Genetic Memory and My Irish Friend, Anthony

There’s a case to be argued for genetic memory, the Jungian theory, that certain memories and proclivities are bequeathed to us at birth from our forbearers. As a Scots-Irish descendant on every branch of my family tree, it seems my blood is imbued with a haunting, genetically ingrained longing; some deep-seated calibration to my ancestral lineage, which has spawned poets, writers, and musicians, who have seemingly come into this world with aptitudes waiting to be developed throughout life. I was drawn to the arts long before I had the facts on my antecedents, just as I’ve carried a mysterious affinity with certain proprieties specific to the United Kingdom: its cool, misty climate, sweeping vistas; its close proximity to the sea. I’ve lived with this overarching, ineffable partiality for as long as I can remember, and every once in a while, some magical happenstance springs forth and brings it straight into my home.

Last May, Anthony McCann paid us a visit. He is Irish as the soil, younger than me, and someone who was part of my daily life years ago, when I lived on the western coast of Ireland. We worked side by side for a common goal in Galway. At the time, he was casting about for his bearings in life, but for me as an outsider, this young lad was emblematic of what it means to be Irish. Anthony comes from a line of historians: some amateur, others by trade. I sensed he would put this to use one day, which he did, for today he is a professor of ethnomusicology, who lectures at universities throughout the world, which is why he had cause to be in Santa Barbara, California, one hour’s drive from my home.

It’s funny to see people out of context; most times it brings to mind a fish out of water, yet there are those unique souls who can walk into your life as you’ve been leading it and make you question your vantage point; Anthony McCann is one of those. He sauntered into my Southern California living room, all long limbed and russet- haired, with that lightning-quick spin on his “How ye been keeping?” I’d told my husband I needn’t prepare for his visit. Anthony is the kind of guy who feels at home wherever he goes because he’s in possession of those distinct Irish traits common to all from that self-sufficient island all covered in green: he’s comfortable in his own skin, present in the moment, devoid of pretense, under no expectations, and able to rise to any occasion.

Now, the Irish are not a lot to offer themselves freely, but neither are they the sort to be coerced after dinner. And I, being wise to honoring my guest, leaned comfortably back in my chair and said, “Anthony, give us a tune.” I felt the air shift in my kitchen to a whirring, vibratory force that hovered like a mantle upon Anthony’s shoulders. He centered himself; I could feel it, and watching him furrow his brow to a serious line, it seemed he reached back through the veil of time and aligned himself with something ancient; something that was his right to claim, for Anthony is no imposter; he simply slipped into something already there on his skin. It began with a hum in the back of his throat: a low, resonate, otherworldly invocation that set a pace, which he rode like the swell of a wave. With pitches and free-falls, he regained a flat center line, which was all the more poignant having been contrasted with his vocal ornamentation. It was an old tune, yet in that moment it belonged to none other: “Una ni Chonchuir bhain,” or “Blonde Una O’Connor,” sung in Irish sean nos, in the lament that “I loved her, she didn’t love me; I missed my chance, oh woe is me.” I couldn’t recall if I’d heard the tune before, but something within me remembered the spirit of its intention. It didn’t seem to be a singular expression; it was an intonation that spoke for us all as initiates of an ancestral inner circle, and I knew in that moment something archival had been trigger within me; that one doesn’t have to be born in Ireland to own its spirit. Ireland’s spirit is vested in its children at birth: a sacred, atavistic, spectral commodity residing as genetic memory passed down through family lines.


Views: 1089

Tags: Music, Singing

Comment by Richard R. Mc Gibbon Jr. on June 21, 2015 at 9:34am

We have always known this somewhere deep inside of our being. I teach history and politics in our local high school and also teach martial arts (a good fight) and in the evenings perform Irish folk music. Now I just have to find out what side of the family that I received these gifts; the McGibbon's or the Murphy's ;-)

Comment by Claire Fullerton on June 21, 2015 at 9:59am

My guess, Richard, is both! And I'm thrilled you have Murphys in your line! I, too, have a Murphys in my line, all with flaming red hair!

Comment by Richard R. Mc Gibbon Jr. on June 21, 2015 at 11:08am

Jakkers! Twice blest is how I will look at it. My great grandfather Murphy was a singer and a prize fighter, and a big fella to boot. My McGibbon and McKenney relatives were more involved in politics.  Probably why I find the old rebel songs so meaningful. Slainte!

Comment by Daniel M. Foley, Jr. on June 24, 2015 at 6:32pm

This was a great read. I also believe in genetic memory...Especially after learning about my ancestry. I may have to do a post about it myself!

Comment by Claire Fullerton on June 25, 2015 at 8:54am

Thank you, Daniel! I'll be interested in your post!

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on July 4, 2015 at 11:30pm

Well written Claire Fullerton. You are correct when you say it's all in the genes. If you read my short piece titled, "The Maigue Poets," you will see that the recent discovery of the Fox P2 gene, which is found only in us Irish and, interestingly, songbirds, explains it perfectly. Again, thank you for the great piece...!

Comment by Patrick J. O'Leary on August 23, 2015 at 2:46pm

I kind of think  that what Bit Devine posted of  Seamus M 's   words  about  sean nos  is most  enligthening, as many  of us  really do not have the understanding of that body of music, and as such,  would not appreciate it as much.  The explanation about  ' the most  loved and the most reviled '  and  ' often heard and least understood ' more than likely sheds a little light on the subject.  (just my thoughts )  and thanks for the patience in explaining it.>>


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