The Plain People of Ireland look to Heidelberg

Friday, 16 March, 2012

From 4 October 1940 until his death on 1 April 1966 , the great Brian O’Nolan, aka Flann O’Brien, wrote a weekly column for The Irish Times titled “Cruiskeen Lawn” (from the Irish crúiscín lán, “full/brimming small-jug”). Using the pseudonym Myles na gCopaleen (“Myles of the Little Horses”), he employed a mix of Irish and English, with occasional dashes of Latin, French and German, to pour his surreal scorn upon the Dublin literary elite, Gaelic language revivalists, the government of the day and the painful “Plain People of Ireland.” The following Cruiskeen Lawn column is topical in that it deals with the arrival of spring and makes detailed reference to Germany, a country that many in Ireland today feel is increasingly responsible for their melancholy.

I notice these days that the Green Isle is getting greener. Delightful ulcerations resembling buds pit the branches of our trees, clumpy daffodils can be seen on the upland lawn. Making music with words Spring is coming and every decent girl is thinking of that new Spring costume. Time will run on smoother till Favonius re-inspires the frozen Meade and clothe in fresh attire the lily and rose that have nor sown nor spun.

Curse it, my mind races back to my Heidelberg days. Sonya and Lili. And Magda. And Ernst Schmutz, Georg Geier, Theodor Winkleman, Efrem Zimbalist, Otto Grün. And the accordion player Kurt Schachmann. And Doktor Oreille, descendant of Irish princes. Ich hab’ mein Herz / in Heidelberg verloren / in einer lauen / Sommernacht / Ich war verliebt / bis über beide / Ohren / und wie ein Röslein / hatt’ / Ihr Mund gelächt or something humpty tumpty tumpty tumpty tumpty mein Herz it schlägt am Neckarstrand. A very beautiful student melody. Beer and music and midnight swims in the Neckar. Chats in erse with Kun O’Meyer and John Marquess … Alas, those chimes. Und als wir nahmen / Abschied vor den Toren / beim letzten Küss, da hab’ Ich Klar erkannt / dass Ich mein Herz / in Heidelberg verloren / MEIN HERZ / es schlägt am Neck-ar-strand! Tumpty tumpty tum.

The Plain People of Ireland: Isn’t the German very like the Irish? Very guttural and so on?
Myself: Yes.
The Plain People of Ireland: People say that the German language and the Irish language is very guttural tongues.
Myself: Yes.
The Plain People of Ireland: The sounds is all guttural do you understand.
Myself. Yes.
The Plain People of Ireland: Very guttural languages the pair of them the Gaelic and the German.

Myles! thou shouldst be living at this hour: Ireland hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen. (With apologies to Wordsworth).

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