‘Me in place and the place in me’
The first time I read Seamus Heaney’s 2010 poem ‘A Herbal’ I cried. I felt nostalgia and loss and recognition of shared experience. As he had many times before, Seamus Heaney had written a poem that felt as if it had been composed for me. It spoke to my childhood and to my adult self, reflecting on that childhood.
The line ‘Me in place and the place in me’ comes towards the end of the poem. One of the things that repeatedly draws me to Heaney’s work is his intertwining of place and memory. I don’t know if I became an anthropologist and geographer because of my fascination with people and place or whether that fascination developed out of my intellectual training as an anthropologist and human geographer. I suspect each strongly influenced the other. As an anthropologist I’ve always been drawn to how people and places mutually affect each other, and to how our relationships with people and animals are grounded in place. We make place and place makes us.
My name is Martina Tyrrell and I was born and grew up in rural Ireland, in a small house that my family has lived in since the 1870s. I come from a large close-knit family in a small close-knit town. As an adult I have lived for years in Japan, Nunavut, Scotland, England and, now, Spain. I’ve sailed the western seaboard of Europe with my husband and children and I’ve studied the role of the sea and marine mammals in Inuit culture by deep immersion in village and hunting life on the west coast of Hudson Bay.
In each of those places, my relationships – with people, with the natural and cultural environment, with animals – have been and continue to be informed by the place I come from and the intellectual training I have had. Sights, sounds, smells and tastes trigger memory; encounters are informed by where I have come from and where I have been; place and memory, new and old, past and present form an intricately-woven web.
These days, I live in a small close-knit village in southwest Spain. I write and speak about a variety of topics, and I work as an editor. My writing and public speaking are embedded in my fascination with place and memory. The themes that I return to again and again – biodiversity, cultural diversity, human-animal relations, kinship, community – are woven from personal experience and scholarship.