Tag Archives: Micí Mac Gabhann

More On Shanty

I have already discussed this point, the supposed Irish origins of the word shanty, meaning a wooden house or shack. Many Irish people believe that this is an Irish word. The claim was made in the Cornell Daily Sun in 1936, in an account of a language expert giving a lecture on the influence of Irish on English. The ‘expert’, whose name was Conboy, states that shanty comes from the words sean (old) and tigh (house). In fact, teach is the usual Irish word for house. It is only tigh in Munster dialects. Most experts are sceptical of the Irish origin theory, and believe that shanty comes from the French chantier.

In his ludicrous book, How The Irish Invented Slang, Cassidy repeats this claim. As I have already said, while this claim seems reasonable, it is very unlikely that there is any truth to it, because by definition, these shanties are not old houses. They are new, temporary structures.

Recently, I came across a book in a quiet corner of my bookshelves and decided to read it again. It is called Rotha Mór an tSaoil (The Great Wheel of Life), and it is by a Donegal man called Micí Mac Gabhann. Mac Gabhann spent part of his youth in America and he gives an account of his adventures there.

In a chapter called Tógáil Tí (Housebuilding) he has this to say:

… dar linn gur cheart dúinn cábán beag tí a thógáil dúinn féin, in ionad bheith ag díol cíosa mar bhí muid á dhéanamh go dtí sin. Botháin bheaga adhmaid a bhí sa champa uilig …

… we felt that we should build a little cabin of a house (cábán tí) for ourselves, instead of paying rent as we had been until then. The whole camp was of little wooden huts (botháin bheaga adhmaid) …

Mac Gabhann must have been aware of the English term shanty, but he isn’t tempted to use seanteach or seantithe anywhere in his book. Mac Gabhann’s shanties were botháin, cábáin or tithe.