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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

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Resting, and Remembering John O’Donohue, in Ireland

by Krista Tippett, host

I am back in the office after the first real extended period of rest I’ve had since we started producing SOF weekly six years ago. Esther Sternberg’s analogy of a “reboot” was completely apt. I had to shut down, in every way. My dear colleagues created the space in our collective work life for me to be able to do so. They changed my e-mail password (at my request), so I could break the habit of e-mail; it took me weeks to stop trying to log in, compulsively, practically in my sleep. I called this my e-mail sabbatical.

And I went back to a magical place, the Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat, where I had gone once before, three summers ago, when I was finishing my book. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever experienced, but I was a crazy person on deadline.

Krista Drawing Water at the Anam Cara Writer's and Artist's RetreatThis time, I was able to soak up the beauty, to read as much as write, and write what gave me pleasure. I spent lots of time in a hammock on a little island that the locals call “fairies’ island” and that does feel utterly enchanted. I have always been drawn to islands and craggy places where you feel like you are on the edge of the world; and as you can see on this map, the Beara Peninsula qualifies.

I also enjoyed the friendship and cooking of the visionary owner/director of Anam Cara, Sue Booth-Forbes. Sue never met John O’Donohue, but [S]he named her retreat after his [John O’Donohue’s] book, Anam Cara, Gaelic for “soul friend.” I learned about him from her, and this time was able to tell her all about the wonderful conversation I had with him, back in Minnesota, before his untimely passing.

I thought of him there, felt his spirit, and was differently attuned to the meaning and working of beauty, especially in that place — recalling his observation that the Greek word for “beauty” is the same word for “calling,” for example, and that a defining quality of beauty is that we feel more alive in its presence. I have spent time since pondering a wonderful statement he made, so true for me right now, that beauty isn’t all about “nice, loveliness like” but a “kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”


Your Help Is Our Musical Gain

Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer

Just a few notes regarding the songs on this week’s SOF Playlist. Thanks, to Padraig for his suggestion of Lasairfhiona Ní Chonaola’s music, which I was able to find and place in this week’s program. Also, many thanks to Gerard O’Shea who wrote about attending a John O’Donohue memorial in his blog. In which he mentions that at the end of the service a gentleman named Jack Carley got up and sang “The Vale of Fermoyle,” in the sean-nos style (see blog entry below for more info and a beautiful example). Fermoyle is the birthplace of John O’Donohue and this song was one of his favorites.

Anyway, Gerard ordered a copy of that CD on Tuesday and was kind enough to e-mail a version of that song to me the very same day. Hats off to Cois na h-Abhna, Dooras in County Clare for providing the CD, There’s a Spot in Old Ireland. Though I was not able to use that song in the program, I’ve included it as a bonus track on the show’s playlist.

I also just wanted to provide an excerpt of the lyrics to Iarla O’lionaird’s version of Taimse im’ chodladh, which I have found translated as “I Sleep” “I am Sleep” “I am Asleep”, but I think you get the gist. Thanks to Bill Jones’ website, which offers a translation of the Gaelic. Here is an excerpt:

I am sleeping, do not wake me
I hear you calling
Come back again, I’ll show you how
I am sleeping, do not wake me
The day is dawning
Come back again, don’t wake me now
Just look high and low, and search round the town
For the wildflower where we met the first time
If you pull the petals all the spell may be broken
Come back again, don’t wake me now

This song ends the program and I felt that this was a nice image of someone sleeping to round out the homage to John O’Donohue, not that I knew what the words meant when I was placing the song! Sometimes you get lucky. Anyway, that’s about it. I hope you enjoy the music.


Poems of a Late Wandering Irishman

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

One thing we know about our fan base — they (you?) love words, especially poesy. The response to Tess Gallagher’s poem about her time with Thich Nhat Hanh made that clear.

So, in one of Krista’s limited face-to-face interviews (see Shiraz’s post about what a more typical interview looks like), she was regaled by the lilting tongue and picturesque poetry of the late Irish poet John O’Donohue in September. Mr. O’Donohue passed away earlier this year, but his verse lives on.

John O'Donohue
Colleen crafted a lovely audio slideshow (keep your eye out for her post) of O’Donohue’s recitation of “Beannacht” threaded with phototgraphs of scenic Celtic landscapes taken by several of his dear friends. And, since many of O’Donohue’s recitations won’t make it into the final, produced program, I wanted to offer them up here for download — or, if you prefer a more expedient and organized approach, through our podcast.

All of them are mp3s you can download. Just right-click your mouse and select save as:

A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness
A Blessing for One Who Holds Power
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: The Caha River
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: Between Things
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: Body Language
Since You Came
The Nativity

And, my apologies for all the parenthetical comments. Yowza!


Irish Singing, Old School

by Mitch Hanley, senior producer

In production on next week’s homage to the late John O’Donohue, I have been researching Celtic music, attempting to not have a show full of jigs and reels, but to have a good cross-section of this genre. I came across this style of Gaelic singing, sean-nos, meaning “in the old style,” in a YouTube video of Iarla O’lionaird (fronts the band Afro Celt Sound System) singing in a pub.

Imagine yourself in a tucked away nook of Ireland, hearing this haunting, sad melody, carrying you back some thousands of years. It is just beautiful.

Also fun is trying to follow along with the words…

Bog braon, bog braon, bog braon don tseanduine,
bog braon, bog braon, bog braon don tseanduine.

Cuir a chodladh, cuir a chodladh, cuir a chodladh an seanduine,
cuir a chodladh is ní a chosa is bog deoch don tseanduine.


Ubh chirce, ubh chirce, ubh chirce don tseanduine,
ubh chirce is blúire ime is a thabhairt don tseanduine.


Feoil úr, feoil úr, feoil úr don tseanduine,
feoil úr is braon súp is a thabhairt don tseanduine.