FEATURES OF IRISH TRADITIONAL INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC AND SONG

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time text: 4 mins)

Replying to a query on Quora on the above question, I spent some time thinking and typing the reply and then thought I might as well make that effort available to a wider audience. I have participated in many Irish instrumental music and singing sessions over decades, mostly in London and Dublin and I have two brothers who are musicians and another who is a singer. I am myself a singer, not an instrument player, nor an academic but will attempt an answer. I would recommend consulting the Irish Traditional Music Archive and reading books on the subject such as Ó Súilleabháin’s and Ó Lochlainn.

Traditional Irish music has had many external influences and among the main forms of its dance expression, jigs, hornpipes and reels, only the latter is considered originally Irish. Polkas are particularly popular in Kerry and, I suppose, built around reels. There are also slip-jigs.

The best way to experience these is probably is probably at or viewing a set-dancing session. These are based in form on the “quadrilles” of the Napoleonic period (which can be found as far away as Latin America and Cuba) and are similar to English and US Old Timey square dancing. Probably all the variants of the Irish instrumental dance music will be heard performed among the various set-dances — virtually all sequentially in the deceptively-named “Plain Set”.

Note a number of features in this good exhibition of a part of a set: hard shoes, not trainers (one exception there) to give good floor contact and sound); also some individual flourishes in footwork and body movement etc but still remaining within the music. (Source: The Harp Irish Set Dancers)

The form of dance called “sean-nós” (see description of the singing form by the same name further down) is individual expression, fast footwork with what one might also call “ornamentations”, similar to tap-dancing. The arms are held loosely down to the side or elbows to the side, slightly extended but also loosely. The overall posture may be erect or slightly stooped.

In terms of instruments used today, not one is believed to be originally Irish except the harp (which incidentally is the symbol of the Irish state, the only state in the world to feature a musical instrument in that capacity though we are far from being the only nation with a harp tradition).

The harp is an ancient Irish instrument but also symbol and was re-used by the revolutionary and republican United Irishmen, who rose in insurrection in 1798 and 1803. The later Fenians too used the symbol in less stylised form. (Image sourced: Internet)

The harp (there two main kinds, the smaller knee-standing and the larger resting on the floor between the knees) was described by Norman travellers (spies) prior to their invasion of Ireland but were known also in Wales (observers remarked not only on the aesthetic quality of the performances but also on their speed). A kind of drum was referred to by the travellers and some kind of flute but without any detail on either. The proliferation of instruments in a traditional Irish session are therefore far from being originally Irish: fiddle (violin), uilleann pipe, flute, whistle, accordion (piano or more likely button), concertina, melodeon, bazouki, mandolin, banjo and …. guitar. This last is mostly performed as an underlying rhythm instrument, a function also of the bodhrán (a kind of one-sided drum) and one may also hear a pair of spoons or sections of rib bones played for percussion. The guitar-player is often also the singer and given space to do so accompanied by his guitar, presumably in recompense for his restriction to rhythm performance the rest of the time. In many sessions there has grown sadly a tendency to restrict the performance of song to this individual or some other in the circle of musicians whereas in the past a member of the audience would perform the song; this restriction has led to the growth of song and even voice-only sessions (such as the Góilín in Dublin).

We owe the typical instruments in traditional Irish music to northern and central Europe, the Middle and Far East and to Africa. Many other instruments have been brought into use in performing Irish traditional music (including, famously, the Australian didgeridoo) but, apart from the proliferation of variations on the whistle, they have as yet failed to win popularity among musicians.

(Image sourced: Internet)

Traditional march airs also exist and, to my ear, have a tendency to be fast for the purpose. I have speculated that these represented trotting horses of the elites or warrior-caste with lower-ranking fighters running alongside — but that is pure speculation.

There are many slow airs and waltzes, definitely an import, have been composed and are also played.

TRADITIONAL, ETHNIC

With regard to the ethnicity of the performers this is not of great relevance and Irish traditional music on instruments and in voice is being played well in many different parts of the world or in Ireland by musicians with a non-Irish ethnic background. Naturally too the Irish diaspora has spawned many excellent traditional Irish musicians (and, we can remark in passing, in many other genres too: rock, pop, blues, jazz, classical).

The term “traditional” itself can open up a debate but with regard to song, I was offered this interesting definition some years ago: “author unknown, performed over three generations.” Authorship is therefore an issue as is permanency (or at least persistency). One feature of traditional music throughout the world, according to Ó Súilleabháin is never to end in a crescendo (although occasionally one may hear a traditional song or ballad treated in this way, it is rare).

However, as with “tunes” or “airs” in instrumental music, songs are being composed all along within the traditional or folk form, sometimes re-using known airs, sometimes adapting them and on occasion composing new ones.

It is important to note that ballads are not considered a “traditional” form, having entered Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries but they are accepted in traditional singing circles.

Ballads and traditional songs were on many themes of course but given Ireland’s history, the national struggle was bound to feature often. (Image sourced: Internet)

THE SINGER AND THE SONG

Traditional-style singers not only eschew crescendos but also, in general, bodily gestures or dramatic pauses or changes of volume. There are emphases rendered on occasion but these tend to be subtle.

A form of singing known as “sean-nós” (literally ‘old style’) exists with regional variations. From experience and perception (but without formal study) I would say that the main distinguishing feature of this form is in the ornamentation of notes, viz. drawing some out to briefly twist around them (interestingly, one verb in Irish for “play” as in instrument or “sing” is “cas”, literally “twist/ turn/ weave”) and the ending of a line may have an additional note added. The Qawwali religious music of Pakistan and Indian shares many features as does parts of the Flamenco singing, albeit the latter is loudly expressive.

In terms of the great themes of Irish song (and at times of instrumental pieces) these are overwhelmingly love, patriotic struggle and emigration, with sub-categories, including some that merge two or even three of the main themes (hear for example “Skibereen” or the waltz-air “Slieve na mBan”.

PLEASE DON’T CLAP ….

A very important element of Irish traditional and folk singing is not only the performance but also the audience. The tradition is not for choral or duet etc singing with harmonies, though these exist but rather for the single voice. In this we differ from other Celtic nations such as the Welsh and Bretons but parallel the Scottish tradition as well as some other folk traditions, including some English and USA Old Timey expressions.

The tradition has been that a singer will be heard through to the end with perhaps some sounds of encouragement at various junctures (on occasion I have observed a noisy Irish pub become suddenly silent as the customers become aware that a song is being sung, remaining totally silent until the end of the song). Should there be a chorus, listeners may join in and a well-known and appreciated line may get listeners joining in too (think for example of the last line in the non-traditional form — but often sung in sean-nós style — ballad about the Great Hunger: “… revenge for Skibereen!”).

I should mention here that accompanying the beat in traditional music by clapping is certainly not “cool”, although traditional musicians performing on stage have been seen to encourage it (presumably in order to reduce the isolation feeling of the performers and to increase the enjoyment of non-perceptive listeners). In fact clapping overcomes the nuances of the performance as well as the concentration of the listener, therefore limiting the depth of the experience. “Tap feet by all means and clap at the end if you please” is the general rule.

I must note also in conclusion that Irish/ Scottish traditional music with some English folk contribution are the main influences in not only Old Timey USA music but also bluegrass and country & western, with spillover into some other forms. As such, this fount of music is responsible for the creation of the “white” or “European-origin” popular music of the USA, ie around half of the entire body. The other half is of African origin, in blues and jazz (in so far as these are not the same thing), giving rise to rock n’roll, swing etc. But both these “halves” have naturally had an influence on the other and in Ireland, traditional music is also influenced by — and contributes to — “crossover” variations of music.

I would comment also that socially and politically Irish musicians have tended to identify to one degree or another with the people and their resistance and were often persecuted for doing so. This was natural, given that they mostly came from the Irish population and that was where they found their audience. In that regard it is sad to note that some, including the Chieftains musician group and singer Imelda May, performed at a state banquet in Dublin a few years ago for the English Queen, who is head of the UK state and of the British Armed Forces, currently occupying one-sixth of our small national territory and also invading other parts of the world.

End.

USEFUL LINKS

Irish Traditional Music Archive: https://www.itma.ie/

Set-dancing: http://www.harpirishsetdancers.com/

Singing: https://www.facebook.com/AnGoilin/https://en.

Colm Ó Lochlainn: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colm_%C3%93_Lochlainn

WHO FEARS TO SPEAK OF ‘98? REVULSION AT ETHOS OF O’CONNELL’S REPEAL

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 2 mins.)

In 1843 the lyrics of In Memory of the Dead were published anonymously in The Nation but it seems to have been an open secret in Dublin political circles that the author was John Kells Ingram. As often happens, the song became known by its opening line “Who Fears to Speak of ‘98” and years later Ingram admitted having written the lyrics. Though it never once mentions Daniel O’Connell, taken in context of its subject, time and where it was published, the song was a blistering attack on the politician and his Repeal of the Union organisation. Yet while Kells Ingram was many things, he was no revolutionary — unlike the editors of the Nation and many of its readers.

Plaque indicating former location of The Nation newspaper in Middle Abbey Street, Dublin, premises bought out ironically by The Irish Independent. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

John Kells Ingram was a mildly nationalist mathematician, economist, philosopher and poet who was selected to write expert entries for the Encyclopedia Britannica. But although he was no revolutionary it is clear that he felt a distaste for O’Connell’s distancing himself from the memory of those who had risen in rebellion four decades earlier.

John Kells Ingram 1823-1907 (1890) by Sarah Purser (1848 – 1943). (Photo sourced: Internet)

Supporting O’Connell initially, The Nation sought to create a patriotic and indeed revolutionary culture through its pages. One of The Nation’s founders and editors, Thomas Davis was perforce also one of the periodical’s contributors and his compositions The West’s Awake and A Nation Once Again are still sung today, the latter very nearly becoming Ireland’s national anthem. The lyrics of Who Fears to Speak celebrated historical memory of resistance and lamented death and exile, the latter to the USA, where many of the surviving United Irish had gone (“across the Atlantic foam“). Davis’ In Bodenstown’s Churchyard, commemorated and celebrated Theobald Wolfe Tone, remembered as the father of Irish Republicanism and martyr.

Portrait of Thomas Davis (Sourced on: Internet)

Three years after co-founding The Nation, Thomas Davis died of scarlet fever in 1845, a few months short of his 31st birthday. Two years later, in “Black ‘47”, the worst year of the Great Hunger, the Young Irelanders finally and formally split from O’Connell’s Repeal Movement and in 1848 had their ill-fated and short uprising – again jail and exile for the leaders followed. Just under a score of years later, 1867 saw the tardy and unsuccessful rising of the Fenians with again, resultant jail sentences and exile (in addition to the executions of the Manchester Martyrs).

Two years following the rising of the Young Irelanders, in 1850 Arthur M. Forrester was born near Manchester in Salford, England (the “Dirty Old Town” of Ewan McColl) and in 1869 his stirring words of The Felons of Our Land appeared in Songs of a Rising Nation and other poetry (Felons reprinted by Kearney Brothers in a 1922 collection including songs by Thomas Davis). Songs of a Rising Nation was a collection published by the militant and resourceful Ellen Forrester from Clones, Co. Monaghan, who struggled to raise her children after the early death of her husband and included poems by her son Arthur and daughter Cathy.

Felons of Our Land indeed contains some of the themes of Who Fears to Speak (of which Arthur was doubtless aware) but in addition those of jail and death on the scaffold. By that time, the Young Irelanders had been added to the imprisoned and exiled, some in escape to the USA but others to penal colony in the Australias. And Forester added the theme of pride in our political prisoners:

A felon’s cap’s the noblest crown

an Irish head can wear.

and

We love them yet, we can’t forget

the felons of our land.

Twenty years after the publication of The Felons of Our Land, in 1889, another Irishman, Jim Connell, writing in SE London, would contribute the lyrics of the anthem of the working class in Britain, The Red Flag. Although commonly sung to the air of a German Christmas carol, Connell himself put it to the the traditional Jacobite air of The White Cockade. Connell, from Crossakiel in Co. Meath, also invoked historical memory and included the theme of martyrdom in explanation of the flag’s colour:

The workers’ flag is deepest red —

it shrouded oft’ our martyrs dead,

And ‘ere their limbs grew stiff and cold

their life’s blood dyed its every fold.

Jim Connell (Sourced on: Internet)

The traditions and themes of resistance and struggle are handed from generation to generation and song is one of the vehicles of that transmission. But songwriters borrow themes not just from history but from the very songs of the singers and songwriters before them. In 1869 Arthur M. Forrester wrote in Who Fears to Speak of ‘98:

Let cowards mock and tyrants frown

ah, little do we care ….

Jim Connell, three decades later, took up not only the themes but also that line:

Let cowards mock and traitors sneer,

we’ll keep the red flag flying here.

End.

APPENDIX

References in lyrics to themes

of exile:

In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)

Some on a far-off distant land

their weary hearts have laid

And by the stranger’s heedless hands

their lonely graves were made.

But though their clay

be far away

Across the Atlantic foam …

In The Felons of Our Land (1869)

…We’ll drink a toast

to comrades far away …

and

…. or flee, outlawed and banned

In The Red Flag (1889)

None.

of imprisonment:

In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)

None.

In The Felons of Our Land (1869)

(Apart from the title and refrain)

… though they sleep in dungeons deep

and

Some in the convict’s dreary cell

have found a living tomb

And some unseen unfriended fell

within the dungeon’s gloom …

also

A felon’s cap’s the noblest crown

an Irish head can wear……

In The Red Flag (1889)

Come dungeons dark or gallows grim ….

of martyred death:

In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)

Alas that might should conquer right,

they fell and passed away …..

In The Felons of Our Land (1869)

….. Some on the scaffold proudly died …

In The Red Flag (1889)

….. their life’s blood dyed its every fold ….

and

….. to bear it onward til we fall;

Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,

this song shall be our parting hymn.

of cowards and/ or traitors:

In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)

Who fears to speak of ‘98,

who blushes at the name?

When cowards mock the patriot’s fate,

who hangs his head for shame?

He’s all a knave or half a slave

Who slights his country thus …

In The Felons of Our Land (1869)

…. And brothers say, shall we, today,

unmoved like cowards stand,While traitors shame and foes defame,

the Felons of our Land.

and

Let cowards mock and tyrants frown,

In The Red Flag (1889)

. ..Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer (repeated in the chorus, sung six times)

and

It suits today the weak and base,
Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place
To cringe before the rich man’s frown,
And haul the sacred emblem down.

of the higher moral fibre of revolutionaries:

In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)

Repeated reference in every verse to such as

a true man, like you man and you men, be true men etc.

Alas that Might should conquer Right ….

In The Felons of Our Land (1869)

… No nation on earth can boast of braver hearts than they ….

also

And every Gael in Inishfail,

who scorns the serf’s vile brand,

From Lee to Boyne would gladly join

the felons of our land.

In The Red Flag (1889)

The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right and human gain.

and

With heads uncovered swear we all
To bear it onward till we fall;
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.

of eventual victory:

In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)

… a fiery blaze that nothing can withstand …

In The Felons of Our Land (1869)

None – but inferred.

In The Red Flag (1889)

It well recalls the triumphs past,
It gives the hope of peace at last;
The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right and human gain.

SOURCES AND REFERENCES

John Kells Ingram: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Kells_Ingram

https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Kells-Ingram

Arthur Forrester: https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/the-felons-ofour-land-frank-mcnally-on-the-various-lives-of-a-republican-ballad-1.4185803

Ellen Forrester https: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellen_Forrester

Lyrics Felons of Our Land: https://www.workersliberty.org/story/2010/10/12/felons-our-land

Jim Connell and The Red Flag: https://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/jim-connell-and-the-red-flag/

Monument to Daniel O’Connell in Dublin’s main street, now named after him. (Photo sourced: Wikipedia)

ALBUM REVIEW: TIR NAN OG – ‘Sing, Ye Bastards!’ (2021)

Love, life, death and lots of alcohol! Yeah the sort of themes you expect to hear on a Celtic-Punk album but in the hands of German band Tir Nan Og on their new album Sing, Ye Bastards! these traditional themes are anything but traditional!

Read the rest of the review on https://londoncelticpunks.wordpress.com/2021/03/07/album-review-tir-nan-og-sing-ye-bastards-2021/

LANGUAGE IS A TREASURE CHEST 3: THE POWER OF THE WISH AND THE CURSE

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 4 mins.)

Apparently the Subjunctive Mood is disappearing from modern languages, including the Indo-European groups of Celtic, Germanic, Nordic, Romance and Slavonic. The Subjunctive is the grammatical mood by which we expressed wishes and desires, with an underlying feeling that their realisation was uncertain. But why is the Subjunctive disappearing? I think that its disappearance reflects a profound change in our general thinking, a definite shift towards a scientific view of the world.

Subjunctive forms of verbs are typically used to express various states of unreality such as: wish, emotion, possibility, judgement, opinion, obligation, or action that has not yet occurred; the precise situations in which they are used vary from language to language.” (Wikipedia)

Wishing while blowing the seed parasols off a dandelion ‘clock’. The form of words combined with an object and perhaps an element of chance was believed to have a power of realisation. (Image sourced: Internet)

Firstly, let’s look at relatively common phrases where we find the Subjunctive Mood and in English, these are not as common as in other Indo-European languages such as Irish and Castillian (Spanish), for example.

In its article on the grammatical use of the subjunctive mood in English, the online Collins Dictionary gives, among others, these examples:

  • God save the Queen!
  • God bless you!
  • God help us!
  • Heaven help us!
  • Heaven forbid that that should happen to me.
  • Suffice it to say he escaped with only a caution.

As an antidote to monarchical and religious expression, I give you the example Long live the Revolution! which is also in the subjunctive mood.

Often we can arrive at the subjunctive form by beginning the sentence with the word “May”: e.g May God bless you; May Heaven help us; May Heaven forbid. Sometimes when we use “May” we have to change the order of words a little: May it suffice to say from Suffice it to say; May you go with God from Go with God; May the Revolution live long from Long live the Revolution! And sometimes the May or even more words might have disappeared in common modern usage but be understood as in (May) thy Kingdom come1 and (May you be) welcome or (May) God speed (you).

Certainly the calling or greeting of Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year heard and read everywhere around this time of year were originally preceded by May you have a ….

Well and good2 but what has that to do with the “profound change in our general thinking, a definite shift towards a scientific view of the world” which I interpreted as the cause of the disappearance of the subjunctive?

Well, although the use of the subjunctive expressed a wish about the outcome of which we were not certain, it seems clear that its use was believed to have power. So to wish someone to (May you) go with God in English ((Que) Vaya con Dios3 in Castillian and still common in most of South and Central America and in the USA Southwest4) expressed a feeling that by saying those words, one could invoke protection upon the person leaving. Go5 dté tú slán, an equivalent in Irish but without any mention of God, one can find in the last line of the chorus in the Irish Jacobite song Siúil a Ghrá. And when we did not wish someone well, we might express a curse, invoking ill upon them: May you go to Hell! May you never prosper!

A curse tablet from ancient Athens — sometimes it was not enough to say or to write the curse but one had to attach it to an object (or to the object of the curse). (Image sourced: Internet)

Uncertain as the outcome of expressing a wish for another, whether good or ill, was believed to be in more ancient times, we are fairly convinced today that it is empty of any predictive or enforcement power, i.e we can’t make it happen by wishing alone. The only power left in the words is in the expression of emotion for us and to convey a strong wish of good (even if only socially conventional) or conversely an intense dislike towards the object of the phrases.

So when we wish someone well today we are only expressing a positive regard (whether strongly emotional or only as a social convention) and similarly the reverse with an ill-wish. Gone is the belief that the use of the words themselves had any power at all over the outcome. If we were to say nowadays May you go to Hell or the truncated Go to Hell, we would do so without the slightest belief that we can somehow convey the person to that destination6 by the use of those words – we’d merely be saying something like “I really dislike (or hate) you” or perhaps “I am angry with you at the moment”. To really express a malevolent feeling, we might instead use “I hope” but again with without any expectation of realisation, as when Bob Dylan sang to the Masters of War:

“I hope that you die

and your death will come soon”.

Today, we find the remains of the Subjunctive mostly in prayers and greetings7 and to some extent in curses and in prayers. In religion, the traditional forms of prayer tend to be preserved, whether through strong devotion, convention or habit. The survival of the Subjunctive in greetings is probably retained through the inertia of convention. We also find its survival in a few grammatical constructions and in the feeling that “I wish I were in Carrickfergus8” is somehow better than the more commonly-heard “I wish I was in Carrickfergus”.

Hands in prayer, by Albert Durer. (Image sourced: Internet)

In general we no longer believe in the power of invocation, in making things happen by expressing a wish for them in a certain verbal way. We know now or believe that to make something happen, that we need to act. Even if wishful thinking can still be seen in much of political and social expression, that is more a reflection of a reluctance to confront reality or of hope for the future, rather than a real belief in the power of expression in verbal form. A scientific outlook has replaced that of the religious, of the otherworld, giving us a stronger intellectual tool to govern our actions, to bring a wish to reality.

As with the study of history, the study of language tells us a lot about who we were and who we are now — and helps us to speculate on who we are becoming.

End.

La Malediction Paternelle (the Curse of the Father) by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805). (Image sourced: Internet)

FOOTNOTES

1 go dtaga do Ríocht in Irish, from The Lord’s Prayer of Christians.

2 Or the full Conditional Mood: That may be all well and good 🙂

3“May you go with God” — the subjunctive mood – compare with Ve te con Dios (“Go with God”), the imperative mood.

4 And sometimes in Hollywood “Westerns”.

5The Irish word Go (pronounced as guh might be in English) in the Subjunctive precedes the verb to correspond to the use of the word May in English we saw earlier. In Irish, the name for the group of greetings is Beannachtaí which interestingly translates as “Blessings”.

6If we even believe any more in the existence of that place.

7And since greetings are important for social communication the Subjunctive often gives the learner of a language some difficulty, as in the Irish Go raibh maith agat, for example.

8A line in a centuries-old macaronic Irish song (i.e a verse in Irish followed by one in English etc), Do Bhí Bean Uasal or in English, Carrickfergus. Sadly most people are probably completely unaware of the verses in Irish.

FURTHER READING

https://grammar.collinsdictionary.com/easy-learning/the-subjunctive

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_subjunctive

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjunctive_mood

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_mood

LEFT IN THE LURCH BUT SINGING

“Mo Ghile Mear”, lyrics composed later in the the 18th Century lamenting the failing of an earlier Rising, a traditional Irish air at least generations old, combined in the 1970s, sung today in great style.

I have not researched the origins of this myself but the theme is well-known, so from relying on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Mo Ghile Mear” (translated “My Gallant Darling”, “My Spirited Lad” and variants) is an Irish song. The modern form of the song was composed in the early 1970s by Dónal Ó Liatháin (1934–2008), using a traditional air collected in Cúil Aodha, County Cork, and lyrics selected from Irish-language poems by Seán “Clárach” Mac Domhnaill (1691–1754).

 

The lyrics are partially based on Bímse Buan ar Buairt Gach Ló (“My Heart is Sore with Sorrow Deep” (but “Gach Ló” means “every day” and there is no mention of “My Heart” in the title – D. Breatnach), c. 1746), a lament of the failure of the Jacobite rising of 1745.[1][2] The original poem is in the voice of the personification of Ireland, Éire, lamenting the exile of Bonnie Prince Charlie.[3] Mo ghile mear is a term applied to the Pretender in numerous Jacobite songs of the period. O’Daly (1866) reports that many of the Irish Jacobite songs were set to the tune The White Cockade. This is in origin a love song of the 17th century, the “White Cockade” (cnotadh bán) being an ornament of ribbons worn by young women, but the term was re-interpreted to mean a military cockade in the Jacobite context.[4]

Jacobite musketeers, reenactment.
(Source: Internet)

Another part of the lyrics is based in an earlier Jacobite poem by Mac Domhnaill. This was published in Edward Walsh‘s Irish Popular Songs (Dublin, 1847) under the title of “Air Bharr na gCnoc ‘san Ime gCéin — Over the Hills and Far Away”. Walsh notes that this poem was “said to be the first Jacobite effort” by Mac Domhnaill, written during the Jacobite rising of 1715, so that here the exiled hero is the “Old Pretender”, James Francis Edward Stuart.

The composition of the modern song is associated with composer Seán Ó Riada, who established an Irish-language choir inCúil Aodha, County Cork, in the 1960s. The tune to which it is now set was collected by Ó Riada from an elderly resident of Cúil Aodha called Domhnall Ó Buachalla. Ó Riada died prematurely in 1971, and the song was composed about a year after his death, in c. 1972, with Ó Riada himself now becoming the departed hero lamented in the text. The point of departure for the song was the tape recording of Domhnall Ó Buachalla singing the tune. Ó Riada’s son Peadar suggested to Dónal Ó Liatháin that he should make a song from this melody.[5]

Ó Liatháin decided to select verses from Mac Domhnaill’s poem and set them to the tune. He chose those that were the most “universal”, so that the modern song is no longer an explicit reference to the Jacobite rising but in its origin a lament for the death of Seán Ó Riada.[6]

THIS RENDITION is to my mind and ear an excellent one in traditional-type arrangement and voices (not to mention looks of certain of the singers) and all involved are to be commended. I have not always liked the group’s rendition but this is just wonderful.

In history, we fought in Ireland for two foreign royals at two different times and on each occasion they left us in the lurch.

end.

LION’S TEETH IN BLOOM FOR SUMMER

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 7 minutes)

No, that title is not a cryptic clue for a crossword but instead refers to a very common and much-despised plant with a truly remarkable story. A plant that has found amazing ways of propagation and distribution.

         The week before last I saw my first dandelion of this year in bloom in Dublin. On a cold, dark and wet day, it had its sunny bloom shining on a bit of waste ground. And not far from it, a coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) in bloom too, a relative in the same genus sometimes confused with the dandelion, also in bloom. But this is the story of the ubiquitous dandelion, which we knew as “Piss (or Wet) the Bed”, from a mistaken belief that keeping the blooms in one’s bedroom would make one void one’s bladder while sleeping.

We have two common species of dandelion in Ireland, T. vulgaris and T. officinalis, Caisearbhán and Caisearbhán Caol Dearg (?) respectively in Irish. They belong to the genus or larger family of Asteraceae, one of the two largest genera of the flower family, including so many species, from the diminutive daisy to the giant sunflower.

It is an important early source of pollen and nectar for insects in this latitude, when not many other blooms are about.

The name “dandelion” is a rendition of the pronunciation in French of “dents de lion”, i.e “lion’s teeth”, said to refer to the serration of the leaves reminding people of lion’s teeth. Well, perhaps of a cartoon or heraldic lion, or one as imagined by Europeans who had never seen the animal.

As the season progresses, soon those cheerful yellow blooms will be seen everywhere, on roadside verges and waste ground, in gardens and fields, in woodlands, on hillsides ….. Except in bogs and strangely in some parts of the Burren1, there is hardly a place where it cannot be found, which makes us see it as common and perhaps view it with disdain.

But it is far from being an everyday plant.

PUFF CLOCK AND PARACHUTE BABIES

       As children, we thought to tell the time by blowing on the fluffy balls that develop from the bloom in late Summer or Autumn, each puff being an hour and the correct time being the number of puffs to blow the last seed parachute away. It seems unlikely such an impractical idea would have occurred to us and we only did so because we had been told about it by adults.

But there is some wonder in those fluffy balls, full of separate parachutes, each bearing one seed. This is possible because what I have been deliberately calling a “bloom” rather than a “flower” is, properly speaking, a capitulum, a head actually containing many, many little flowers, or florets – and each one of those will bear a seed. It is a wonderful arrangement capable of producing a multiplicity of seeds even if parts of the bloom are damaged.

Each floret grows a silky “parachute”, the plant not only using the wind for seed dispersal (as do grasses with pollen) but developing such a means of delivery to cover great distance.

Seed-bearing puff-ball or “clock” of the dandelion (Source photo: Wikipedia)

Upon hitting disturbed ground or even a crevice with soil, the seed takes quickly – the dandelion’s children are great opportunists — and sends down a long taproot, while above ground, leaves grow in a rosette shape upon rosette, later sending out hollow stalks that will bear the bloom of florets. Each bloom responds to changes in light, in fine weather stretching the florets to the sun and following its course across the sky, or closing the head up as soon as rain threatens, opening also for sunrise and closing at evening.”1 As the florets die, their bracts close and the seeds and parachutes develop inside; then their surrounding bracts drop, allowing the expansion of the full ball of silky parachutes – i.e the maximum possible number of seed-carriers.

When the seeds have gone with the wind, the hollow stem dries up and falls away. The tap-root regularly shrinks and pulls the rosette of leaves tight to the ground: maximum absorption of sun and moisture but also maximum possible cover on ground, making it difficult for other plants to compete close to it.

Unless I dreamed it, somewhere I came across a phrase and image that I considered very democratic but have not been able to find it since. I had thought it spoken by a Shakespearian character but no search has turned it up. As I recall it, a worker or person of “low” social status says that his blood is as good as any royal person’s, for “a king on the march scatters his seed like a dandelion”!

Stages of flowering dandelion from bud to puff-ball, showing also leaves and root. (Photo sourced: Internet)

To the average flower or vegetable gardener, the dandelion is an invasive noxious weed, rapidly colonising newly-dug, hoed or even raked soil and competing with what it is desired to grow. And the fact that hoeing the leaves off even a couple of times will not kill the plant, the root sending out new shoots, makes it worse. Using a rotavator chops up the tap root but many of the resulting sections can regenerate and start a new plant.

All this is amazing enough, were it not for the plant’s sex life – or absence of it!

SEEDS WITHOUT SEX

       Most flowers, blossoms and blooms exchange pollen, usually with the assistance of pollinators – generally insects and in particular, bees. This fertilises the plants and causes the production of seeds, whether in the form of fruit or nuts or just plain “seeds”. The shape and colour of the bloom attracts the pollinator, knowing that inside there is nectar and pollen to be eaten (or collected, in the case of bees).

Well, dandelion blooms contain nectar and are visited by many insects, including bees – but the plants don’t exchange pollen in order to produce seeds. They produce the seeds alright, as we have seen – but asexually. Without sex. So why produce blooms and nectar at all?

Each new plant is a copy of the parent but no breeding occurs. Another mystery: there are a huge number of different microspecies of dandelion, differing in sometimes minute ways from one another and living and seeding in the same general area (more than 70 in Co. Dublin alone3). ‘In the British Isles alone, 234 microspecies are recognised in nine loosely defined sections, of which 40 are “probably endemic.”4

Let’s imagine an ancestral dandelion plant – how did it come to produce all these micro-species, seeding true but each separate and without cross-breeding? Botanists don’t seem to know: ‘the humble dandelion is, indeed, as the new Webb’s An Irish Flora confirms, “a very difficult genus”, its flowers not always to be told apart, even in the hand. The American ecologist Paul Ehrlich once described the reproductive policy of dandelions as “perhaps the greatest mystery in the world of plant sex”. 5

FOOD, DRINK, DYE …. AND RUBBER?

       All over Europe and Asia the plant has been known for culinary and/ or medicinal qualities but rather than just quote hearsay and unverified publications, I prefer to pass over most of the detail of these alleged qualities as the subject requires more research than I am prepared to undertake at this time.

All of the dandelion plant is edible1, except perhaps the bloom-stem: root, leaves, buds and blooms. Which is probably how this native Eurasian plant came to colonise America (though North America does have its own native species too) – brought there as a culinary plant by European colonists. The green leaves are likely to be too bitter for many tastes unless blanched first – i.e covered to deny them sun for a week or so, when they will turn yellow and lose much of their bitterness but still remain crisp.

The typical rosette growth-pattern of the dandelion leaves.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

Dandelion wine has been made from the flowers (a gallon of flowers for a gallon of wine7, but some other ingredients must be added, as with all European plants with the exception of the grape or the gooseberry). A mildly-fermented drink, dandelion and burdock8, has also been made from a combination of the dandelion flowers and burdock roots.

Dandelion wine
(Photo sourced: Internet)

The flowers have also been dried, then ground into a powder to make a light yellow dye but I lack information on its colourfastness.

The white sticky liquid (latex) in the stems and along the main rib of the larger leaves has been said to remove warts but having tried it myself without success I doubt this claim. Furthermore, I believe the remedy may be confused with a similar-looking white sap from a completely different plant, the petty spurge (also known as “milkweed” and other common names), Euphorbia peplus, which I have found efficacious. However, the white sap in the dandelion has been developed by selective cultivation in one species to replicate the latex of the rubber tree9 and dandelion rubber may one day become a familiar product.

Soon, this seemingly ubiquitous flower of many “cousins” and many uses, an opportunist colonist with thousands of daughters sailing the wind, will be brightening our ways everywhere. Once we know even some of its qualities, can we ever again look at the dandelion with disdain?

End.

 

A field of dandelions. (Photo sourced: Internet)

FOOTNOTES

1In New Atlas of British Irish Flora, quoted by Michael Viney, “Pissey beds lion’s tooth” etc (see Sources, References)

2Ibid, also Taraxacum – ‘A very difficult genus of a multitude forms, which set seed without pollinating, and never, therefore, interbreed.’ An Irish Flora by D A Webb, Sc.D. 1977, quoted in Wildflowers of Ireland (References, Sources).

3Ibid.

4 Stace, C.A, New Flora of the British Isles, quoted in Taxacum (References, Sources)

5Michael Viney, Irish Times (References, Sources)

6Taraxacum (Sources, References)

7Michael Viney, Irish Times (References, Sources)

8Not the commercially-produced and carbonated drink

9Taraxacum, ‘As a source of natural rubber’ (Sources, References)

SOURCES, REFERENCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taraxacum

In Irish: https://blogs.transparent.com/irish/blath-bui-eile-an-caisearbhan-dandelion-in-irish/

http://www.wildflowersofireland.net/plant_detail.php?id_flower=86

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/pissy-beds-lion-s-tooth-it-has-to-be-the-dandelion-1.515483

Petty Spurge as cure for warts (and variety as cure for skin cancer): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphorbia_peplus

and https://www.teagasc.ie/media/website/crops/horticulture/vegetables/Illustrated_Guide_to_Horticultural_Weeds.pdf

Ho, Ho, Ho! Father Christmas

Diarmuid Breatnach

We now approach the festival called Christmas. A Christian festival, apparently, celebrating the birth of Christ, the baby Jesus.

Away in a manger
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His sweet head

The stars in the sky
Look down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

Such a sweet, holy image.

But actually, when we look around us, it seems more like a festival of the pagan gods: Bacchus, the god of alcohol and of Mammon, the god of wealth. Bacchus, because in non-Moslem countries, drinking of alcohol will be for most a big component of the festival. Whiskey, brandy, wine and beer will be bought to stock up the house. Alcohol will be drunk at Christmas parties (including office parties, where for months afterwards some people will regret what they did or said – or even what they didn’t do or say).

Alcohol will be not just drunk but also put into some of the traditional food and even poured over it.

Then Mammon. Well, you can see the retail businesses stocking up for weeks or even months ahead of the festival which, after all, was only supposed to be a one or at most a two-day event. Giving and receiving gifts has now become part of the festival and in most cases, gifts have to be bought. Which is a really big gift to the retail businesses and thence, really a sacrifice to Mammon.

In the Christian gospels of both Matthew and Luke, it is written that one “cannot serve both Mammon and God” — which goes to show how little they understood capitalism, where Mammon IS God. A theologian of the Fourth Century saw Mammon as a personification of Beelzebub, which in his time was another name for Satan or the Devil.

Interestingly, Protestant Christianity, which some credit as having invented capitalism, at the same time regarded Mammon, or said they did, as “one of the Seven Princes of Hell”.

Cartoon depiction of Mammon, God of Wealth
(Image sourced: Internet)

Sculpture representation of Bacchus, God of Alcohol, in California winery, USA
(Image sourced: Internet)

SANTA

          Now, Santa Claus is also a big part of the Christmas festival, especially in western countries, a much more acceptable face than that of greedy Mammon and alcoholic Bacchus, right?

But originally, the Christians saw him a representation of St. Nicholas, 4th Century Bishop of the Greek city of Myra, a location now in Turkey. He was he patron saint of archers, repentant thieves, sailors and prostitutes. The prostitutes probably had to be repentant ones, of course! The sailors, who probably had at least as much recourse to prostitutes as had any other calling, were apparently not required to be repentant – to be in danger on the sea was enough.

But St. Nicholas was also the patron saint of children, pawnbrokers and brewers, so we can see how close he was getting there to the modern spirit of Christmas.

GERMAN TRAPPINGS

          Now, the Christmas Tree, der tannenbaum, so much a part of the symbolism of modern western Christmas, came to us from Germany, as did the sled and the reindeer. The reindeer are not autochthonous or endemic in historic times to Germany, so they must have been brought in their myths from Scandinavia from where originally, the Germanic tribes came from. In turn, the Christmas Tree, Yule Log, reindeer and sled were exported from Germany to England in the reign of Queen Victoria, by her consort Prince Albert, who was German. And since the English ruled all of us in Victoria and Albert’s time, the Christmas Tree came to us too, to the cities first and then slowly spreading through the rural areas.

A representation of St. Nicholas (before he got the red suit makeover) looking more like a pagan god of the woods.
(Image sourced: Internet)

***

When you think about it, this German-English worship of the tree was a bit ironic, since the English had wiped out most of our forests already and were still cutting down our remaining trees in Queen Victoria’s time.

***

And Victoria, through Albert, gave us the Santa Clause we know and love today. A jolly man, well fed, white beard, twinkly eyes, dressed all in red with white trim ….

IN RED?

          Now, wait a minute! It turns out he wasn’t always dressed in red. Originally, he was dressed in a brown, or green cloak. He was, originally among the Germanic people, a god of the forests – hence the evergreen Christmas tree. And like any sensible woodsman, he dressed in appropriate colours, brown or green. Neither Albert nor Victoria ever represented him as dressed in red. So how did it become so that we are incapable of seeing him today in any other colour than red? Well, it turns out that Coca Cola is the responsible party.

Yes, although it was the cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1870s United States who first portrayed Santa in a red suit with a belt but it was Coca Cola, in their advertising campaign of 1931 and onwards who made his clothes red world-wide. Coca Cola is a drink served cold and almost undrinkable when warm and who needs a cold drink in cold weather? I guess Coca Cola needed a warm image to make it still attractive in winter. So therefore the warm, jolly man dressed in red, with a bottle of Coca Cola in his hand.

1931, Santa Clause first appears in red, in Coca Cola advertisement, USA.
(Image source: Internet)

Coca Cola brand is worth about $74 billion dollars today, far ahead of any other cold drinks product. Which I guess brings us back to …. yes, Mammon.

You can mix the drink with a number of alcoholic beverages too, so tipping a nod – and a glass – to Bacchus.

Now, the German Santa Claus, this originally woodland god, is also thought to have been something like Thor, a god of fire and lightning. So can it be any coincidence that two of his reindeer are called Donner and Blitzen, i.e “Thunder” and “Lightning”? Of course not!

A starry night over desert hills, like the Nativity scene but without the Guiding Star.
(Photo source: Internet)

INVISIBLE

          Although we see the image of Santa Claus everywhere and even pretend Santa Clauses all over our city streets, everyone knows that nobody sees the real Santa Claus. Children have to be asleep when he arrives to distribute his presents and somehow adults don’t see him either.

Which I suppose is a good thing …. I mean if you found an intruder in your house at night, not to mention near your children, you’d be liable to whack him with a hurley (that’s an Irish cultural reference) …. or a baseball bat (that’s a U S cultural reference) …. or stab him with a sharp kitchen knife (that’s an international cultural reference).

It was bad enough when somehow that portly – not to say fat – man could somehow come down your chimney and go up again, without waking anyone … but now he can get in your house or flat even when you don’t have a chimney.

Which is at least creepy, if not downright scary.

Let’s lighten the mood and sing together:

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why

Santa Claus is comin’ to town
Santa Claus is comin’ to town

He’s making a list
He’s checking it twice
He’s gonna find out
Who’s naughty or nice

Santa Claus is comin’ to town
Santa Claus is comin’ to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

Yes, lovely, lovely.

You better be good, you better be nice, I’m not telling you twice” — Is it just me, or is that not downright threatening? And he knows when we’re sleeping or awake? He has our children under surveillance? In some kind of list?

HO! HO! HO! IN MORALITY PLAYS

          Morality Plays were a genre of theatrical performances of the medieval and Tudor eras in which a character was tempted by a personification of Vice. Now Vice (not unlike a lot of police Vice Squads), was often seen as the epitome of evil, corruption and greed – in other words, the Devil. The playwrights tended to portray the Devil as somewhat of a comical character, perhaps to keep their audiences entertained (or to disarm them). So the character who played the Devil would announce his arrival with a stage laugh: “Ho, Ho, Ho!”

You can probably see where I’m going with this.

Nowadays, we tend to see the Devil portrayed in black but in earlier times, he was more often seen as coloured in red. The colour in which Coca Cola just happens to have dressed Santa too.

The German or Nordic Santa was originally a god of fire also, while even the modern Santa drives a magical chariot pulled by horned beasts and he is portrayed all in red. Traditionally, the Devil is seen as residing in Hell, a supposed place of eternal flames below ground. What does Santa Claus give to children who have not been good? A lump of coal! In other words, a mineral from underground that can burn to make fire.

NICHOLAS

          Santa Claus is supposed to be modeled on St. Nicholas …. and what is the popular abbreviated version of Nicholas, i.e the nickname? Yes, Nick.

And the common name for the Devil, Mammon, Beelzebub, Satan ….. Old Nick!

We need to wake up!

HO, HO, HO!

End.

SAN FERMINES 2019: RETURN OF THE OLD REGIME AND THE BATTLE OF THE FLAGS

Introduction and translation by Diarmuid Breatnach

The San Fermines Festival in Iruña (Pamplona in Castillian) is renowned around much of the world for its colour and also danger with the running (corrida) of the bulls. But for many years it has been the occasion and site of sharp political struggle and there have been other dangers too.

ANTI-BASQUE NATIONALISM IN NAFARROA

          Although the city is Basque, centre of the medieval kingdom of Nafarroa (Navarre), it was run for decades by UPN (Union of Navarrese People), what some considered the Basque version of the Partido Popular, post-Franco Spanish political party founded by the Dictator’s supporters. Although in 2008 UPN broke from its fraternal relations with the PP, the party remains Spanish-unionist and conservative, strongly opposed to Basque independentism and wishing to remain separate from the rest of the Basque Country, whether the other three southern provinces or the three across the French border.

During the Spanish Republic of 1936, the ruling political interests in Nafarroa broke with the Basque nationalists and opted for supporting the military-fascist coup of Franco and the other three generals – the reactionary Nafarroan Carlists murdered 3,000 Basque nationalists, republicans, communists, anarchists and social democrats in their province alone. They also took part in fighting as part of the military-fascist forces.

For many years, the first day of the San Fermines festival has been the scene of struggle between those who sought to bring the Basque national flag, the Ikurriña, into the main square, to be present during the launch of the week of festivities. And beatings and for Basque independentists have resulted, even fines and jail sentences, especially when they have been successful.

But in the elections of 2015, a coalition of political parties of Basque independentism, nationalism, and left-social democracy took power in the Navarrese regional Government and began to change matters on a number of fronts. In 2017 the Ikurrina was flown from the official balcony and the the Spanish Government Delegation in the region took a judicial case against those responsible and the same people in 2018, EH Bildu, refrained from flying it, displaying instead a bare flagpole. However, that coalition lost its majority of seats in the elections this year and the UPN came back into power, with the resumption of ‘business as usual’.

ASSAULT AND RAPE

          In recent years, another menace has come to the fore, with some men assaulting women in the press of the crowd. Most horrifying was the multiple rape of an 18-year-old woman on July 7th, during the San Fermines festival of 2016. The woman, who approached a few men to help her find her way and was apparently under the influence of intoxicants, was led into a doorway, her phone taken off her and raped in a number of ways by each, who also videoed the event and put it up on the Internet. Due to the description to the Nafarroan police by the victim and their promotion of their act on social media, the perpetrators were soon arrested. But they were tried not for the more serious crime of rape but for sexual abuse, because she appeared not to resist and therefore no violence was necessary to restrain her – a feature of Spanish law.

The group of five violators and rapists had given themselves the boastful title of La Manada (the Wolf-Pack) contained a Spanish Army soldier and a Spanish Guardia Civil policeman among its members. And they on a previous occasion filmed themselves having sex with an intoxicated woman on the flat bed of a truck and put that too out on social media.

Gang-rapists, the self-styled La Manada (“the wolf-pack”) (Photo source: Internet)

The Pack claimed that their victim was willing but found it difficult to explain that she had only met them seven minutes before the assaults or their taking of her mobile phone and some other matters and were found guilty and sentenced to nine years jail but allowed bail when they appealed. Since their appeal might find them not guilty, one might argue that they were entitled to bail while awaiting the hearing.

BASQUE AND CATALAN INDEPENDENTISM V. RAPE

          However, the youth from Alsasua (Basque town in Nafarroa), who were accused of assaulting off-duty Guardia Civil policemen who entered a Basque independentist late-night bar as a provocation in October 2016, were not only kept in jail while awaiting trial in Madrid but also four of them while awaiting an appeal hearing (against sentences of between two and 13 years jail!). And the Catalan independence grass-roots campaign leaders and elected politicians who were charged with sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds for organising a referendum on independence in October 2017, were kept in jail until their trial and are there still, now awaiting judgement. They include one who was elected an MP while in jail and another who was elected an MEP (Jordi Sanchez and Oriol Junqueras).

Many aspects of the Manada case led to an outcry over the whole Spanish state. Although the Prosecution had asked for sentences of 22 year and 10 months, they were sentenced to nine year jail. On December 5th 2018 their sentences were confirmed to those nine years, although two judges on the panel disagreed, wishing for sentences of a little over 14 years as they felt that there had been intimidation and coercion, there had been “degrading acts” and she had been left half-naked on the ground with her mobile phone taken (and memory cards removed). The five-judge panel however ordered the first court that tried them to issue another sentence for the filming and publishing of the rape as her privacy had been violated. The Defence lawyer has indicated that his clients would appeal the sentence as did also the City of Iruna (Pamplona).

THE BATTLE OF THE FLAGS

The town square of Iruna/ Pamplona, traditional site of the launch of the San Fermines folk festival, this year showing, despite threats of the UPN Mayor, Ikurrinak and banner against the dispersal of Baque political prisoners prominently displayed.
(Photo sourced: publico.es)

Translation of short article in Publico.es

          In the end, the ikurriña was present. The images of the first Sanfermines after the return of the Right to the City Council of Pamplona are already crossing the world and they do it with the ikurriña and the flag of Navarre displayed among the public. The earlier threats of Mayor Enrique Maya (UPN) had no effect, nor did the police deployment in the surrounding area.

Under an intense sun and in a crowded square, the txupinazo (firing of ceremonial rocket — Translator) of the Sanfermines – the act that marks the beginning of the festivities — took place at 12.00 o’clock. Minutes before, (many of) the attendees managed to deploy a ikurriña of great proportions, accompanied by the Flag of Navarra. A white placard also appeared in which the return of the ETA prisoners was demanded (i.e end of the dispersal of independentist prisoners all over the Spanish state — Trans).

“UPN, kanpora” (UPN, out!) was heard in the square when the Mayor was on the balcony. A few days before, Maya had issued a notice announcing that entering with fabric of large proportions was strictly forbidden, citing security reasons. However, the same Councilor said shortly after in an interview in the newspaper El Mundo that there would also be “a device” to prevent the EH Bildu councilors unfurling the Basque flag on the balcony of the town hall.

POLICE SEIZURE OF FLAGS

          One hour before the txupinazo, journalist Gara Aritz Intxusta reported by Twitter that local police had seized “150 small ikurriñas that were going to be used in a kalejira” (festival parade) that was going to be performed in the streets of the city to protest against the Mayor’s party.

Source: https://www.publico.es/politica/ikurrina-acto-presencia-sanfermines-gritos-upn-fuera.html

Video posted 2013

of daring event as the hour for the launch approached, Basque independentists in “disguise” of anglers, cast a line across from the rooftop on one side of the square to the other and then a stronger line was taken across with a giant ikurrina attached. One can see earlier, police rushing to confiscate a flag or banner and a giant political prisoners’ banner being held above many in the crowd. In 2013 the UPN Mayor deliberately delayed the launch past the traditional hour of noon so as to give secret police time to cut the line and not to have it happening with the Ikurrina hanging over the square.

End.

BLESSINGS, CURSES, OATHS, THE FENIANS AND POPE PIUS IX

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: under 10 minutes)

This is an article about grammar, religion and politics. While the last two are often discussed in the same conversation, grammar is usually absent as a subject. But it has its place here.

 

SWEARING AND CURSING

          “Don’t curse!” or “Don’t swear!” a parent or an elder might have said to us when we were children or teenagers. And particularly when we were teenagers we did exactly what we had been told not to, certainly the boys, in a mistaken sign of manhood. As a verse in the English folk song The Shoals of Herring has it, in fact:

Well you’re up on deck, you’re a fisherman,

You can swear and show a manly bearing,

Take a turn on deck with the other fellows

As you hunt the bonny shoals of herring.”

A related admonition was against “taking the Lord’s name in vain”, which was a prohibition of blasphemy, the misuse of Yahweh’s name, taken from Exodus 20.7: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord they God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.” 1

So most of us grew up thinking that swearing and cursing were the same thing and more or less careful about which company in which to use those words – or not. But we were mistaken, cursing and swearing are not the same thing at all.

We are familiar with swearing in some formal settings, such as courts of law, for example: “I swear by almighty God that the evidence I give shall be the truth, the whole truth ….”2 and also with swearing for entry into some organisations (frequently the armed forces).

Bejaysus”, common in Dublin, is from “by Jesus” and “bedad” is probably a disguised “by God”. The Cockney’s “Blimey” was originally “May God blind me” (e.g “if I am not telling the truth”).

The use of “Bloody” in informal society was often a swearing upon the “blood of Christ” or, strangely sometimes, the blood of “Mary”, the mother of Christ in the religions of “the Book” (Bible, Talmud or Koran). Of course “bloody” could be used pejoratively in the sense of “blood-stained”3, in which case it was not swearing but might still raise objections in some quarters of society, or descriptive of a massacre as in “Bloody Sunday”4.

In fact, swearing is to call a divine Power to witness the truth of what we are saying (in courts of law, for example) and that we intend to carry out the expectations of the organisation (e.g in the armed forces). In swearing, we utter an “oath”. Nowadays, most people who are not highly religious probably attach little importance to the form of words, though some institutions persevere with them. But in older times and not even so long ago, most people viewed an oath as a very important thing.

To break an oath of allegiance in some countries and in some periods incurred severe penalties, including death. “Oath-breaker” was an epithet that might be attached to the name of an “outlaw”, one who had broken his oath of service to a Saxon, Norman or English Lord in the Middle Ages.

The required Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, simultaneously to the Head of the Anglican Church, prevented many Catholics for centuries from entry into many professions and from being elected as a public representative. And the British Crown was itself particularly worried for centuries by alternative “oath-bound societies” that were seeking united workers’ actions, such as agrarian defence organisations and trade unions, or equality and improvement in social conditions, for example political organisations. Laws were passed against the dispensing and swearing of such oaths.

Representation of the three witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. throwing a curse.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Cursing, although it may sometimes “take the Lord’s name in vain”, is something else completely. We know in Ireland of the “Curse of Cromwell” but more frequent probably was Mallacht na bPréacháin “the Curse of the crows”, which wished upon the victim a childless land, to be inherited only by the crows. Scread mhaidne was another ill-wish to lay upon someone, that he or she may die in agony, screaming into the morning. Ná feice tú Dia sounded less terrifying but might have been more frightening for a very religious person: “May you (never) see God!”.

Painting of Oliver Cromwell, an English Republican whose name became part of a curse in Ireland (including for Irish Republicans!).
(Image sourced: Internet)

 

Damn” and “Goddamn” are abbreviations of “May God damn …” (“you, her, it, them” etc) and to utter them in many circles in the USA is considered evidence of bad rearing. They are curses which are also oaths, in calling upon the Devine being to add power to the curse.

Typically, curses and oath-curses use the subjunctive in grammar and, although seemingly strange, this connects them to blessings and greetings. Go raibh maith agat (may you have good”) is the Irish for “thank you” and Go mba hé duit (“may it be [the same] for you”) is the reply to the Irish greetings Sé do bheatha or Móra duit. Slán abhaile (“Safe home”) is an abbreviation of Go dtéigh tú slán etc (“May you go safely home”). All of these are in the subjunctive form of speech.  Vaya con Dios (“May you go with God”) is a castillian-language (Spanish) farewell wish we might come across in tales set in the south-west USA or in Latin America; that is also in the subjunctive. In fact “farewell” was “fare thee well” and probably originally, “May thee fare well”. Instead of the “Go to Hell” or “I hope you break your neck” one might hear today, centuries ago one would have heard “May you go to Hell” or “May you break your neck”.

This constant use of the subjunctive to wish well or ill upon others suggests to me that it was widely believed, at some stage in society, at least in most European societies, that one could make something happen by using a certain form of words. That form was the subjunctive; however, according to many who study language, the subjunctive is disappearing in European language and remains most in use preserved in everyday greetings and well-wishes – and the occasional curse.

It seems to me that the reason for this gradual disappearance is that we no longer believe we can make things happen by the way that we say them. We may wish them – and show the object person that we wish them – but we can’t make them happen. Nor can we expect a thing to happen with anything like a confidence that invoking a God will bring the wish, for good or ill, to fruition.

FENIANS

          Earlier in this discussion I touched on oath-bound societies and the apprehension with which they were often regarded by those in power. Well, the Fenians were such an organisation. Formed on St. Patrick’s Day 1858, in Ireland as the Irish Republican Brotherhood and in the USA as the Irish Fenian Brotherhood, it was a popular movement until the Irish Civil War (1919-1922). Because of their revolutionary credentials and democratic program, they were accepted into the International Workingmen’s Association (the First Socialist International 1864-1889). As a true Republican organisation, they sought the separation of Church and State5 and in that, apparently incurred the wrath of Pope Pius IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Feretti, ruled from 1846 to his death in 1878). He excommunicated the Fenians.

Pope Pius IX
(Photo source: Internet)

Although a significant number of Fenians (particularly in the leadership) were of Protestant background (Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Unitarian), most of the Fenians had been brought up in the religious faith of the majority in Ireland, Catholicism. Not only would excommunication be painful to Catholic Fenians but could also lead to their being shunned by other Catholics who might otherwise have supported them. In the end this did not occur to anything like the extent that would have pleased the Catholic Church hierarchy or the British rulers of Ireland, as Irish Catholics have historically shown an ability to set to one side the teachings of the Church when they appear in contradiction to their struggle for national self-determination.

But obviously the public excommunication did the movement some harm and hurt many Fenians who were also strongly Catholic, such as John O’Mahony, co-founder in the USA, who left the Fenians as he approached his death so that he might be administered the last rites of the Church6.

John O’Mayony, c.1867, a Catholic Fenian, excommunicated by Pius IX (Source photo: Internet)

SCHOOL SOPHISTRY

          In an Irish secondary school run by the Christian Brothers, we were taught that the opposition of the Catholic Church to the Fenians (and presumably to the subsequent Republican military organisations), rather than being due to their struggle for Irish independence, was the secret organisation’s dispensing and repetition of an oath of allegiance. Perhaps we were too ill-informed (I know that I was) to bring up the question of oaths given in other circumstances, such as in giving evidence in court or in military service, circumstances with which the Church appeared to have no problem.

Had one of us done so, our Christian Brother teachers might have replied that what was wrong was “taking the Lord’s name in vain” and explained that “in vain” did not, in the English at the time of translation of Bible texts, mean only “for no important purpose” but also “for no good purpose” and that would of course have included “for an evil purpose”.

Had we questioned what the “evil purpose” might have been in the case of the Fenians, we would have put our teachers in some difficulty.

What for example in the two versions of the Fenian Oath recorded, might be considered “evil”?

I, A.B., do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will do my utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to make Ireland an independent democratic republic; that I will yield implicit obedience, in all things not contrary to the law of God, to the commands of my superior officers; and that I shall preserve inviolable secrecy regarding all the transactions of this secret society that may be confided to me. So help me God! Amen.”

I, A.B., in the presence of Almighty God, do solemnly swear allegiance to the Irish Republic, now virtually established; and that I will do my very utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to defend its independence and integrity; and, finally, that I will yield implicit obedience in all things, not contrary to the laws of God, to the commands of my superior officers. So help me God! Amen.

Would a Christian brother have admitted opposition, not only by himself but by the Catholic Church, the dogma of which he was explaining, to the establishment of an “Irish Republic”, or even to “an independent democratic republic”? And if not, what then? The use of armed force, i.e violence? Since when has the Catholic Church hierarchy been against violence in or of itself? Did it not support some side in most inter-European wars and Spanish, French and Portuguese colonial wars? In fact, did the Catholic hierarchy not itself initiate some wars and did the Vatican not have its own army, as pointed out by Fr. Sean McManus in the USA7?

If the objection were not to “a democratic Republic”, against which Pius IX was definitely set, in that he opposed the separation of Church and State, then surely the only honest reply could have been: “The Catholic Church hierarchy in Ireland made a deal first with the British occupation that if they gave Catholics equal rights and let us build up our power here, we would not support their overthrow. Since then we made a similar deal with the Irish State and its rulers. And we intend to honour that deal.”

End.

FOOTNOTES:

2In the courts of many countries one is now permitted to use the words “I affirm that the evidence I shall give …” and one may sometimes be asked by the presiding judge whether one is an atheist, or agnostic – presumably as otherwise the failure to “swear by Almighty God” might be regarded as suspect.

3“Bloody Queen Mary” was an example, Mary Tudor, Mary I Queen of England (1560-1558; ruled ’53-’58), who had nearly 300 Protestants burned at the stake for “heresy”. )

4In Irish history, three are generally recognised: Dublin 1913, Dublin 1920 and Derry 1972.

5Not all organisations dubbing themselves “Republican” do in fact uphold this principle and in fact it could be said that the Irish Republican movement from the early 20th Century until its end did not generally do so, in that it rarely confronted the Church on its social policies or interference in lay matters, except when the Church condemned Republican actions. Also a great many Republican commemorations included the officiating of a member of the Catholic clergy.

6See the Irish Echo article in Links & References.

7Ibid.

 

LINKS AND REFERENCES

https://www.google.com/search?q=Dictionary#dobs=excommunication

https://www.irishecho.com/2011/02/unholy-row-brews-over-anti-fenian-pope-pius-ix-2/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syllabus_of_Errors

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_excommunicated_by_the_Catholic_Church

https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/two-fenian-oaths