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#WeAreWithItaly // Mícheál Mac Craith



#WeAreWithItaly // Mícheál Mac Craith

This powerful message of hope was kindly sent to us by Fr. Mícheál Mac Craith.


«Aifreann na Marbh (Messa per i defunti) is the most important long poem in Irish in the twentieth century. Written by Eoghan Ó Tuairisc in 1964 in response to the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, the poem’s opening line is Músclaíonn an mhaidin ár míshuaimhneas síoraí, the morning awakens our eternal unrest, a deliberate subversion of the Introit of the requiem mass. This line recurs as a refrain throughout the work as the poem not only reflects on the historical event of 1945, but also ponders the possibility of a nuclear war which would be nothing but apocalyptic. The Aifreann was translated into Italian with a commentary by Rosangela Barone (Trauben, Torino, 2004) and has been discussed by Irene de Angelis form the University of Turin in The Japanese effect in contemporary Irish poetry (2012). Ó Tuairisc’s poem has generated renewed interest recently, and was the subject of a day long seminar in NUI Galway last December. The author introduces his poem with a quotation from Dante’s Paradiso, Canto 1: 70-2:

Transumanar significar per verba
Non si poria; pero l’esempio basti
A cui esperienza Grazia serba.

This terzina was translated as follows by Dorothy Sayers:

Transhumanised—the fact mocks human phrase;
So let the example serve, till proof requite
Him who is called to experience this by grace.

Ó Tuairisc’s recollection of Beatrice gazing towards the sun, however, is full of forebodings in the context of the atomic bomb whose flash was ‘brighter than a thousand suns’. The use of the word transhumanised is equally ominous, in that it anticipates the word ‘transvapourised’ a term coined by scientists to describe those who were so completely annihilated by the bomb that nothing remained of them except their shadows. Is the poet ironically asking his readers to let the experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffice for them until they have the ‘grace’ to experience nuclear Armageddon?


Casting his poem in the form of a Latin requiem mass (prior to the liturgical changes of Vatican II), it is interesting to note that Ó Tuairisc listened to Verdi's Requiem while composing this work. it often struck me that the nature of the link between the music and the poem merits further investigation. While reading about Verdi I discovered that he composed his Requiem as a tribute to his great friend Manzoni and that he personally directed the first performance in San Marco Milan on the first anniversary of Manzoni's death on 22 May 1874.

One cannot mention Manzoni without calling to mind his masterpiece I Promessi Sposi, and Fr. Felice situated in Lombardy and the environs of Milan during the plague of 1630, an event that bears striking similarities to the current contagion of Covid-19. And yet despite the horror and devastation, despite the pain and suffering and loss of life, the novel is lit up by the heroism of the Capuchins Fra' Cristoforo and Fra' Felice Casati and the devotion of Renzo and Lucia to each other. It is their love for each other and their trust in providence that enables them to survive, a point that was very deftly underscored by Pope John Paul I in his famous 'letter' to Manzoni (Illustrissimi, 1976). Pope Francis too has a great affection for I Promessi Sposi, admitting in an interview to have read it three times, and referred to the novel again in his Angelus message on 15 March when he said that priests must not be the Don Abbondio of the situation in their response to the present crisis.

Like Manzoni, Verdi's Requiem, despite its gloomy and sombre tone in the face of final judgement, transmits a powerful message of hope to the sinner who beseeches God's mercy, most strikingly in the tenor solo Ingemisco. Ó Tuairisc likewise concludes on a note of hope, notwithstanding the apocalyptic foreboding that the fate of Hiroshima instilled in him. In a powerful riposte to Adorno's refutation of the role of poetry after Auschwitz, Ó Tuairisc asserts that poetry is more necessary than ever in the face of calamity, underscoring the role of artists and of poets in particular to restore human values to humanity and thus prevent another Hiroshima. His affirmation of the role of the poet as the custodian of civilization is highly reminiscent of William Faulkner's words when he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in Stockholm in 1950.

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's duty is to write about these things. It is duty to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honour and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Ó Tuairisc, Verdi and Manzoni provide consolation, challenge and uplift to believers and unbelievers alike in times of unprecedented crisis. While we may feel like buckling under the strain these days of míshuaimhneas síoraí (eterno disriposo), these three artists, one Irish and two Italian, in their different ways are much more interested in convincing us that tutto andrà bene



Mícheál Mac Craith is Professor Emeritus of Modern Irish at National University of Ireland, Galway. He served as the Guardian of the Franciscan college of Saint Isidore in Rome, and now lives and works in the Irish Franciscan house in Killiney, Co. Dublin.


A few weeks ago we launched #WeAreWithItaly, an open call to collect messages of solidarity to be shared on the IIC social media channels, for Italy and indeed all parts of the world confronting the Covid-19 emergency. Anybody with an existing connection to Italy, or who wishes to join the tributes that have been pouring from all over as means to breach the distance in this time of separation, is welcome to follow these simple steps:

• Make a video recording with their smartphone OR write a message and choose a picture to go with it;
• Send the material to, using the platform WeTransfer if necessary.

We believe it is extremely important to foster unity in the extraordinary situation that we all have to confront right now and we would be happy to receive your contribution, which will be uploaded to our social media to endorse a powerful message of social cohesion.


Data: Da Dom 1 Mar 2020 a Mar 28 Apr 2020

Ingresso : Libero