Tradition is Transmission

By Saeed De Ridder

I do not know who first used the words Tradition is Tansmission but the axiomatic quality of the formula is self evident. Without doubt the single most impressive thing one notices whenever an edition of Treoir comes to hand is the special space provided for the moving tributes to those who have passed on.

The ongoing emphasis that is placed on the passing legion of men and women that have played their part in keeping the tradition alive contrasts strongly with the profane view that humanity in all its extensions is reducible to a composite of units indistinguishable from each other; - that vulgar notion of ‘the masses’ so characteristic of the mentality that spawns totalitarian regimes.

To members of Comhaltas outside of Ireland those who have been honoured are of course largely anonymous, but this is not a faceless anonymity. The earnest desire to acknowledge each and every person is paramount, for in the context of a living tradition their number is a metaphor for quality rather than for the simple and linear quantifying of statisticians. The latter with their levelling approach are as fatal to the world of tradition as they have been to every aspect of life that ennobles and dignifies both the people and their endeavours. The moving streams and rivers of all those who contributed to and participated in the tradition of a people are as the blood that courses through the giant body of the Tradition.

In light of the above and as a point of interest in keeping with our subject, I would mention here briefly that traditional Aboriginal people of Autralia have for sometime now asked that the remains of ancestral relatives, still residing in British museums, be returned to the burial sites from which they were stolen by collectors and anthropologists, dubiously worthy of the title. Sweden has recently agreed to this request and has handed back these remains from its museums. The above request is a strange one for modern and post modern man, ‘scientific man’ - however for a people still steeped in an understanding of traditional values there is a continuity linking the past and the present. The past here represents origin and source and is therefore that which gives meaning to the life of the present and the future.

We live in a world where the very foundations of our earthly survival are under threat because of the rapacious nature of modern Industrial economies. Abuses against nature are evident everywhere; we are losing species at an unprecedented rate. The poorer people of the world are poor because of the excessive lifestyles of the rich. Of all nations, Ireland should most remember how ‘the hunger of the many filled the bellies of the few’.

All of the above testifies to a singular lack of a sense of proportions, and this privation of proportions has crept into every domain of human life. For example, a ‘cultural’ trend that has persisted for some years now is the unabashed celebration of the glory of youth and in particular the novelty and glamour which poses as youth but is really a counterfeit of youth.

Imposture is everywhere and in a world enamoured of glitter all things glossy are highly marketable. This preoccupation with youth and glamour has blinded many to the beauties that flower only at their allotted time. It is though the world that once embraced the changing of the seasons with joy now wished that winter, autumn and summer be abolished and that spring alone should endure. Now, in such a climate, tradition, which is totality and therefore an all-inclusive reality, those not easily find a home. What distinguishes a living tradition is the easy way in which youth sits happily alongside maturity and old age, something which is everywhere noticeable at seisiúns and Fleadh Cheoil.

Whilst traditional musicians may consider this as the norm, in today’s world this norm is at once both a phenomenon and a paradox. A phenomenon because outside of the world of tradition this manifest intergenerational respect is no longer a reality, and a paradox because this same respect survives, defiant and vibrant in the face of every attempt to undermine its integrity.

One of the surest ways of combatting the vertigo ushered in by the imbalances of the world at large is by maintaining the life of the traditon. The Tradition celebrates youth, maturity and old age at its core, and it is at this luminous and vibrant core that they all meet. Why is this so, one may ask? It is because the very nature and substance of a living tradition is both timeless and immutable.