Four Visits of J. M. Synge in Aran Islands

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      Synge visited the Aran Islands which be off the west coast of Ireland is quite barren and isolated. He made four visits to this Island and every individual visit gave a deep insight to the dramatist.

Geographical Division of the Islands

      These islands are a group of three islands—Aranmor, the North island, about nine miles long; Inishmaan, the middle island, covering about three and half miles and the South Island, Inisheer slightly smaller than the middle island. All of these three islands are situated to the southwest of Galway. All three islands have very little ground and uncultivated since there are no bogs, all the turf burnt on the island is brought from Connemara.

The main Village

      Kilronan, the main village on Aranmore, has nothing special now, which could distinguish it from the other villages because as the most villages on the west coast of Ireland, this one has also changed by the fishing industry. Changes are continuous on the other islands too but their antiquity is not much disturbed.

The Protestant Church

      Ireland got independence in 1922 and the Protestant Church is still standing on Inishmore where the young men still play handball. Protestants have become a case of past on the island.

Life Style

      Many customs and old traditions had disappeared from the Ireland except Aran. When he visited Aran, it was still glorious with all its primitiveness. The women had worn red flannel skirts and plain shawls, whereas the men used to wear blue turtleneck sweaters, homemade trousers and vests. In the introduction to The Aran Islands, he stated, “I have given a direct account of my life on the islands, and of what I met with among them, inventing nothing, and changing noting that is essential.”

Inishmaan, the Middle Island

      He spent two weeks on Inishmore and then shifted to Inishmaan where, “Gaelic is more generally used, and the life is perhaps the most primitive that is left in Europe.” His first ride in a curagh, the “rude canvers canoe of a model that has served primitive races since men first, went on the sea” gave him “a moment of exquisite satisfaction. They landed on a small pier and walked between small fields and bare sheets of rock” to his place.

Gaelic Verse

      Synge wrote “In primitive times every poet recited his own poem with the music he conceived with the words in his moment of excitement and his hearers who admired the work repeated it with the exact music of the poet. This is still alone among the Aran Islanders. In old man who could not read has drawn tears to my eyes by reciting verse in Gaelic I valid not fully understand.”

Validity in The Playboy of the Western World

      Synge was told by someone that a man fled to Inishmaan, after murdering his father and the people of the village saved him from the police. An old man, “often tells me about a Connaught man who killed his father with the blow of a spade when he was in passion, and then fled to the Island and threw himself on the mercy of some of the natives with whom he was said to be related. Synge justified them by saying: “This impulse to protect the criminal is universal in the west. It seems partly due to the association between justice and the hated English jurisdiction, but more directly to the primitive feeling of these people, who are never criminals yet always capable of crime, that a man will not do wrong unless he is under the influence of a passion which is as irresponsible as a storm on the sea. If a man has killed his father and is already sick and broken with remorse, they can see no reason why he should be dragged away and killed by the law.”

Local color

      Closeness with the villagers provoked Synge to write: “The peasants are pure and spiritual, yet have all the healthy animal blood of a peasant and delight in broad jests and deeds. The young men are simple and friendly, never speaking however, to strangers till they are addressed. The old men are chatty, cheerful and inquisitive. The girls are inclined to decide on me when there are a handful together. Singly they are at first thy, or pretend to it, but show exquisitely bright frankness when the ice is crushed. Old women full of good fellowship but have mostly little English and my Gaelic does not carry me beyond a few comments on the weather and the island.”

Lamentation for the dead

      His detailed description of a funeral in Aran shows, rightly concludes Tuama, that, “Christian dogmas and rituals have been quite often a mechanical super imposition on pagan attitudes of mind.” Riders to the Sea is a long story of the funeral which Synge saw on Aran. He is sometimes criticized because of his description of a funeral at which there was no priest and the only officiator was an old man praying against a background of “voices that were still hoarse with the cries of pagan description.”

Whimsical Girls

      Synge observed the minutest modes and features of the girls as suggested by his words, “I have noticed many beautiful girls whose long luxuriant lashes lend a shade to wistful eyes. I am so much a stranger. I cannot dare under the attention I create to gaze at a beautiful oval face that looks from a brown shawl near me. The girl one singularly unconscious unaccustomed to receiving attention. I notice no walking out of young men and girls...”

Peculiarity of the Articles

      The provision of boards from the mainland for the coffins of persons, still alive, the provision of whiskey, pipes and tobacco at wakes and funerals, suggest us the predicament of the fishers and their family. The curraghs and spinning wheels, the homemade cradles, churns and baskets are the living examples of their past.

Making Kelp

      One of the occupations of the Islanders was making kelp, which used to take hand labor and many restless days. All the procedure includes—collection of sea-weeds, drying and making into a rick, then burning in low kilns after covering it with stones. Cooling the material makes it as hard as limestone and there the transportation of it to Kilronan, where the value is determined on the basis of the iodine it contains.

Impact, of Aran

      Synge went to Aran attracted by the ideal of the simple harmony of the lives of peasants, to escape the decadent culture of Paris. He wrote of his first curragh trip of Inishmaan, ‘It gave me a moment of exquisite satisfaction to find myself moving away from civilization in this rude canvas canoe of a model that has served primitive races since man first went on the sea.’ But even here, as he exults in his withdrawal from civilization, his language is that of the decadence; the ‘moment of exquisite satisfaction’ is Pater’s ideal in famous ‘Conclusion’ to The Renaissance, Synge in 1898 was a dilettante, self-consciously cherishing his ‘impressions’, at his most imitative when he tried hardest to express his own reactions. Yeats’s recollection of Synge’s early work gives us an acute image of his failings: ‘I have but a vague impression, as of a man trying to look out of a window and blurring all that he sees by breathing upon the window’. Synge at this stage was indeed a prisoner of his own self-consciousness, and the window had to be shattered before he could develop into a creative artist.

      It was a slow business learning to see on Aran. There is a curious mistake of perspective in the view of Synge’s career which show him transformed instantaneously into a writer of genius by his visit to Aran in 1898. It was not after all until 1902 that he wrote his first successful play, and throughout the period when he was working on The Aran Islands itself, he continued to write and revise the lamentable ‘Etude Morbid’, ‘Vita Vecchia’ and When the Moon Has Set. We can see, comparing the notebooks with the first draft of the book, the first draft with the final text, how gradually Synge found his way towards creativity. In view of the long-standing controversy about the origin of his dramatic dialect, the development of the language of the islanders is particularly interesting. Writing in 1907 to the journalist Leon Brodzky, who was planning an article on his plays, Synge said:

      I look on The Aran Islands as my first serious piece of work-it was written before any of my plays. In writing out the talk of the people and their stories in this book, and in a certain number of articles on the Wicklow peasantry which I have not yet collected, I learned to write the peasant dialect and dialogue which I use in my plays.


      Such were the people and such was the life which constituted the datum on which Synge imagination worked. Almost all his stories were based on some actual occurance “Yeats remarks. He loves all that has edge, all that is salt in the mouth, all that is rough to the hand, all that heightens the emotions by contest, all that stings into life the sense to tragedy...”.

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