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Ireland

The scandalously naked Burren

Monday, 15 July, 2019

The name means “stony place” and it is one of the strangest landscapes in Europe. What’s called The Burren occupies most of the top western corner of County Clare and this region of solid rock, which looks like a desert, is quite the opposite. Cattle are fattened by its limey grass and Arctic flowers blossom beside Mediterranean perennials between the niches of the limestone slabs. Emily Lawless (1845 – 1913) set her novel Hurrish (1886) in what she called this “Iron Land”. Snippet:

“Wilder regions there are few to be found, even in the wildest West of Ireland, than that portion of north Clare known to its inhabitants as the Burren. Seen from the Atlantic, which washes its western base, it presents to the eye a succession of low hills, singularly grey in tone — deepening often, towards evening, into violet or dull reddish plum colour — sometimes, after sunset, to a pale ghostly iridescence.

You picture them dotted over with flocks to sheep, which nibble on the sweet grass… But these Burren hills are literally not clothed at all. They are startlingly, I may say, scandalously naked.”


The Orange Order

Friday, 12 July, 2019

On 1 July 1689, the Dutch-born Protestant King William III defeated the last Roman Catholic monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland, King James II, at the Battle of the Boyne in County Meath. The victory of William of Orange is celebrated each year by the Orange Order on the Twelfth of July, when marching bands from Orange lodges all over Northern Ireland parade through villages, towns and cities. The Orange Order was formed near Loughgall in County Armagh in 1795, when its founding members pledged their loyalty to the British royal family and swore to defend the Protestant faith.

The Orange Order

Photo: Michal Pudelka


Yay, Team America! From China and Ireland via Apple

Wednesday, 10 July, 2019

Apple celebrated the Women’s World Cup win by the USA with an all-female red, white and blue graphic. How very woke and patriotic. Up to a point. The same Apple announced at the end of June that its new Mac Pro will be assembled in China, not the USA, and the very same Apple uses Ireland as a haven to pay minimal taxes on the profits it makes on those Mac Pros. So much for patriotic bit. As regards the wokeness, the company’s Inclusion & Diversity page shows that 67 percent of Apple’s workforce self-identifies as “not women”, which allows lots of women lots of time to hone their dribbling skills in the run up to the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Think different indeed.

Apple wokeness


Family photo taken by my mother in 1948

Wednesday, 3 July, 2019

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” — C.S. Lewis

Home from home


The blind leading the blind from Ballybunion

Friday, 21 June, 2019

We’re haven’t reached the end of June yet so it’s still a bit early in the year to be talking of the Pattern Day but this story by the late Kerry writer John B. Keane on the Pattern Day in Ballybunion, County Kerry, is worth sharing today. John B. never missed the 15th of August festivities when “the nine miles of road between Listowel and Ballybunion [were] black with a stream of several thousand bicycles.” What impressed the young writer most were the “scenes of humour near the Castle Green on the afternoon of the Pattern.” Example:

“It must be forty years ago now since we sat listening to a blind gorsoon singing This Poor Blind Boy while his equal innocent looking companion went around with a long collection sock explaining that the singer had been abandoned by his parents at the age of two and had been reared by asses. After he had cleared out what was cleanable from one party of onlookers he led the blind boy away to pastures new. I saw the pair later that night in Listowel and they staving drunk. The blind boy, now miraculously with sight recovered, was leading his companion who was now also blind drunk.”

He could tell them.


Kerry Kefir

Thursday, 30 May, 2019

It is earthy, but not pungent. It is creamy, but not sweet. It is natural and it “encourages metabolism”. It is kefir made in Kerry using yeast, “many strains of beneficial bacteria” and, of course, pasteurized milk from cows in Kerry. Hat tip: Mary and Niamh.

Kerry Kefir


The violent passion of a learned mistress

Saturday, 13 April, 2019

The Irish writer Frank O’Connor (1903 – 1966) is best known for his short stories. Neil Jordan’s award-winning film The Crying Game was inspired in part by O’Connor’s short story, “Guests of the Nation”, which is set during the Irish War of Independence and recounts the doomed friendship between members of an IRA unit and the two British Army hostages they are holding.

O’Connor’s work as a teacher of the Irish language provided the linguistic basis for his many translations into English of Irish poetry, including his initially banned translation of Brian Merriman’s Cúirt an Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court). A Learned Mistress is the work of an anonymous Irish poet from the 17th century and it’s filled with the murderous passion expressed by the spokeswoman of a ménage à trois.

A Learned Mistress

Tell him it’s all a lie;
I love him as much as my life;
He needn’t be jealous of me –
I love him and loathe his wife.

If he kills me through jealously now
His wife will perish of spite,
He’ll die of grief for his wife –
Three of us dead in a night.

All blessings from heaven to earth
On the head of the woman I hate,
And the man I love as my life,
Sudden death be his fate.

(Translated from the Irish by Frank O’Connor)


Sky News distorts the news in favour of the IRA

Saturday, 6 April, 2019

No, it wasn’t a “botched IRA warning call” that killed 21 people in Birmingham in 1974, it was two IRA bombs that brutally ended their lives. That Sky News would put such a fake headline on a story of mass murder is beyond belief. Or is it?

Sky News


Myles & More: April Fool’s Day

Monday, 1 April, 2019

The great Brian O’Nolan, aka Flann O’Brien, spent much of his life creating surreal humour and it was in keeping with his wry world view that he died on April Fool’s Day. “Evil is even, truth is an odd number and death is a full stop,” he said, wryly.

Along with novels and plays, he 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”). As a columnist, he deployed a mix of Irish and English, with occasional splashes of Latin, French and German, to pour scorn upon four major targets: the Dublin literary elite, the government of the day, the “Plain People of Ireland” and Gaelic language revivalists. The following Cruiskeen Lawn snippet is topical in that it makes reference to Germany, the Chancellor of which country will visit Dublin on Thursday.

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.
    Myself. Yes.

Tumpty tumpty tum.


Patrick O’Brian for St. Patrick’s Day

Sunday, 17 March, 2019

Top o’ the morning to all Rainy Day readers on this St. Patrick’s Day. We’re celebrating with a tribute to one of the many Patricks who have brought honour and glory to the saint’s chosen name: Patrick O’Brian, the author of the popular Aubrey-Maturin historical novels.

The language Patrick O’Brian uses in his Aubrey-Maturin series impresses not just because of the breadth and depth of the terminology, but because of how it’s used. In O’Brian’s hands, language paints a vivid canvas filled with nature, machines, humour, humanity and horror. O’Brian invents language and makes words do his bidding in a way that few writers have achieved. In this snippet from The Far Side of the World, Jack Aubrey, in a hurry to continue his voyage, constructs a device to raise the anchor because the usual mechanism — the capstan — has jammed:

“With scarcely a pause Jack called the midshipmen. ‘I will show you how we weigh with a voyol,’ he said. ‘Take notice. You don’t often see it done, but it may save you a tide of the first consequence.’ They followed him below to the mangerboard, where he observed, ‘This is a voyol with a difference.’ “Bonden, a fellow officer, brings the heavy sheaved block.” ‘Watch now. He makes it fast to the cable — he reeves the jeer-fall through it — the jeer-fall is brought to the capstan, with the standing part belayed to the bitts. So you get a direct runner-purchase instead of a dead nip, do you understand?'”

The Far Side of the World Do you understand? Most readers don’t, especially since “mangerboard” and “jeer-fall’ do not appear in the 12-volume Oxford English Dictionary or its several supplements. Still, most readers can see for themselves what O’Brian has left unsaid: Aubrey bent under a hanging lantern in the dappled half-light below decks surrounded by his midshipmen in their top hats, showing them an alternative way to raise an anchor.

Writing in The New York Times, Jason Epstein noted: “There is something immensely satisfying about the power of such passages to create within the reader’s own imagination the scene in question, whether the subject is nautical technology or Maturin’s rare species or Admiralty politics — advancement is always on Aubrey’s mind — or in hushed tones Maturin’s main profession, spycraft.”

Many years ago, Mark Liberman delved deeper into the etymological aspects of O’Brian’s vocabulary in a post at Language Log. Jack says that he may “perish of mere want” when his dinner is delayed and this leads Liberman to observe: “The modern accretion on mere, which typically seems to be missing in the earlier usage, is the implication that the referent of the modified noun is somehow paltry: a mere trickle, a mere drop in the ocean, a mere gesture.”

See, regardless of whether one is an escapist or a linguist, Patrick O’Brian offers endless entertainment and enlightenment.

“We will wet the swab and when it is handsomely awash, why then perhaps we might try a little music, if that would not be disagreeable to you,” says Jack to Maturin early in the first chapter of Master and Commander. What’s a swab? And why wet it? Well, when Captain Jack Aubrey returns to his Gibraltar hotel room after having spent a pleasant evening listening to a performance of Locatelli’s C major quartet, he’s presented with a letter confirming his command of His Majesty’s Sloop Sophie. Elated, he immediately orders “cold roast pollo” and “two bottles of vino.” When he wakes up the following morning the first thing he does is go to a naval outfitter’s and have a “heavy, massive epaulette” fixed on his left shoulder. That’s the “swab” and wetting it means drinking a toast to his good fortune.

Today, let us toast to St. Patrick and all the great Patricks named after him.


The Gloaming: Meáchan Rudaí

Friday, 8 March, 2019

Traditional Irish music mixed with jazz, chamber, minimalist and elements of classical is what The Gloaming does for a living. Their third studio album, which has just been released, was recorded at Reservoir Studios in New York City. The opening track is Meáchan Rudaí (The Weight of Things) and the lyrics are from an Irish language poem by the late Liam Ó Muirthile. The English translation is by Gabriel Rosenstock.

Mo mheáchan i do bhaclainn sa phictiúr dínn beirt i Fitzgerald’s Park, agus mise in aois a trí. Ár meáchan araon. Ár gcómheáchan. Meáchan do hata anuas ar do gháirí. Mo mheáchan is tú dom iompar ar feadh naoi mí. Meáchan suí agus luí agus éirí. Do mheáchan féin nár ardaíos riamh ó thalamh ach chun tú a chur i dtalamh. Do mheáchan beo. Do mheáchan marbh. Meáchan na bhfocal ag éirí is ag titim eadrainn mar a bheadh sciatháin scuaine ealaí. Trom-mheáchan urnaí. Cleitemheáchan daidh-didil-dí. Meáchanlár fáinne fí na gcuimhní.

The weight of me in your arms. A photo of the two of us in Fitzgerald’s Park. Three years of age I was. The weight of the pair of us. Our weight together. The weight of your hat shading your laughter. My weight as you bore me for nine months. The weight of sitting, getting up, lying down. Your weight that I never lifted from the ground – before burying you in the ground. Your living weight. Your dead weight. The weight of words rising and falling between us, the wingbeat of swans. The heavy weight of prayers. The feather weight of lilting. The middle weight of memory, ancient spiral.