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Ireland

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.


At the cider vinegar farm

Wednesday, 20 February, 2019

Ballyhoura Apple Farm’s orchard is located on the outskirts of Kilfinane in Limerick.

Ballyhoura Apple Farm


Before Nones

Friday, 18 January, 2019

The Cistercian monks at Mount Melleray Abbey in Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, begin their day with Vigils at 4.30 am and end at 8.00 pm with Compline. At 2.15 pm, they celebrate Nones, also known as None, from the Latin Nona (“Ninth”, the Ninth Hour). Their prayers consist mainly of psalms.

Nones


He died

Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Originally published in 1942, Bowen’s Court describes the history of one Anglo-Irish family in County Cork from the Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland in 1650 until 1959, when Elizabeth Bowen was forced to sell the family house she loved. Each page contains a gem. The demise of Robert Bowen in 1828 is a case in point. Note: Bowen uses Roman numerals to distinguish the principal male heirs to the estate.

“At the cost of puzzles and disappointments, and perhaps of ordeals in his intimate life, Robert attains to a dignity that does not yet make him seem out of scale with death. By the end of ten years at Bowen’s Court he had come to attach himself to the place; he could lean back and look round — this was his home. But while Henry IV was still driving around Bath, when Henry V had been back from Trinity College for only a year or two — in fact in 1828 — Robert was once more called to face a change and a move. He died.”

It is hard to top the mordant wit there of “Robert was once more called to face a change and a move. He died.”

Elizabeth Bowen


Brexit and backstop, Britain and Ireland

Tuesday, 15 January, 2019

“The misunderstandings are too many,” noted the Irish writer Frank O’Connor, and he was convinced of where the blame lay. “Ultimately, perhaps, all the misunderstandings can be traced to sixty miles of salt water which stretches between Britain and Ireland.”

O’Connor was writing in in Cork in 1940 and, one hundred years earlier, Mr and Mrs Samuel Hall embarked upon their three-volume opus Ireland, its Scenery, Character, etc. Their journey, as we say today, began with a purgatorial crossing to Cork, and their thoughts pre-echoed those of O’Connor:

“It was not alone the miserable paucity of accommodation and utter indifference to the comfort of the passengers that made the voyage an intolerable evil. It was once our lot to pass a month between the ports of Bristol and Cork; putting back, every now and then, to the wretched village of Pill, and not daring to leave it even for an hour, lest the wind should change and the packet weigh anchor.

Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that comparatively little intercourse existed between the two countries or that England and Ireland were almost as much strangers to each other as if the channel that divided them had been actually impassable.”

The “wretched village of Pill” mentioned by the Halls there is actually Pillgwenlly, which is now a parish in the Welsh city of Newport. And Wales, as we know, voted for Brexit. The misunderstandings are too many.


Limerick 2020

Thursday, 10 January, 2019

The so-called European Capitals of Culture for the year 2020 are Rijeka in Croatia and Galway in Ireland. One of the cities that didn’t make the final cut was Limerick, which made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to become a European capital of culture.

“He knows how it is to leave Ireland, did it himself and never got over it. You live in Los Angeles with sun and palm trees day in day out and you ask God if there’s any chance He could give you one soft rainy Limerick day.” — Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes

Limerick2020


The fifth post of pre-Christmas 2018: May

Monday, 17 December, 2018

Our review of the year has reached that month the Romans called Maius in honour of the Greek Goddess Maia, who was associated with the Roman era goddess of fertility, Bona Dea. Anyway, the day dawned bright on 26 May, but by the time the three alpinisti, as they say in Italy, had reached the peak, it was shrouded in a fog that was both numinous and perilous. Still, we lived to tell the tale.

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The translation of the Gaelic Seán Sa Cheo means “John in the Fog” and it’s the title of a famous reel. The John here is John O’Rourke and, along with Tom Breen, he summited Galtymore today. Despite the fog, the hikers returned safely to base.

Seán Sa Cheo

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Tomorrow, here, the sixth post of pre-Christmas 2018 is from June and it’s all about the consequences of Joachim Löw’s fateful decision to exclude Leroy Sané from the German World Cup squad.


The Shamrock Shore before the backstop

Wednesday, 31 October, 2018

How the Irish border backstop became Brexit’s defining issue” was the title on yesterday’s Financial Times Brexit feature by Alex Barker and Arthur Beesley. It’s a vexed matter, the backstop, and it has the potential to do significant harm to all the actors in this drama. Brussels is playing with fire here as it ignores the fact that the UK has long supported open borders with the Republic of Ireland and it continued to allow travel to and from Ireland without a passport, even when IRA terrorists were bombing British cities and murdering shoppers and commuters, police and politicians.

Whether a new border, patrolled on land by French gendarmes or by the German navy in the sea, will be set up in or around the “Shamrock Shore” in case of a “no deal” Brexit remains to be seen, but the issue highlights the never-ending debate about the rights and wrongs in the historic relationship between the islands. The Acts of Union 1800 are a case in point. The loss of the Irish Parliament was greeted with dismay in Dublin and most subsequent disasters were blamed on that pivotal legislation.

All of this was aired in April 1976 when Paul Brady sang a wonderful, unaccompanied version of The Shamrock Shore ballad in the village of Clondra in Longford. The verses are filled with poignancy and what’s especially poignant is that the person seated to Paul Brady’s right in this clip is the magisterial piper Liam O’Flynn who died of cancer on 14 March this year. Our grief at his loss remains unabated.

“John Bull, he boasts, he laughs with scorn
And he says that Irishman is born
To be always discontented for at home we cannot agree
But we’ll banish discord from our land
And in harmony like brothers stand
To demand the rights of Ireland, let us all united be
And our parliament in College Green
For to assemble, it will be seen
And happy days in Erin’s Isle we soon will have once more
And dear old Ireland soon will be
A great and glorious country
And peace and blessings soon will smile all round the Shamrock Shore”


Hay thoughts from abroad

Saturday, 4 August, 2018

“In my early teens, I acquired a kind of representative status: went on behalf of the family to wakes and funerals and so on. And I would be counted on as an adult contributor when it came to farm work – the hay in the summertime, for example.” — Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

Hay


If on a summer’s night in Bansha a traveller

Wednesday, 27 June, 2018

Classical reference in the title to If on a winter’s night a traveller (Italian: Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore), a 1979 novel by Italo Calvino. The narrative is about a reader trying to read a book called If on a winter’s night a traveller.

Bansha (Irish: An Bháinseach, meaning “a grassy place”) is a village in County Tipperary strategically located on the eastern approaches to the Glen of Aherlow and the Galtee Mountains. There’s a neighbouring castle and one pub, the excellent Nellie’s.

Bansha