Here on this lush island, the parameters of locality seem smaller; each town displays its individual personality. Perhaps identity shifts between villages, across fields and through streams, haystacks and the boughs of oak trees. Reach the next municipality and, like birds, the townspeople announce their territories: Armagh, here! Portadown,here! Lurgan, here!
“Landscape doesn’t have an accent,” was one comment from our discussion after Nessa’s review of Irish history on Monday. But, it might. Geography impacts voice and what stories we tell and how.
I’m from Baltimore, Maryland that has its own very distinctive way of pronouncing everything. Maryland is split not only by the Chesapeake Bay but by economics and politics. Its Eastern Shore is barely 25′ above sea level, mostly rural and pledged Confederate during the Civil War. In 2002, I was commissioned to write a ghost walking tour in the tiny town of Cambridge in Dorchester County on the Shore. The natives there were hesitant to talk to me; I was from the city-side, the Yankee side, the “main land,” and decidedly an outsider in my own state. Their xenophobia was palpable; they called me foreigner and threatened to dump me in the marsh if I kept asking questions about local hauntings.
“But I was born here!” I protested. It didn’t matter; their identity stretches only to the border of the next equally flat and damp county.
During the Troubles, the Armagh Mall was a no-man’s-land, splitting the population into tight tribes, and to this day, the Catholics and Protestants not only have separate churches, but different playing fields, schools, food stores, neighborhoods and pronunciations. A mile separates the two St. Patrick cathedrals and there’s the local parameter of that identity.
A million years walking upright, and we humans still huddle under the stars in a shaky niche-mentality; we hang in groups of like-minded people who corroborate our belief systems and grant us a sense of belonging.
I’m not just an American and a Baltimorean. I want to be defined by what I do. Is that even possible? I’m a writer first, no matter where I live or where I was born.