The Stray Sod

Digging out these objects in the museum, talking to Sean and Sarah about their provenance, just being present amongst all these artefacts that seem to have been have been gathered up in a tornado (Wizard of Oz type) and whirled across time and place to land haphazardly here in Armagh.

Slide of seascape from Victorian Magic lantern
Victorian Magic Lantern Slide

As an Armagh native who is still very connected to the place, I feel a paradoxical sense of familiarity and strangeness as I encounter the objects. Comfort in my own roots in the hills, buildings, faces and roads of this place yet disoriented by the multitude of eyes, hands and lives layered in these Things that are briefly moving through my experience.

It feels like a version of the stray sod or the fóidín meara. According to Irish folklore, the fairies sometimes put a spell on a piece of earth, usually a sod of grass. Whoever inadvertently steps upon it loses their way at once and cannot find an exit until the fairies tire of their game. It’s believed that one can break the spell by putting one’s coat on inside out

“When a person is out at night if he stands on such a sod he goes astray and loses all idea of direction so that he wanders hopelessly around generally till morning.” It’s a perfect metaphor for the sense of experiencing the old worn reassuring environment from a strange new perspective, being an alien outsider in the place that usually feels like home. In a good way. It becomes curious and wonderful and allows me to explore the contours and layers of place and people.

Though we naturally want to tether our sense of home and selves to a fixed point in a whirling universe, the continual evolution of culture, place and built environment produces the disorienting sense of everything in constant transition.

“We all must keep moving. We have only the choice of how we fling our bodies into the racing air. We don’t have the choice to stop” (From Refuge of Whirling Light, by Mary Beath)


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