Tuesday 11 December 2018

Extolling the virtues of Sligo's finest

Martin Enright
Martin Enright

Harry Keaney

LOOK FOR Martin Enright around Sligo, and he might be everywhere... or nowhere.

He's a Kerryman, so he could be in his native Dingle. Or he might be halfway up Benbulben or Knocknarea leading a group of tourists.

Or waxing lyrically about Yeats at some of the many Sligo places the Nobel poet mentions in his works.

Or meeting Irish musicians, here or even abroad.

Then again, he might be enthralling some visitors about the wealth of Sligo's archaeology and mythology.

He might even be very quiet, lying low in some watery spot in winter with his binoculars trying to spot a migrating barnacle geese.

Such is the many roles of the retired Coolbock National School principal.

Among them: Irish culture promoter, tour guide, archaeologist, ornithologist, music lover, language enthusiast, Yeats scholar.

Sligo has been his home for 40 years. He came here after qualifying as a teacher in 1968. He had graduated in Irish and archaeology from UCD in the early 1970s.

While in Dublin he was introduced to Irish traditional music.

He recalled: "For five or six years I went to the Traditional Club in Slattery's Pub in Capel Street. It specialised in bringing in the top players of the time. I also attended Comhaltas sessions."

His interest was not accidental.

His father, a Cork-born barber, had a keen interest in music but, interestingly, not Irish traditional music.

"He came from the world of the musicals. He played the banjo and the mandolin," Martin said.

Neither did Martin's interest in nature come out of nowhere. "My background in Kerry would be fishing and hunting. My grandfather and uncle, all my mother's people, were fishermen."

With that legacy, Martin arrived in Sligo in 1974. He married Joyce Raftery, from Finisklin, whom he had met in UCD through their shared interest in archaeology.

Soon, the two of them were members of the Sligo Field Club, which was, in effect, the local archeological society.

It was the late Noel Murphy, ornithological secretary of the Field Club, who introduced Martin to Sligo's wildlife.

Martin was captivated. "There are about 2,500 barnacle geese in Ireland and Sligo has almost one-third of the population.

"The winter is often too short because there is not much to learn about migration patterns. There is a very rich heritage here in Sligo.

"It has about one-seventh of all the megalithic tombs in Ireland.

"The most important megalithic complex in Europe is in this area."

As for Sligo's musicians, their impact was, ironically, greater because they emigrated, mainly to the US. There, they not only taught but recorded, preserving their legacy forever.

Martin said: "Traditional musicians from Sligo have been among the most influential of the 20th Century.

"At home here in County Sligo, there are 15 memorials or commemorative plaques to musicians. No other country has anything like it."

He described Yeats as "easily the greatest English language poet of the 19th-20th Century".

Martin added: "Yeats was using Sligo placenames in his writing from the 1880s right down to the day before his death in 1939.

"Yeats uses Benbulben, Knocknarea and Glencar on at least 11 occasions in his works. He also writes about the mythology and the whole beauty of the Sligo landscape.

"He mentions about 30 species of birds as well as plants and animals, all part of the local environment.

"Mentions of that landscape, from Glencar to the sea, Raughley and across to Knocknarea, is unparalleled in literary history."

And no better man to keep mentioning it all than Martin... even in Irish, if necessary.

Sligo Champion