Tread Softly is a festival inspired by the landscape, mythology and people of County Sligo. The festival works with writers and artists providing a platform for unique and large-scale collaborations between artists and communities within the Sligo landscape. The 2021 festival will include ‘The Battle Of The Battle Of The Book; six stories in search of an ear’ a Soundscape piece inspired by the anniversary of Colmcille’s birth and his associations with Sligo. See: www.treadsoftly.ie/bare-hazel-the-battle-of-the-books

The Sandy Field Writers, led by Niamh Mac Cabe, presented a soundscape based on the legendary Sligo battle at Cúl Dreimhne, near present day Drumcliff. Instigated by Colmcille in the sixth century AD, the battle is the first ever recorded conflict over copyright. The High King’s ruling, ‘To Every Cow Its Calf, To Every Book Its Copy’ began a series of tragic events ending in Colmcille’s exile to the Scottish isle of Iona. The central concept in the Battle of the Book legend is the argument over whether a copy has autonomy, or whether it is just an offshoot of the original, without its own agency. Is the original the only possible ‘truth’? The High King ruled that it was, Colmcille rejected his ruling, and the battle began. The Sandy Field Writers approached the project with a similar view; an exploration into human perception, and what happens when a story is rehashed to suit different narratives. The legend has been told and retold several times. Like all good stories, it is not so much the legend itself that each generation cherishes, but the telling of it, and in the telling, the ownership of it.

Writers Niamh Mac Cabe | Rhona Trench | Bernie Meehan | Mairéad McCann | Peggie Gallagher & Terence Herron

Swan-plucked, scoop-cut, shoulder-shaped and nibbed
I, quill of Colmcille, am dipped in iron-gall ink
and scraped across vellum, calf-dropped
Columcille, thin frame clothed in rough spun robes,
Grips me between thumb and index
Breath coming and going with each rhythmic scrape,
and sputter of candle
Among quires of vellum, folio counts, quill trimming.
Where we await dawn’s cold light

The light that shone on the plain at Drumcliff is the same light that shines today.
The same dawn, the same dusk, the same shadows cast. Nothing changes.
Sun rises, sun sets, sun rises.
Curved light stretching east to west, past to present, making a copy of each day.
But there are minor changes, minor errors in the printing.
There are missing letters, re-configured words.
It could be that the sun rises on an incorrect number of grass blades under Benbulben’s
sombre shadow, an inaccurate recollection of guilt, barely noticeable.

You find them
under the hips of the hills,
in the lull between earthwaves,
as again they rise
from the shyness of near dark
part miracle part living flame.

Cupped faces so grave
their purple deep eye-pupil stare me down,
A flutter of small wings
at the threshold of Bealtaine’s door.

I feel time unravel, a moment, a thousand years
the centuries are writing out their past
full of the old language
at the point from which
the shadows draw back

All grief traced through them
the culmination of all that has been absorbed
the blood of their making and unmaking
trampled into the landscape