I can’t stop watching When The Song Dies, a video about the disappearance of folksong and memory in Scotland. Nothing underscores the loss of a culture like prolonged shots of soulful stares and windswept landscapes. But it’s also amazing how much still survives in songs and stories and superstitions: strange creatures in the rafters and words not spoken before noon, reminders of a numinous and sometimes sinister world.
I spent a week last summer in Glencolmcille, County Donegal, taking language classes and learning traditional songs in Irish Gaelic. No one knows how old some of the songs are; most have been passed down from ear to ear, mouth to mouth, and some seem to be missing verses. They take great pride in their Irish there, in St. Columba’s valley at the end of the world: “It’s the oldest language in Europe, they say… except Latin and Greek, of course.” Sometimes it does feel that way. Age is measured by memories, not by years.
“And everybody sees a ghost in a different way.”