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Tag: Irish

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)


Seoladh na nGéanna agus na nGamhna

Monday, 5 November, 2018

The Irish Gaelic for goose is and the plural is géanna, so a flock of geese translates as scata géanna. The activity of collecting, herding or driving the geese is seoladh na ngéanna. As regards gamhna (calves), they’re below the photo of this fine scata géanna.

Seoladh na nGéanna

A calf is gamhain and calves are gamhna, and all that’s by way of saying that the English for the traditional song, Seoladh na nGamhna, is “driving the calves”.

Tá crainnín cumhra i lúib na coille
Is ragham araon go lá ann,
Mar a mbíonn ceol na n-éan dár síorchur a chodladh
Is geobhaimid na gamhna amárach.
Gabhaim cead saor ó mhaor na coille
Féar a thabhairt go lá dóibh.
Le fáinne an lae béam araon ‘nár seasamh
Is ag seoladh na ngamhan fén bhfásach.

There’s a fragrant bush back in the wood
And we’ll both go there until day comes,
Where there is birdsong to bring on sleep,
And we’ll find the calves tomorrow.
The woodman will readily permit us
To give them grass until day.
With the dawn of day we’ll both be afoot
Driving the calves on the common.


New Year’s reading: Motherfoclóir

Thursday, 4 January, 2018 0 Comments

We’re dedicating time this week to the books that were the presents of Christmas past. On Monday, it was The Best of A.A. Gill, a gift from Noel Donnelly, Tuesday it was Five Escape Brexit Island, put in the Rainy Day Xmas stocking by Ian McMaster, and yesterday it was the turn of Change Agent, given to this blogger from himself. Today, it’s Motherfoclóir by Darach O’Seaghdha, which was put under the tree in Clontarf by Brian.

The full title is Motherfoclóir: Dispatches from a not so dead language and there’s a lot in that first word there. For instance, the Irish Gaelic word foclóir means “dictionary” and its pronunciation is similar to a well-known, common and vulgar English four-letter word. So, Motherfoclóir takes a cheeky, punny look at the Irish language and the author fills the pages with stories about his own experiences with the Irish language and its role in his life. The chapters have titles like, “Irish Names or, ‘How’s That, Like, Pronounced?'” and “Ní Thuigim (I Don’t Understand), and each is peopled with tales and remarks about Ireland and the Irish and the Irish language. Snippet:

“The Irish for colour-blind is dathdhall. While some people are indeed colour-blind, others are just a bit subjective when it comes to describing what is in front of them — one person’s beige is another person’s taupe (or, if you like paint catalogues, Irish cream/hen egg/bare brick/pine nut). Such disagreements are a frequent occurrence with colours in translation.

The Irish term for a black man, fear gorm, translates literally as blue man. Just to add to the confusion, bluegrass is gormfhéar. One of the theories to explain this is that fear dubh (literally black man) was an existing term for the devil in the centuries before Irish speakers had contact with back people, and gorm was offered as compromise. An Orangeman is Fear Buí — literally, a yellow man.”

Motherfoclóir

To keep up with the stories that have inspired Motherfoclóir, follow @theirishfor.


Ploughing the sea and the shore

Wednesday, 20 September, 2017 0 Comments

The Irish (Gaelic) word treabhadh means “ploughing”, but its use is not confined to the land. In An t-Oileánach (The Islander), Tomás Ó Criomhthain writes of “ag treabhadh na mara”, literally ploughing the sea. It’s a beautifully visual phrase for describing the hard, dangerous work involved in making a living from fishing:

“Daoine bochta saonta sinn ag cur an tsaoghail dinn ó lá go lá. B’fhéidir nárbh’ fhearra dhúinn bheith n-ár scannróirí. Bhíomair oilte, toilteannach leis an slí bheathadh do cheap an Máighistir Beannaithe dhúinn a dhéanamh gan leisce, ag treabhadh na mara go mion minic gan súil le dul chun cinn ach ár ndóchas i nDia.”

Ploughing the sea and the shore


Wind & Rain

Saturday, 16 September, 2017 0 Comments

The 184th Oktoberfest begins in Munich today and it will run until 3 October. Normally, it’s an occasion for Kaiserwetter (glorious, sunny weather) but it’s kicking off this year with wind and rain. That’s ideal weather, though, for rugby and, for the first time ever, Oktoberfest will feature a world-class “sevens” rugby tournament, with teams from Fiji, South Africa, England, France, Ireland, Australia and Germany.

Wind and rain are central motifs in the ballad performed here by the superbly talented Hanz Araki, who combines his Japanese and Irish heritages in an American mix that makes for a refreshing interpretation of traditional music.


Jackie Chan goes to war with the IRA

Tuesday, 27 June, 2017 0 Comments

The Foreigner is an upcoming British-Chinese thriller starring Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Liu Tao and Katie Leung. In the film, Chan plays the role of a humble restaurant owner in London’s Chinatown who’s on a mission to track down the Irish terrorists responsible for the death of his beloved daughter. Chan is forced to push his physical and psychological boundaries beyond the limits to find and bring to justice the shadowy Foreigner (Pierce Brosnan) coordinating the IRA terror campaign. Any resemblance between Pierce Brosnan and Gerry Adams is coincidental, of course, but between now and October, when the film is released, much will be written about Adams, allegedly a member of the IRA Army Council and thus responsible for atrocities such as the La Mon restaurant bombing in 1978.

The Foreigner

Directed by Martin Campbell and produced by STX Entertainment, the film is based on Stephen Leather’s novel The Chinaman. Leather wrote the book while working as night news editor on the business desk of The Times in London. At the time, the Provisional IRA terror campaign was at its height, and the book is loosely based on the IRA bombing in 1983 of the Harrods department store in London.


Irish food truck

Thursday, 20 April, 2017 0 Comments

Irish food truck

Basics: fish and chips = iasc agus sceallóga

Example: “We ordered fish and chips to go.” (D’ordaíomar iasc agus sceallóga le tabhairt linn.)


Monday in Maria Edgeworth’s Ireland

Monday, 13 March, 2017 0 Comments

This is the week of Saint Patrick and in the run up to his big day on Friday we’re devoting our posts to matters Irish. To kick off, we’ve got an excerpt from Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth (1768 – 1849). It was published in 1800 and is regarded as the first Anglo-Irish novel.

Castle Rackrent satirises Anglo-Irish landlords and their mismanagement of their estates. The main characters are the spendthrift Sir Patrick O’Shaughlin, the litigious Sir Murtagh Rackrent, the cruel husband and gambling absentee Sir Kit Rackrent and the generous but improvident Sir Condy Rackrent. The novel is narrated by their steward, the sly Thady Quirk. For Maria Edgeworth, who was born in Oxfordshire and educated in London, the native Irish were a tempestuous people and her observations about their attitudes to notions of authority and time ring true today:

“Thady begins his memoirs of the Rackrent Family by dating MONDAY MORNING, because no great undertaking can be auspiciously commenced in Ireland on any morning but MONDAY MORNING. ‘Oh, please God we live till Monday morning, we’ll set the slater to mend the roof of the house. On Monday morning we’ll fall to, and cut the turf. On Monday morning we’ll see and begin mowing. On Monday morning, please your honour, we’ll begin and dig the potatoes,’ etc.

All the intermediate days, between the making of such speeches and the ensuing Monday, are wasted: and when Monday morning comes, it is ten to one that the business is deferred to THE NEXT Monday morning. The Editor knew a gentleman, who, to counteract this prejudice, made his workmen and labourers begin all new pieces of work upon a Saturday.”

Edgeworthstown House


Yes, he did.

Friday, 2 September, 2016 0 Comments

On Wednesday, here, our post was about the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who died on 30 August 2013. As Henry Miller put it in Tropic of Cancer: “In this chthonian world the only thing of importance is orthography and punctuation. It doesn’t matter what the nature of the calamity is, only whether it is spelled right.”

He did


And may you go safely, Pádraig

Wednesday, 10 August, 2016 0 Comments

One of the founding members of folk group Clannad, Pádraig Duggan, died yesterday aged 67. Taking their name from the Irish word for family, the band consisted of Ciarán, Pól and Máire Brennan and their twin uncles Noel and Pádraig Duggan. Their younger sister joined the band in the late 1970s and went on to international success as Enya.

Clannad successfully fused Celtic music and pop, and their breakthrough came in 1982 when they recorded the theme for ITV series Harry’s Game, set among the sectarian killing in Northern Ireland. Siúil a Rún is a traditional Irish song, sung from the point of view of a woman lamenting a lover who has embarked on a military career.

“I wish I was on yonder hill
’tis there I’d sit and cry my fill,
And every tear would turn a mill,
Is go dté tú mo mhúirnín slán
(And may you go safely, my darling)


Easter, 1916 and 2016

Monday, 28 March, 2016 1 Comment

Five years after the poet William Butler Yeats had immortalized the Irish rebellion of 1916 with the phrase “A terrible beauty is born,” the brothers-in-arms of the Easter uprising were at each other’s throats in a merciless, ruinous Civil War. And every decade since, the island of Ireland has been traumatized by eruptions of a terror that robs and murders in the name of the 1916 rebels. Beauty fades, looks change, idealism decays.

How did the idealism of 1916 turn into barbarism and then into dogmatic nationalism of the most dreary, backward kind? In the London Review of Books, Irish writer Colm Tóibín explores the history of Easter 1916 in “After I am hanged my portrait will be interesting.” At the core of Tóibín’s article is the conundrum of the rebellion. Did the rebels intend to take power in Ireland by force of arms, or was the entire exercise a form of sacrifice in which a small group of idealists offered themselves up to inspire a larger number? “What happened on Easter Monday in Dublin is open to interpretation,” writes Tóibín. “As a military event, it makes almost no sense. Taking St Stephen’s Green, rather than Dublin Castle, suggests poor planning and lack of strategic thinking.” Indeed. Instead of capturing the city’s arsenal or barracks, the rebels occupied a post office, a bakery and a public park. This was revolution as performance art.

The historic blood donation of 1916 led to partial independence, but it legitimized the notion of Irish republican “martyrdom” and this malign concept has left a trail of death, division and distrust in its wake. The poet Yeats saw beauty in the idealism of Easter 1916, but he also noted the terrible nature of the fanatic heart. The subsequent ten decades of intermittent violence on the island of Ireland have proved him right, sadly.

Easter, 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)