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St Patrick’s Day and the catechism of cliché

Monday, 17 March, 2014

St Patrick's Day Brian O’Nolan, who was born in Dublin in 1911, was best known by his literary alter ego, Flann O’Brien, and he also operated under another layer of creative anonymity as Myles na Gopaleen. From 1939 until his death in 1966, Myles wrote a weekly column in Irish, English or Latin for The Irish Times called Cruiskeen Lawn (‘Little brimming jug’). In several of those columns, he outlined his Catechism of Cliché. “A cliché,” he wrote, “is a phrase that has become fossilized, its component words deprived of their intrinsic light and meaning by incessant usage. Thus it appears that clichés reflect somewhat the frequency of the same situations in life.”

Especially for St Patrick’s Day, when Irish clichés abound, here’s Myles deconstructing the language of Ireland’s establishment, which has remained uncannily consistent of clichés over ten decades.

What does it behove us to proclaim?
Our faith.
In what does it behove us to proclaim our faith?
Democracy.
From what vertiginous eyrie does it behove us to proclaim our faith in democracy?
From the house-tops.
At what time should we proclaim our faith in democracy from the house-tops?
Now, more than ever.
What action must be taken in relation to our energies?
They must be directed.
In what unique manner?
Wholeheartedly.
In what direction?
Towards the solution of the pressing post-war problems which the armistice will bring.
How will the armistice bring these problems?
In its train.
By what is the train hauled?
A 2-4-2 compound job with poppet valves and Pacific-style steam chest.


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