From the Back Cover
“This Latin word focus for hearth provides us with one single, central, physical and etymological instance for reading the big shift from the old Ireland to the new. That was a shift from the undifferentiated world of story-time and seasonal recurrence, settled values, absorbed rhythms, the world of sacred, common, impersonal modes of behaviour. A shift from that to the new world of individuated freedom, economic independence, emotional self-direction, unsanctioned behaviour almost, and a secular, almost relativist permissiveness.
The very word hearth seems like an anachronism or a nostalgia in this new world. In fact, those who are old enough to remember first the closing up of open hearths in countries and their occlusion and replacement by the little bandy-legged iron stoves – and then the removal of the stoves altogether and the indiscriminate placing of radiators – those who remember this have already, in the memory bank of their bodies, a record of the almost physical modulation which one’s being suffered in the modernization process.
The hearth had indeed been the focus, the centre, the heat and heart of the house’s meaning. It admitted daydream as well as providing service. Any hearth was all the hearth that had ever been in one hearth …”
from “Varieties of Irishness” by Seamus Heaney