon House, County Donegal.

Above: “Nan Mhicil Liam”, Charles Vincent Lamb, National Gallery of Ireland
I explore the interface and connections between Irish and Indigenous cultures in “Field”.

Above: “Launching the Currach”, Paul Henry, National Gallery of Ireland
The sea and the shore are still an integral part of life in The West. This image captures men of the island of Achill, County Mayo. Groups of people in Achill maintained a nomadic lifestyle into the twentieth century, and were wary of having their image reproduced in any format.

Above: Gathering seaweed on the beach, County Donegal, Lisa Martin
Seaweed has traditionally been used as a source of fertilizer, medicine and even food in Ireland — it also is lovely in a bath!

Above: “Forest Pool, two figures in white, male and female”, Countess Markievicz, National Museum of Ireland
The Countess Markievicz was a central figure in the Irish Civil War and cultural revival. She sketched this image while imprisoned after the Easter Rising in 1916.

Above: “The Singing Horseman”, Jack B. Yeats, National Gallery of Ireland
The horse remains a powerful symbol of connection to the land for the Irish, second only to the bull.

Above: Donegal beach, with Norman Keep in distance, Jane Fairburn
Ireland’s cultural calling card is its Celtic past, but this, of course, is only part of the story. Ireland, like all of Europe, is the product of successive invasions, including from the Normans and the Vikings. Each of these invasions left its mark on the nature and character of Ireland, and its people.

Be sure to give my Facebook page, Chronicles and Relics, a Like! That way you can follow the progression of the project and check out more videos and photos of my Irish adventure!

All images: National Museum of Ireland, as noted, Jane Fairburn © and Lisa Martin ©.

A Word about Culture and Belonging
Did you know that access to culture in Ireland is free? Irish national or not, any person is entitled to free access to all museums in Ireland, and the staff bends over backwards to make your experience accessible and enjoyable. The museums are truly for the people — such an enlightened way to think about the promotion of cultural belonging and identity!


Longing for the Land: Greenwood. Rock. River. Field.

by JaneFairburn on August 12, 2018

I had the pleasure of visiting David and Louise Bazett-Jones in May of 2018. They run a small organic farm in Prince Edward County, and appear in this video with Natalia Shields, the photographer for Longing for the Land. We covered many topics relating to the project, including the Bazett-Jones’s wood lot conservation efforts.

Experience binds us to the land. By this I mean not just the experience of a lifetime, but of the generations. It is subjective and collective. It is conscious and unconscious. It is known and unknown.

Land is the ultimate mirror of our experience. God is in the land. The land holds our hopes, our dreams, and even our darkest despair. Our personal mythology is reflected in the land and we seek our consolation there. It embodies what we remember, but also what we have chosen to forget. We long for the land.

Like Along the ShoreLonging For the Land: Meditations on Rural Ontario covers a lot of ground. It is a book is about place. It is autobiographical, anthropological, mythological and historical. It describes the layered Indigenous and European presence on the land, along with the points of intersection and synergies between the cultures. It contains information on ancient and modern farming practices. It describes the architectural landscape of rural Ontario. It is a guide to fall fairs. Most importantly, it considers the value of the land in relationship to that most nebulous of concepts: the human spirit. It describes the language of the land, and considers  approaches to its conservation.

Okay. So let’s state the obvious. This is going to take me a while! (Note to self: next project not to contain serious slogging over arcane, but necessary theoretical infrastructure!! In this department, I’m sending a particular note of appreciation to Michel Foucault and his discussion of the “Gaze”…). Also, suffice it to say that this is not a book I could have written at 25, 35 or even 45 years of age. A series of concentric circles in my life have brought me here, to this place.

The good news is that I’ve reached the stage with the project where I feel like the book is leading me. I’m on a roll, so to speak, so I thought I’d re-focus with a series of little videos, posts and blogs on elements of the rural Ontario landscape that take centre-stage in the project: Greenwood. Rock. River. Field. In doing so, I’m intentionally riffing off of Sir Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory.

I’d like to thank my dear friend Judith van Bastelaar for arranging a series of interviews for me in Prince Edward County this spring, while the earth was waking up and bursting with promise. (Judith appears near the end of this video). I’m also sending a warm thank you to Rikki (Julius Reque) of Port Medway, Nova Scotia, for making sense of my crazy iPhone footage and creating this video.

Please feel free to comment widely and without restraint — I’d love to hear from you, especially about your experiences on the land.



Saving Grey Abbey Beach: Progress, At Last

June 2, 2018

I’m very happy to report that significant progress was made on the preservation of Grey Abbey Beach at the City’s Executive Committee on May 14, 2018. The beach, located directly to the east of Guildwood Park, was slated for destruction as part of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s Scarborough Waterfront Project. The Committee has […]

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Sinfonia Toronto — Toronto Hunt, with Jane Fairburn

May 22, 2018

I’m on the Board of Sinfonia Toronto, one of the city’s premier chamber orchestras. See: A fundraiser for the orchestra is taking place at the Toronto Hunt on June 21, 2018 — I hope you’ll consider joining me. Please click on the link below to order tickets. Order tickets here

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Out on the Land: From Skibbereen to Killala

May 4, 2018

I’ve had the pleasure of being in Ireland the last little while, exploring the theme of cultural memory. I’m interested in how remembrance in the Irish and Ireland’s diaspora is tied to the land, and how it animates and informs identity and a mystical spirit of place. I thought I’d share a little of what […]

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Up the North: A Chat On the Way to Belfast

April 24, 2018

Here’s my latest missive on landscape, en route to Belfast.

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Longing for the Land: Meditations on Rural Ontario

February 25, 2018

All of us yearn for something. By this I mean a deep feeling of wistful desire, or longing, for myriad objects and aspirations as diverse as our own life experiences — a lost child, the inner peace that comes from solitude, forbidden love. Can landscape embody, or at least metaphorically represent these desires and mirror our internal […]

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Reflections on the Shore: Deconstructing the TRCA’s Paved Paradise at East Point

January 20, 2017

Happy New Year, everyone. I thought I’d get 2017 rolling with some thoughts on the TRCA’s recent update to their Scarborough Waterfront Development Project (SWP). In case you haven’t yet learned, the TRCA is planning to roll out a whole multi-year make-work project at the Scarborough Bluffs lakefront, from Bluffer’s Park at the foot of […]

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The TRCA’s Scarborough Waterfront Development Project (June 28, 2016 meeting): My Comments

July 16, 2016


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Re-birth of an Island Nation

March 28, 2016

Hello Everyone, Here’s a Facebook post I did recently on the 1916 Easter Rising Commemoration at the Residence of the Irish Ambassador in Ottawa, earlier this year: Also, please check out Terry Glavin’s article in the National Post.  

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