Stories and storytelling flourish in Ireland and Irish descendants scattered around the world, like Irish/American author Sheila Post.
Post’s newest novel, Your Own Ones, uses her family’s Irish heritage by telling the journey of Canadian/Irish wild salmon conservationist Áine O’Connor. In the book, O’Connor travels to the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, and discovers a 1,000-year-old family tradition of protecting the land and sea, as well as a hidden family history.
For Post, who spent every summer between the shores of Lake Michigan and the ocean shores of County Kerry — Dingle was the only choice for the setting of the novel.
"Dingle is this mystical amalgam of wildness and cultural traditions with primitive, pristine nature and very sophisticated culture all wrapped into one," she notes. "The passion of place is so profound for me ... I couldn't be anything but a place-based novelist."
In addition to her passion of place, Post highlights the importance of the experience of "returning to the old country" for many first generation immigrants.
"While James Joyce talked about history being a nightmare from which we never awaken, I wanted to take that as a writing challenge to offer history as a dream to which we can return time and time again, and use that dream as a way to move into the future," she says.
Your Own Ones is filled with tinctures of reality and personal experiences, but it's also highly creative and fictional according to Post. One key aspect of the story is the use of the wild salmon preservation as a symbol not just of Irish culture and traditions, but the meaning of home for the character Áine.
She notes that wild salmon in ancient Ireland were the symbol of wisdom and the organism linking the physical world with the mystical elements of the universe. "I saw that as the key paradigm, the key symbol of the Irish-American and Canadian-American immigrant experience. That we are Americans or Canadians, but we also tend to return to the old country to rediscover our former cultural selves," Post explains.
Áine's efforts to protect and restore the wild salmon population highlight real-world issues such as fish farms and the struggle of sustaining local versus global food economies.
"When you have an organism like the salmon who is so revered in Gaelic/Celtic culture, and to take that and to turn it into a commodity-based organism that strips it of its cultural relevance and meaning, it's hard to not intertwine that with the personal stories of individuals," says Post.
Through writing stories that connect and restore our own history, Posts says we can preserve more than just stories.
"By creating these incredible ties with our families, extendend families, and cultural heritage, we can create a future that is based on those bonds and traditions that also fits into a contemporary framework."
Sheila Post is the author of Your Own Ones and The Road to Walden North. Post takes turns living in Prince Edward Island, Canada; in northern Vermont, and with her family in Chicago and Ireland. She will be at Irish Fest in the literary tent and will also be performing a dramatic reading from Your Own Ones on the theatre stage Saturday night.