Category Archives: An Ghaeilge

More on Shanty

I have already discussed the origin of the word shanty and its claimed origin from Irish on this blog. As I said before, the standard explanation among scholars is that shanty comes from chantier, which is a Canadian-French word meaning a lumberjack’s headquarters or a timber-yard or dock, originally deriving from the Latin cantherius, meaning a rafter or frame. This derivation makes sense and is certainly more credible than the Irish claim. I notice that there was a brief exchange a couple of years ago about this subject on Twitter, when a tweeter called HibernoEnglish posted the following:

Shanty – a word known around the world from its association with the Shanty Town – a settlement of poor people – comes from the Irish seantigh – Old house. Shanty itself in Hiberno meaning a ramshackle dwelling.

Another tweeter, Coiste na bhfocal, took issue with this claim:

100% cinnte nach ón nGaeilge a thagann sé [100% sure that it doesn‘t come from Irish]

This is a false etymology. Níl bunús leis. [There is no basis to it]

They also cited this blog in support of the idea that shanty is not from Irish. HibernoEnglish rapidly replied, pointing out that Terence Dolan had supported the idea that shanty came from Irish:

Céad faoin gcéad? Disputed maybe, not 100%. This is the entry in T Dolan’s Dictionary of Hiberno-English. Probably the foremost expert on the dialect, could be wrong but unlikely to fall for the sources cited in the blog post above.

It is quite true that Dolan supported this claim, but Dolan, though he was a good linguist and scholar, was not infallible. Here is what he had to say on the subject:

Shanty / ʃænti/ n., a makeshift cabin; a ramshackle house; a shabby liquor-house <Ir seantigh, old house. ‘He’s up there living inan old shanty at the butt of the mountain, waiting for them to build him a council house (TF, Cavan).

Coiste na bhfocal nua answered the other tweet as follows:

He definitely wouldn’t have fallen for that source but I am sure that origin is incorrect. Dolan’s book is generally excellent but that is a bad miss.

Why did Dolan get it so wrong in this case? First of all, we need to look at what Dolan’s book is aiming to do. It is about the English language as spoken in Ireland. He seems to be saying that because it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that seanteach or seantigh could have crossed into Hiberno-English from Irish, that should be included in the book. I agree with Coiste na bhfocal nua that this is a very unlikely claim. If we could find a reference to “a shanty with ancient whitewashed stone walls and a thatched roof”, that would strengthen the case considerably. But we don’t.

I have already dealt with the fact that in an Irish book dealing with gold mining, Mac Gabhann’s Rotha Mór an tSaoil, the words used for their dwellings are teach, cában and bothán, not seanteach. I have noted that the meaning of shanty in Hiberno-English is not describing an ancient house but ramshackle, makeshift temporary structures, just like in other dialects of English.

However, this is not the only evidence in support of the idea that shanty has nothing to do with the Irish seanteach. There is plenty of other evidence in 19th century newspapers.

What about this early reference set in Canada from the 22nd of September 1833, in a London publication called Bell’s New Weekly Messenger?

About sunset, dripping wet, we arrived near the spot we were in quest of, – a shanty, which an Indian, who had committed murder, had raised for himself. It may be proper to mention here, that a shanty is a temporary shed formed of the branches of trees.

Or what about this, from the Cork Constitution of 23rd of December, 1834:

MURDERS IN AMERICA (From the Baltimore American)

It becomes our unpleasant duty to relate the particulars of a most diabolical outrage which has been committed on the line of the Washington railroad, about 18 miles from this city, involving the murders of three of the deputy superintendents of construction. It appears that on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Gorman, one of the contractors, was assailed in his own shanty by eight or ten men, supposed to be some of those at work on the road.

Or this, from the Mayo Constitution of the 12th of June, 1834?

The Irish laborer, mechanic and farmer, with small capital, must most decidedly better their condition by emigration to the Canadas – but gentlemen accustomed to the comforts of life at home must be losers by the exchange, for they must wield the axe as well as another – they must put up with a salt pork dinner, unless they live near some town or village, for the first few years – they must be content with a log house or shanty, which are easily raised here …

In other words, all of the early references to shanties make it quite plain, not only that the shanty is a makeshift, temporary dwelling, they also make it quite plain that the shanty is a makeshift, temporary dwelling in the wilds of America or Canada!

Fortress of Lugh

For many years now, I have had a deep interest in the prehistory of this area of Europe and the origins of my own Celtic ancestors and of their language and culture. Over the last twenty years, this branch of learning has been the scene of deep controversies and certainties which have turned out to be completely wrong. Less than twenty years ago, the first DNA analyses of modern European populations were suggesting strongly that our ancestors were mostly of hunter-gatherer ancestry. The complexities of this debate no longer seem very important but suffice it to say that up until a few years ago, the overwhelming position was that there was little evidence that the gene pool of Europe had been greatly added to or changed since the Neolithic.

About four years ago, improved technology brought a bombshell. As it became easier and easier to test ancient remains, the experts started to get DNA from ancient Europeans, which showed that the gene pool of Ireland and Britain had undergone an almost total replacement at the beginning of the Bronze Age.  There was a clear DNA trail from Ireland and Britain to Central Europe and from there back to the steppe and the transition to Indo-European language was no longer a mystery. The level of population replacement meant that only about 10% of the ancestry of Bronze Age British and Irish people derived from before the Beaker arrival.

Recently, I discovered a very detailed account of the origin of the Celts and their place within the Indo-Europeans in the light of these discoveries. It is on a site called Fortress of Lugh and is entitled: Are the Welsh and Irish Celts? The name Fortress of Lugh is a little odd and I have come across some criticisms of its author, Kevin MacLean, which suggest that he may be rather right-wing in some of his political attitudes. As anyone who has followed this blog will know, I am left-wing and liberal in my attitudes. I do not know if these criticisms of MacLean are justified. All I will say is that if he does have unpalatable political opinions (and I am by no means convinced that this is the case), he does an excellent job of keeping them out of his content. And then again, perhaps a right-winger who respects the facts is preferable to left-wingers who don’t (like most of Cassidy’s supporters).

Anyway, MacLean’s presentation on the Celts is superlatively well-researched, with an intelligent analysis and informed speculation. There is virtually nothing in it that I would take issue with and I cannot recommend it highly enough as a clear and cogent introduction to the new information which is coming to the fore in our knowledge of European prehistory.

I would advise you to check it out on YouTube here:

More on IrishCentral

I noticed recently that the dim-witted article on Cassidy’s book on IrishCentral is still there. As I’ve said before, IrishCentral is dreck and should be avoided by anyone who wants trustworthy information. Anyway, I then decided to have a quick look at the comments section below it.

As usual, this comments section typifies the shallowness and pretentiousness of the online world. Not that there aren’t sensible comments on it. There are, but they tend to be drowned out and shouted down by morons.

There are two specific types of fool represented here, one called Noel Ryan and the other Catherine Desmond. I have little to say about Noel Ryan, because he is so obviously full of shit and makes no attempt to actually discuss the issues involved. It is also clear that if he actually read Cassidy’s book, he didn’t read it with any great care, as he claims that jazz comes from deas. Cassidy, of course, claimed that it came from teas. 

Catherine Desmond is more problematic. In many ways, people like her are more damaging because on the surface, they look like people who have the same agenda as us, to satisfy curiosity and discover the truth. However, this is not borne out by a close analysis of what she actually has to say. She starts by saying (to Paddy Ó Ruadhán, one of the critics of Cassidy in the section:

Paddy, based on your comments, I take it that you can speak in Irish. Because of that, I might not translate some Gaelic words as I respond to your comments.

So, she speaks some Irish. You would expect her comments to be sensible. Are they? Unfortunately not.

You might not agree with Cassidy, but there’s no denying that many Irish words have been shook down into the ordinary English vernacular, and are used daily by speakers of English, including the English themselves.

There are several assumptions being made here. Is it true that a number of words from Irish have been shook/shaken down into ordinary English? A few, certainly but the fact that some words in English do come from Irish has little bearing on Cassidy’s nonsense. The existence of words like esker and shebeen is well-established, their Irish derivation beyond doubt. The words in Cassidy’s book (apart from some that are already in dictionaries) are not like this. They aren’t from Irish.

Catherine Desmond gives three examples of English words of Irish origin.

Here are a few examples:

Let’s take ‘A whole slew of people.’ I’m sure that we all know what that means, but do we all know that the word ‘slew’ comes from the Irish word ‘slua’ which means ‘crowd’, multitude, etc.

While in England, I’ve often heard someone say: ‘I’d like a slug of that.’ the ‘slug’ is derived from the Irish word ‘slog’. So, if you were to translate into Irish ‘Give me a slug of water’, you would say ‘ tabhair dom slog uisce’.

Similarly, ‘It’s smashing’ comes from the Irish ‘Is maith sin.’

Slew is from Irish slua. That fact is in all the dictionaries (though not so much in British dictionaries because it is a recent arrival from America). The mainstream accepts that it’s from Irish. As for slug coming from Irish, this is controversial, as I’ve written on this blog, because there is an attested phrase, ‘to fire a slug’, which uses the same metaphor as ‘a shot of whiskey’. It’s possible that it comes from Irish but we can’t be sure. As for smashing, if you Google smashing and Irish derivation you will find a lot of people casting doubt on this piece of folk-etymology, not just me. It is not the cast-iron certainty that Catherine Desmond is misrepresenting it to be.

I could go on and on listing English words that have their origin in the Irish language, just as I could go on and on about English words with Latin roots.

Could you? Certainly not the way you could with words of Latin derivation. There are countless thousands of words of Latin origin in English. You could easily go on day after day recounting them. This is not the case with words of Irish origin. I think you would get to 200 easily, mostly with fairly obscure terms like tanist and erenagh and fiorin, but I don’t think you would get to 300 before having to bring in fake ones like smashing and longshoreman to make up the numbers.

Irish/Gaelic is a pre-historic language, and no one is sure where it originated.

There is a lot wrong with the handful of words above. Irish/Gaelic is not a language. Irish is a language, and Gaelic is another language. (Or a generic term for three languages, Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic.) Neither Irish nor Gaelic are prehistoric languages. They are modern languages. If you register to learn Gaelic on Duolingo, you will get the modern language which is spoken in parts of Scotland and if you choose to learn Irish, you will get the modern language of the Irish Gaeltacht. Talking about the ‘age’ of languages is in many ways meaningless. In a way, all languages are as old as each other, with the exception of High Valerian or Klingon or Esperanto, so really all you are doing is quibbling about how long it has had its current name or how long it has occupied its current territory. 

I’ve read various theories, but at the end of the day, these theories are unproven. As the Celts moved across what is now Asia and Europe, they incorporated into Gaelic some words from other languages. Today, some researchers say that because there are words from this or that country to be found in the Celtic language, then the Celtic language, most likely, originated in these countries and have then asserted that Gaelic is a member of the Indo-European group of languages. I don’t know whether it is or not.

And this bit really cuts right to the heart of why I regard people like this as more of a pain in the arse than people like Noel Ryan. This is so totally wrong and so wilfully ignorant. If you look at any reputable source for information about the Celtic languages, you will find something along the lines of: “Celtic languages descended from a common ancestral language called Proto-Celtic, which is a member of the Indo-European language family.” You will find this in dictionaries and encyclopaedia entries and archaeology books and books on language. However, Catherine Desmond doesn’t accept this as fact, because according to her, those silly scholars have found some loanwords in the Celtic languages so they have got the idea they are Indo-European! Of course, scholars of language don’t just base their conclusions on vocabulary. They look at grammar and phonology and identify loanwords and try to date the loans by looking at regular sound changes in the language borrowed into and the language which loaned the word. The vocabulary of the Celtic languages is largely Indo-European, with a certain amount untraceable to any known Indo-European root. You could say the same about, for example, Greek or the Germanic languages, which contain much bigger vocabularies of non-Indo-European origin, but are still termed Indo-European languages by linguists in spite of this. Everybody who knows about the subject is quite sure of the Indo-European nature of the Celtic languages. And while there are lively and interesting debates about the area where Celtic developed, they are all well in Europe, not in Asia. Mostly, the debate is between Central Europe and the Iberian Peninsula (Celtic from the West).

Why does this irritate me so much? It irritates me because, while the experts don’t always get everything right, the fact is that they get it pretty much right most of the time. And real science is at least full of lively debate between people who know the basic facts. Speculative ideas (and there is nothing wrong with speculation as long as it’s within the bounds of reason and matches the evidence) will either be accepted or rejected by the processes of academic investigation. People who insist that Covid is harmless until ‘activated’ by facemasks, or people who believe that the Olmecs were Sub-Saharan Africans, or people who believe that Barry Fell found ogham inscriptions in North America or people who believe in Graham Hancock’s theories about a prehistoric civilisation which was so completely destroyed by a cataclysm that no trace remain are all playing the same game, ignoring the experts and the facts while promoting ludicrous fantasies which have no basis in reality.

Didgeridoo = Dúdaire Dubh?

Some time ago, I promised that I would continue my examination of the whacky theories of Irish-Australian academic Dymphna Lonergan about the Irish origins of certain typical Australian terms. Unfortunately, I have been busy since then and simply haven’t had time to complete the second instalment of my Dymphna Lonergan article. Until now.

Lonergan’s claim is that the name of the Australian Aboriginal Instrument usually known as a didgeridoo or didjeridu is really of Irish or Scottish Gaelic origin.

A bizarre claim, you might think, and you’d be right. How does Lonergan make a case for it?

Well, first of all, she has to argue that the word didgeridoo is not of indigenous Australian origin, though it is obvious that the instrument itself is. She argues that the name is not found in any Aboriginal language. This may be true but of course, a number of Aboriginal languages have died out since Europeans arrived. Another frequent claim dismissed by Lonergan is the idea that didgeridoo is an onomatopoeic term based on the sound of the instrument.

One of the things that really gobsmacked me when I read about Lonergan’s theory of the origin of didgeridoo was the way she chose to deal with the awkward possibility of onomatopoeia. Apparently, Lonergan put a number of volunteers in a room and played didgeridoo music to them: “asking subjects to make the sound of the instrument yielded words full of vowels starting with the letter “b” or “m”. No subjects made the sound didgeridoo.”

I need hardly point out how extraordinarily silly and pointless this is. For one thing, as Aboriginal music expert Randin Graves points out on his blog, there is more than one tradition of playing and some of the more unfamiliar styles would more than likely be represented by a d sound than by a b or an m. Then there is the matter of who Lonergan’s sample were. What a group of modern urban Australians interpreted the sound of the instrument to be is not necessarily what a group of rural settlers in the Northern Territories more than a hundred years ago would have heard.

In fact, onomatopoeia is the most likely explanation for the term’s origin and is certainly long-established. The earliest citations for the word, from 1918 and 1919 are clear that this is what lies behind the name.  ‘It produces but one sound – didgerry, didgerrry, didgerry – and so on ad infinitum’. Smiths Weekly 1918.

However, although this is the earliest mention of didgeridoo, there is actually a much earlier reference to the instrument with a slightly different term for its sound in the journal of Collet Barker, who wrote, circa 1829:

Mago had brought a kind of musical instrument, a large hollow cane about 3 feet long bent at one end. From [this] he produced two or three low & tolerably clear & loud notes, answering to the tune of didoggerry whoan, & he accompanied Alobo with this while he sang his treble. 

Didoggerry whoan is clearly similar to didgeridoo. Furthermore, linguist Sue Butler quotes Professor Nicholas Evans, who offers an alternative origin in his comment on Dymphna Lonergan’s theory:

When people blow the instrument, in Dalabon and Kunwinjku-speaking areas, they speak or mouth into the didgeridoo a type of word which is written as follows in the local orthography: didjmrrooo, didjmrroo didjmrroo. Those words also get used when someone is telling a story and wants to sing, or represent, the sound of the instrument being played. The stretch often finishes up with a simple didj! to represent the last sound it makes before fading to silence. I think this is a practice that precedes any contact with English.

In other words, there is good evidence that the name didgeridoo derives from words used to represent the sound of the instrument in much the same way that Irish traditional musicians use nonsense words like diddley-dee and diddley-eye when lilting a tune.

The second part of Lonergan’s appallingly incompetent theory is even easier to dismantle. Lonergan claims that didgeridoo represents either Irish or Scottish Gaelic and suggests that the didgeri part is really dúdaire (Irish) or dùdaire (Scottish Gaelic). Dúdaire describes a person and has various meanings, such as eavesdropper, trumpeter or crooner in Irish and dùdaire means various things including cornet-player in Scottish Gaelic. As for the doo, Lonergan suggests that this is either Irish dubh meaning black or Scottish Gaelic dùth meaning native or hereditary. Quite apart from this being a fairly ludicrous confection, it is highly unlikely that anyone in Irish would transfer the word for a person who plays an instrument to the instrument itself (a cruitire is a harpist, not a harp and píobaire is a piper, not a set of pipes).

The main methodological issue here is the same as it always is with crap amateur etymologists. The question is not, can I cobble something together by ransacking a dictionary to find something that sounds a little like the target phrase or word? The question is, is this what a native speaker of this language would be likely to use to describe the new object? Do I think a stray Irish-speaker, hearing the sound of the didgeridoo for the first time, would point at it and say “dúdaire dubh”?

No, I don’t think that. I think Lonergan’s theory is ill-informed, pretentious, fanciful, publicity-seeking rubbish.

A Wren Pissing In The Sea

A few years ago, I wrote a piece called Gosh Darn It, Danny in which I said that a bit more nonsense on IrishCentral would be – as we say in Irish – like a wren pissing in the sea. (Mar mhún dreoilín san fharraige.) Jeremy Butterfield, an expert lexicographer and linguist, commented that it was a great expression and that he would squeeze it into English conversations whenever he had the opportunity. Then, a year or two later, I learned that the Welsh use the same idiom (fel piso dryw bach yn y môr). This started me wondering where the expression originally came from, so I decided to do a little research.

Strangely, one of the oldest known proverbs in history is very similar to this idiom. It is found in the Sumerian language: The fox, having urinated into the sea, said: ‘The depths of the sea are my urine!’

However, this Sumerian expression doesn’t seem to have left any direct mark on the world’s languages and it is not until a few hundred years ago that we find it in contexts where it is more likely to have spread into Irish or Welsh. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins, a similar expression is found in a 1590 work (Deviz Familiers) by the French writer Gabriel Meurier:  peu ayde, disçoit le formy, pissant en mer en plein midy’. (A little helps, said the ant, pissing in the sea in broad daylight’.) Within a few years, a similar expression was recorded in English, in a letter from a man called Philip Gawdy to his brother, but in the Gawdy version, the ant has become a wren and he omits the word piss (bycause the wrenn sayde all helpte when she … in the sea).

In other words, this is an expression that seems to have formerly existed in a number of European languages that interacted regularly with one another: French, English, Irish and Welsh. However, it seems to have been lost in English and probably in French. Why this should be is a mystery, as it is a good expression.

When I looked at this question, it reminded me of another phrase which I found beautiful when I began learning Irish in my early teens, the phrase bóín Dé (little cow of God) which is the usual term for the insect known as a ladybird or ladybug in English. I later learned that phrases with the same meaning are found in many of the Slavic languages (boża krówka in Polish, Божья коровка in Russian) and I wondered why. The answer is, of course, that this was formerly widely spread throughout many European languages. In English, it was known as Godyscow in Middle English and in French it was vache de Dieu. Gradually, other expressions, mostly to do with the Virgin Mary, have supplanted these names in many European languages, leaving Irish and the Slavic east with what looks like a special connection, whereas in reality what we have today are just the remnants of something far more extensive.

If you are the kind of person who enjoys etymology and word history, you will find a lot more of it (and much better researched) over at Jeremy Butterfield’s blog: https://jeremybutterfield.wordpress.com.

Saoire Nollag Keats agus Chapman

Bliain amháin, tamall i ndiaidh na Géarchéime, fuair Keats agus Chapman leid fá chapall ag rásaí Bhaile na Lobhar agus bhain siad leadhb mhór airgid an duine. Dar le Keats gur chóir dóibh dul áit éigin thar lear le linn shaoire na Nollag. Bhí Chapman ar nós cuma liom fán phlean seo. “Nach mbeadh deireadh seachtaine fada i mBinn Éadair lán chomh deas?” arsa seisean. Ach bhí Keats leagtha amach ar dhul chun na hAilgéire agus ní shásódh an saol é ach dul ann agus sa deireadh, ghéill Chapman dó.

Mar sin de, chuir siad turas chun na hAilgéire in áirithe. Chuaigh siad chun na Fraince agus chuaigh go hAlgiers ar bhád farantóireachta ó Chathair Marseilles. Bhí siad tuirseach go leor i ndiaidh an turais ach cuireadh fáilte mhór mhaith rompu san óstán. Chaith siad tráthnóna breá ag siúl thart. Bhí an chathair galánta, bhí a lán le déanamh agus le feiceáil, bhí an aimsir ar dóigh agus an oíche sin, bhí féasta den bhia Arabach acu. Bhí an t-óstán clúiteach as an triúr cócairí a bhí ag obair sa chistin ann, Faruq, Mustafa agus Ahmed. Bhí Keats agus Chapman sona sásta agus iad ag dul a luí an oíche sin.

Chaith siad an lá ag amharc ar iontais na háite agus cé go raibh lá maith acu, chuala siad an focal ‘peste’ ó roinnt daoine (nach raibh ag trácht ar an fhealsúnacht ná ar an eisiachas, de réir cosulachta) agus bhí iarsmalann amháin druidte mar gheall ar an ghalar sin. Nuair a d’fhill siad ar an óstán, bhí cuid de na haíonna i ndiaidh imeacht agus thug siad faoi deara nach raibh Faruq ann ach bhí an bheirt eile ag obair leo agus bhí béile breá eile acu.

An lá dar gcionn, bhí na sráideanna tréigthe agus ní raibh mórán siopaí ar oscailt. Nuair a bhain siad an t-óstán amach, fuair siad nach raibh ach deichniúr aíonna fágtha agus ar chúis éigin, bhí Mustafa as láthair fosta. Agus sin ráite, rinne Ahmed a dhícheall agus bhí béile den scoth acu.

An tríú lá, bhí an margadh druidte ag na húdaráis agus ní raibh áit ar bith le dul sa chathair. Chuaigh siad ar ais san óstán agus ní raibh ag stopadh ann ach iadsan agus duine amháin eile. Mar bharr ar an donas, nuair a tháinig am dinnéara, tháinig an bainisteoir amach le roinnt rudaí fuara ar thráidire – ológa, cáis, arán agus feoil agus buidéal fíona. Bhí brón air, ar seisean, ach bhí Ahmed tinn fosta agus ní bheadh ach seirbhís theoranta ar fáil amach ansin. Bhí díomá an domhain ar Keats bocht. Eisean a mhol dóibh an turas seo a dhéanamh agus anois, bhí gach rud curtha ó mhaith agus an turas ar fad ag dul chun siobarnaí.

Ach dá olcas an cás, bhí Chapman ábalta barr a chur ar an donas lena chuid imeartas focal. Ghlac sé bolgam fíona agus d’amharc uaidh le hosna fhada.

“Tá deireadh na ngiollaí ar lár,” ar seisean, go sollúnta. “Cad é mar a dhéanfaimid féasta gan Ahmed?”

Nuair a chuala Keats na focail sin, thosaigh seisean a mhothú tinn chomh maith, an créatúr!

Derevaun Seraun

This is a question I have been meaning to deal with for a while. It was never discussed by Cassidy but it is of some interest.

Derevaun Seraun is a phrase found in Joyce’s Dubliners story Eveline. It is uttered by a dying old woman, the mother of the eponymous Eveline.

There is no doubt that it sounds Irish and some people claim to hear some clear message in it. As a fluent Irish speaker, do I hear anything Irish in it? Well, I have to admit that when I say it to myself, I do find Irish words in it. I hear (in a Munster accent) the words dearbhán saothrán. Dearbhán means a voucher, as in a card exchangeable for a certain amount of money in a bookshop or a restaurant and saothrán means a culture, specifically a culture of bacteria or fungus on a Petri dish.

Neither of these words or concepts was much discussed in the Gaeltachts of Ireland when Joyce was attending Irish classes (which he did – he was not as hostile to the language as many modern Gaelophobes would like to think). I doubt if dearbhán existed when Joyce was writing and saothrán certainly didn’t.

So, if it doesn’t mean that, what does it mean? As is always the case with Irish, the anglophone world is never slow to project all kinds of ridiculous fantasies onto our language.

So, according to one person, there is a ‘simple naturalistic meaning’ of ‘the only end worms’, (explained as deire amháin with the word pronounced ‘Seraun’ used in Connemara for worms). Okay.… Does deireadh amháin mean ‘the only end’? Kind of, but only kind of.  To me, deireadh amháin means ‘one end’ (of a number). I would express the only end in other ways – an t-aon deireadh, for example. As for során, this is a word meaning wireworms, which are a problem for gardeners but aren’t really associated with death, unlike cruimheanna or péisteanna.

A frequently quoted claim is that Derevaun Seraun is a corrupt Irish phrase meaning ‘the end of pleasure is pain’ but I have never seen the supposed Irish original of this. Another is ‘the end of song is raving madness’, presumably suggesting that the majority of deveraun is linked to the Irish amhrán, meaning song, while seraun is presumably meant to be siabhrán, meaning a slight derangement, confusion or mental delusion. How you get the word for end in there is another matter!

Or then there’s the other claim that it means ‘I was there, you should go there’ in Kerry Irish. Apparently, the first bit is supposed to be ‘do raibh ann’, which can’t be right. It would be ‘do bhíos ann’ or ‘(do) bhí mé ann’. There’s no reason for the raibh form here.

Neither is deireadh saothair likely (the end of labour or effort) as it doesn’t really sound anything like the phrase and deireadh saor doesn’t mean the end of freedom (freedom is saoirse). Deireadh saor means ‘a free end’ or ‘the end of carpenters’.

So, again, what does this phrase mean? The late Breandán Ó hEithir had some strange and rather right-wing ideas but in relation to this, I think he was spot-on when he said that the phrase was ‘probably gibberish’.  It’s meant to sound Irish without meaning anything. It suggests Irish but leaves the whole thing open to interpretation. I imagine that Joyce chose these meaningless Irish-sounding words very carefully, knowing that a tantalising puzzle with no solution would have critics of his work swarming all over it like flies on shite.

A Recommendation/Moladh

A while back, I bought a copper photo etching from talented New Zealand artist Chris O’Regan. I had intended to write about it before now but I’m only just getting around to it. Anyway, the picture took a while to make its way from the Land of the Long White Cloud to Ireland but I was really delighted with it and I promised Chris that I would give him a bit of publicity here.

The effect of the picture is very unusual. According to Chris himself, the etching process involved uses a polished copper surface where the etched areas are treated with a patina (a chemical) that permanently turns the recessed areas black and brown and the unetched areas are left with the copper shining through. The image will literally last hundreds of years because of the way it was made. It came in a tasteful and elegant wooden frame.

Chris has done several of these pictures. My picture is of Brian O’Nolan (otherwise known as Flann O’Brien or Myles na gCopaleen).

The picture is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest of Irish writers. As I am a Flannatic and a Mylesian, I am delighted to have such an attractive image of my favourite writer on prominent display in my house.

However, there is a special reason why I notice this picture every day as I go past it. Anyone who has ever lived near the sea will know that a seascape is never the same from one hour or one day to the next. As with the sea, the fact that this picture has a reflective copper surface means that it is always different depending on the light filtering in from outside. It is muted on a dark, cloudy day, while on a sunny day, the image of the great man’s face stands out and captures your attention.

If you are looking for an unusual and tasteful ornament for your home, or a different and special gift for someone who loves Irish culture and literature, check out Chris’s website here:

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Tamall beag ó shin, nuair a bhí an phaindéim i mbarr a réime, cheannaigh mé eitseáil ghrianghraif chopair ó ealaíontóir cumasach ón Nua-Shéalainn darb ainm Chris O’Regan. Bhí sé ar intinn agam scríobh ar an ábhar seo roimhe seo ach idir rud amhain agus rud eile níor éirigh liom é a dhéanamh go dtí anois. Thóg an pictiur tamall maith lena bhealach a dhéanamh ó Thír an Scamaill Fhada Bháin go hÉirinn ach b’fhiú go mór fanacht air. Bhí mé agus tá mé thar a bheith sásta leis agus gheall mé do Chris go dtabharfainn giota beag poiblíochta dó ar an bhlag.

Ta cuma thar a bheith neamhchoitianta ar an íomhá. De réir Chris féin, baineann an próiseas eitseála usáid as dromchla snasta copair ar a ndéantar na hachair eitseáilte a chóireáil le paitean (ceimiceán) a thiontaíonn na codanna ionsuite dubh agus donn agus fágtar na codanna neamheitseáilte gan athrú. Mairfidh an íomhá na céadta bliain mar gheall ar an dóigh a ndearnadh í. Ní hamháin sin, ach tháinig an pictiúr i bhfráma breá galánta.

Tá dornán de na pictiúir seo déanta ag Chris. An pictiúr atá agamsa, is de Bhrian Ó Nualláin é (ar a dtugtar fosta Flann O’Brien nó Myles na gCopaleen).

Ómós cuí atá ann do dhuine de na mórscríbhneoirí is fearr de chuid na tíre seo. Tá dúil as cuimse agamsa i saothar Myles agus tá mé thar a bheith sásta íomhá chomh galánta tarraingteach den scríbhneoir is fearr liom a bheith ar taispeáint in áit fheiceálach sa teach s’agamsa.

Ní hamháin sin, ach tá fáth ar leith a dtugaim an pictiúr seo faoi deara agus mé ag dul thart leis gach lá. Duine ar bith a bhí ina chónaí cois farraige riamh, tuigfidh sé nó sí nach mbíonn muirdhreach mar an gcéanna ó uair go huair nó ó lá go lá. Agus mar a bhíonn i gcás na farraige, mar gheall ar an dromchla fhrithchaiteach lonrach ar an phictiúr copair, bíonn sé i gcónaí difriúil ag brath ar an tsolas ag síothlú isteach ón tsaol amuigh. Bíonn sé maolaithe ar lá scamallach dorcha ach nuair a bhíonn sé grianmhar amuigh, bíonn aghaidh an mhórscríbhneora le feiceáil go suntasach agus tá idir líonadh súl agus líonadh croí ann.

Má tá tú ag iarraidh maisiúchán neamhchoitianta toighseach a fháil don teach s’agat, nó bronntanas difriúil speisialta a cheannach do dhuine a bhfuil dúil aici nó aige i gcultúr agus i litríocht na hÉireann, mholfainn duit spléachadh a thabhairt ar shuíomh gréasáin Chris anseo:

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