Packed Concert Commemorates Return of the Irish Brigadista Volunteers

Diarmuid Breatnach

A mixed audience of anti-fascists were entertained on 23rd November by a range of artists from the Irish trad-folk scene and a Spanish band performing to commemorate on its 80th anniversary the return of the Irish survivors of the International Brigades to Ireland. The event, “The Return of the Connolly Column” was organised by the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland (FIBI) and the venue, the Workman’s Club on Wellington Quay of the Dublin City Centre, was packed.

The event began with Dougie Dalby introducing Harry Owens, a Spanish Civil War historian and founder member of the FIBI. Owens gave a speech, recalling how the social-democratic PSOE Government in the Spanish State in the 1980s had not wished to support the marking and conservation of graves of International Brigaders who had fallen in battle but had been convinced to do so by Edward Heath, British Prime Minister and by the leader of the Irish Labour Party at the time, Dick Spring. FIBI had become part of that commemoration effort in visiting some of the sites but also in erecting monuments and plaques in various parts of Ireland.

Colm Morgan from Co. Louth followed, with guitar and voice, with some of his own compositions, including one about Frank Ryan – excellent material in my opinion – to be followed by Mick Hanley (guitar and voice again) accompanied by Donal Lunny. Hanley and Lunny have history, of course, not least in that great band of the past, Moving Hearts; both belong to that honourable class of Irish musicians who have not been afraid to support progressive causes including some in their own country – and who have never performed for “any English King or Queen”.

(L-R) Dónal Lunny and Mick Hanley performing at the FIBI event.
(Photo source: FIBI)

Lunny accompanied various artists at different times during the evening, sometimes on keyboard and sometimes with guitar, as well as adding vocals once also. After his pairing with Hanley, he accompanied Tony Sweeney’s excellent lively accordion-playing which drew more than one whoop from the audience. All however quietened down for Justin McCarthy reading “The Tolerance of Crows” by Charlie Donnelly, Irish poet, member of Republican Congress and Field Commander of a unit of the International Brigades and who fell at the Battle of Jarama on 27th February 1937.

Muireann Ní Amhlaoibh on whistle accompanied by Dónal Lunny
(Photo source: FIBI)

After the break excellent singer Muireann Ní Amhlaoibh sang (accompanied by Lunny) and her rendition of Sliabh Geal gCua na Féile, a song composed by an Irish emigrant working in a Welsh coalmine in the late 19th Century, was particularly beautiful. It is a lament for home and language by Pádraig Ó Míléadha, from the Déise (‘Deci’) area of Wateford.

John Faulkner, virtuoso composer and singer-songwriter, raised in London of Irish background and for many years a resident of Kinvara, Co. Galway (but almost Co.Clare) accompanied himself singing a number of songs, including Patrick Galvin’s great composition Where Oh Where Is Our James Connolly? He performed an anti-war song by Eric Bogle also, All the Fine Young Men, which he introduced saying that some wars need to be fought.

Andy Irvine playing and singing at the concert (Photo source: FIBI)

Andy Irvine took the stage second-to-last of the acts for the evening, another London import to Ireland for which Irish folk and traditional music is very grateful, a composer, singer-songwriter and player of a number of instruments, accompanied once again by Lunny, who shares a history with him in Moving Hearts and Planxty. Irvine performed a number of songs, including Woody Guthrie’s All You Fascists Bound to Lose which, though not very creative in lyrics has a chorus with which the audience joined enthusiastically.

Gallo Rojo performing at the event (Photo source: FIBI)

Last on for the evening was Edinburgh-based Gallo Rojo1, anti-fascist musical collective, opening with a reading in the original Castillian of La Pasionara’s farewell speech to the International Brigaders at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona (see Links). It seemed to me that this would have worked better for an Irish audience with a simultaneous or interspersed reading in English but it received strong applause from the audience. This was followed by Ay Carmela!, then Lorca’s Anda Jaleo! I had to leave after that but I could hear the band starting on Bella Ciao, the song of Italian anti-fascist resistance of the 1940s but based on an older song of oppressed women agricultural workers.

It did occur to me at that point that among all the great material of the evening, I had heard no song to represent the International Brigaders of nations other than Ireland which is often the case at such events. More unusually, no reference I could recall was made to growing fascism in Europe and especially in the Spanish State (it never went away there), nor to antifascists facing trial arising out of mobilisation against the attempted Dublin launch of the fascist organisation Pegida in February 2012.

Immediately outside the concert hall, the bar area held a large number of people, perhaps as many as a quarter again of the audience inside. The performances inside were being conveyed by electronic speakers to them too but I am unsure how many were listening. There was a FIBI stall there too selling antifascist material.

Overall, the audience appeared to be mostly Irish with some foreign nationals and from a broad range of political backgrounds: Communist Party of Ireland, Sinn Féin, Anarchists and independent supporters and activists of mainly socialist and/or Republican ideology.

I am informed that FIBI are currently finalising the editing of a video of the concert and this will be available as soon as possible.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

1. THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES

The International Brigades were raised through Communist parties around the world to assist in the defence of the republican Popular Front Government of the Spanish State against a military coup with Spanish fascist (and Basque Carlist) support, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Brigades consisted of volunteers from at least 65 nations2 and included Jews from a number. Early Irish volunteers enlisted chiefly in units of British and USA organisation but were present in groups from Australia and Canada too but later some made their way directly from Ireland; later too some of the Irish came to be known as the Connolly Column. The English-speaking units and some others were formed3 into the 15th International Brigade (originally the Fifth, but when added to the ten indigenous brigades of the Spanish Republic – Spanish, Catalan and Basque – became the Fifteenth). Not all foreign anti-fascist volunteers enlisted through the International Brigades, some joined Anarchist or Trotkyist militias4 and at least one, an Irishman, joined a Basque unit.

The Republican Government of the Spanish state disbanded the International Brigades on 23rd September 1938 in an unsuccessful bid to have the non-fascist European powers5 pressure their German and Italian fascist counterparts to withdraw their logistics, soldiers and airforce support from the Spanish military-fascist forces. By that time many of the “Brigadistas” were dead or captured as they had borne some of the heaviest prolonged fighting at Madrid (1936); Jarama, Brunete and Belchite (all 1937); Fuentes del Ebro and the Ebro itself (1938).

Famous photo by Robert Capa, war reporter from Hungary, showing emotional face of Brigadistas saluting (and perhaps singing the Internationale) at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona.
(Photo source: Internet)

Their formal demobilisation parade with their auxiliary recruits (including women) was held in Barcelona on 28th October, where they received the famous oration from the Basque Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionara”, prominent anti-fascist and activist of the Communist Party of Spain (see Links). It is notable that she addressed her oration to “communists, socialists, republicans, anarchists” as not only communists fought and died in the ranks of the Brigadistas.

Section of survivors of the International Brigades at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona.  (Photo source: Internet)

Another close-up from the demobilisation parade in Barcelona
(Photo source: Internet)

 

2. A DIFFERENT IRELAND

The Irish Brigadistas returning to Ireland found a society very different from that of today. Anti-communist hysteria was prevalent, whipped up in particular by the Catholic Church and supported in particular – but not exclusively – by Fine Gael (which formed in part from Blueshirts6). The Fianna Fáil Government was not fascist but was of the Irish capitalist class relying heavily on Catholic Church support and so contributed to anti-communism; all of the main media was anti-communist and finally the IRA, as well as having forbidden any of its Volunteers to fight for any other cause than Ireland’s, had expelled communists from the IRA in 1934. As with the time of repression of Republicans by the Free State, the USA seemed a good option for some of the Irish Brigadistas (some had enlisted there anyway) but there too, many antifascist war veterans found themselves subject to anti-communist hysteria and even later, when the USA was fighting fascist powers, labelled as “premature antifascists”!

Today here in Ireland the general attitude is one of respect or even pride in that part of our history, when Irish Volunteers went abroad to fight in defence of democracy and socialism against fascism7. The best-known song to date about the Irish Brigadistas is undoubtedly Viva La Quinze Brigada8 by Ireland’s best-known folk singer-songwriter, Christy Moore. Published accounts by Irish participants include The Connolly Column by Michael O’Riordan (1979) and Brigadista (2006) by Bob Doyle. Moore’s song is very popular in Ireland (and among the Irish diaspora in Britain) and a plaque listing some of the Irish martyrs is fixed to the wall by the entrance to the Theatre building of the major Irish trade union, SIPTU.

Funeral in May 1983 of Michael O’Riordan, survivor Irish Brigadista and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland (among other positions and activities).
(Photo source: Indymedia)

Michael O’Riordan survived the War and was prominent in the Communist Party of Ireland, dying in Dublin in 1983. Bob Doyle was the last surviving known Brigadista from Ireland; on 22nd January 2009 he died in England, where he had been living and had raised a family. On February 14th that year his ashes were carried by relatives and admirers in a march from the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin city centre to Liberty Hall, where a reception was held. An optimistic photographer with the byline of “anarchaeologist” reported the following day in Indymedia: “…. in a display of left unity and solidarity we will doubtless see more of on the streets of Dublin over the coming months ….. Groups attending the celebration included the main unions, Éirigí, the WSM, the IRSP and Dublin Sinn Féin. Banners were also carried by the International Brigades Memorial Trust and the Inistiogue George Brown Memorial Committee. Supporters of the Dublin branch of the Irish Basque Solidarity Campaign demonstrating outside the GPO dipped their flags as a mark of respect as the crowd passed by”. The DIBSC actually wheeled in behind the march as the tail end passed, though the reporter seems not to have noticed that.9

Supporters of the Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee lower Basque flags in honour as ashes of last Irish Brigadista to die are carried down O’Connell Street in procession.
(Photo source: Indymedia)

Relatives and friends leading procession with Bob Doyle’s ashes give clenched fist salute to Basque solidarity demonstrators they are passing (see other photo with Basque flags).
(Photo source: Indymedia)

FRIENDS OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES IN IRELAND

 

The aim of the concert was to honour the enduring legacy of the 15th International Brigade and its ongoing contribution in the war against fascism”, a spokesperson for FIBI said in a statement. “As such, it was both a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the disbandment of the Brigade and the subsequent return of the survivors to Ireland but it was also a celebration of their spirit in choosing to sacrifice everything for working-class principles.”

FIBI is an entirely voluntary organisation but does incur costs in erecting memorials, research, promotion etc. “This concert was designed to raise a modest amount to ensure the continuation of this work without having to resort to piecemeal fundraising over the next year or two. We are delighted to say we met our twin objectives of hosting a fitting occasion to coincide with the 80th anniversary of what became known as The Connolly Column and raising funds to help us continue with our efforts to ensure those who went are never forgotten.”

With its work of commemoration ceremonies and erection of plaques and monuments around the country, a work which not only reminds us of the Irish contribution in general but also links it to specific individuals from specific areas, the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland has been deepening the wider attitude of respect for the International Brigades and pride in the Irish volunteers which has been growing steadily.

Hopefully all of this will combine with and inform any action necessary to halt the rise of fascism throughout the world and of course to prevent it taking hold in Ireland.

End.

REFERENCES AND USEFUL LINKS

Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland:

http://fibi-ireland.com/site/

States from which volunteers went to fight against Spanish fascism:

http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/content/volunteers-63-countries

English translation of La Passionara’s speech read by Maxine Peake: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Xfm3o45iIE

La Passionara’s speech read in the original Castillian in front of an audience by Esperanza Alonso:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3HtLLelVeo

Brief account of some anti-communist violence in 1930s Ireland: https://comeheretome.com/2012/07/19/anti-communism-animal-gangs-and-april-days-of-violence-in-1936/

IRA expulsion of communists:

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

Video compilation of concert:

FOOTNOTES

1Not to be confused with the Mexico-based rock-ska-Latin band of the same name.

2“63 countries” are listed in one reference and I have added two, Scotland and Wales, on the assumption that they are unlisted but included under “Britain” or “UK”: http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/content/volunteers-63-countries

3 The Balkan Dimitrov Battalion and the Franco-Belgian Sixth February Battallion.

4George Orwell, who wrote Homage to Catalonia, probably the most famous English-language account of the war by a participant, enlisted in the militia of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unifacción Marxista), a coalition of Trotskyis organisations (but whose alliance with the Right Opposition was renounced by Trotsky himself). The much larger anarcho-syndicalist trade union and movement Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), closely associated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), also had militias, of which the Durruti Collumn was the largest and is the best known today. Some foreigners also enlisted in those militias.

5These powers, such as France and the UK, were following an allegedly “non-interventionist” policy but effectively forming part of the blockade preventing the Republican Government from receiving aid. Later the governments of those two states in particular tried a policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy which was unsuccessful (except in encouraging further aggression) and they ended up going to war.

6Former IRA leader Eoin O’Duffy had, with Irish Catholic Church endorsement, recruited many more Irishmen to fight alongside the Spanish military-fascist forces but they acquired a reputation for ill-discipline and in one of their only two brief military engagement mistakenly fired on fascists; they went home in disgrace in late June 1937 (a year before the International Brigades were demobilised and the surviving, non-prisoner Irish were able to return home.

7Republicans and Communists had fought the fascist Blueshirts in Ireland too and the significant contribution of participants from the Irish diaspora to the famous antifascist victory of the Battle of Cable Street (and following guerrilla attacks on fascists at Hyde Park) in London has more recently been recognised (though not yet on the main relevant Wikipedia entry).

8Originally written as Viva La Quinta Brigada (i.e “the Fifth”); however that is the name of a song in Castillian contemporary with the War and later versions of Moore’s song include a line acclaiming “the Fifteenth International Brigade” which would be “la Decimiquinta” which has three syllables too many and so “Quinze”, i.e ‘Fifteen’.

9The DIBSC had already scheduled and advertised a picket to take place on the same day in Dublin’s main street, protesting against Spanish State repression of the Basque independence movement and treatment of prisoners. Upon learning of the planned march to honour Bob Doyle’s memory, I suggested holding our Basque solidarity event earlier, lowering the flags in respect when the march approached and then following it as the tail end passed us. I was unsure of what the reaction of Doyle’s relatives and supporters might be but as soon as those at the front saw what we were doing, a number of them raised clenched fists. It was an emotional moment for me, certainly.

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WHAT ARE WORDS? “MILITANT” AND “DISSIDENT”

Diarmuid Breatnach

Recently someone objected to my use of the word “militant” to describe a movement with which I am in solidarity, saying that the word implied “violent”. My initial reaction was that I disagreed.

          I understand “militant” to mean “determined, assertive, courageous, not awed by confrontation” and that one could even be a “militant pacifist”.

But I decided to look up some dictionary definitions online. The first two or three did indeed include violence as a possibility but not necessarily integral. Another two came closer to my way of thinking:
“aggressively active (as in a cause) : COMBATIVE “(Miriam-Webster).

You use militant to describe people who believe in something very strongly and are active in trying to bring about political or social change, often in extreme ways that other people find unacceptable.
Militant mineworkers in the Ukraine have voted for a one-day stoppage next month.
…one of the most active militant groups.
Collins Dictionary.

The meaning of words shifts from language to language, culture to culture and across time. One of the most obvious and startling examples of this is the word “gay”, up to the 1970s probably understood in English by most people as meaning “happy, light-hearted” etc but now, the first interpretation in the English-speaking world would be “homosexual” (in a non-pejorative way).

Tramp” was a verb in the 19th Century to the extent that a famous marching song of the Union Army in the American Civil War was known as “Tramp, tramp, tramp”1. By the 20th Century its use as a verb was in decline but it was becoming better known as a noun, the meaning of which was understood variously as “vagrant” or even “beggar”.

And one could fill volumes with similar examples, I am sure.

“MILITANT”

          But returning to “militant”, was I the only one who understood its meaning in the way that I had? Well, apparently not, as Wikipedia showed, for example in descriptions of “militant trade unionists” and even a political organisation within the British Labour Party before its expulsion, calling its group “Militant Labour” and its newspaper “Militant”, probably drawing a parallel with those very same trade unionists2.

It would not take much pondering to guess that “militant” had some relation to “military” and apparently the word does indeed have such an origin, from Latin “miles”, ‘a soldier.3 But over the years, as with many other words, its meaning has changed.

But apparently, violence is again becoming associated with the word, more so than in the second half of the 20th Century. How did this happen? I am not sure but it appears to have been a spin-off from the more recent imperialist wars of, in particular, the United States. It seems that organisations resisting USA control or dominance in the Middle East, most of which were Muslim in religion, began to be termed “militant” in US and western reporting. Why this became so seems hard to fathom – it was not a word that these organisations applied to themselves — but it has had that spinoff effect on the word “militant”, so that “militant trade unionists” and “militant feminists”, for example, are now likely to be associated with violence, i.e the use of physical force.

How loaded and partisan usage of the word can become is well illustrated in the definition supplied by the Oxford living Dictionary: Favouring confrontational or violent methods in support of a political or social cause.
the army are in conflict with militant groups’.

The example given is very interesting. Conflict requires, one supposes, at least two parties and both sides are listed in that quoted phrase. But the impression given is one where “the army” is an authoritative, legitimate force which is being opposed by groups that are none of those things. One almost feels that the source of “the conflict” is the “militant groups” (especially with the current loading of ‘violence’ into definition of the word “militant”).

The ‘army’ is an armed organisation at the very least latently violent (training with deadly weapons) and in this context, almost certainly practicing violence by invasion. Yet it is portrayed as somehow neutral and the opposition as violent. This is further accentuated when the army and armed police are termed “security forces”. How could one be against security? Don’t we all want to be secure? Obviously quite a lot of people don’t want whatever security is being offered by these military and militarised forces and the question of “security for whom?” is hardly ever explored in such discourse, leaving us with the impression that the good guys are the army and police, deserving of our support, while whoever opposes them must be bad and we should line up against them.

As the meaning of words shifts, we have to decide whether to stick with the meaning we had and insist on its primacy, or to adapt and move with it. Up until the 1960s it was generally considered ill-mannered among white and black people to refer to people of noticeable African descent as “black” or as “negro” and Martin Luther King’s campaigning organisation was called the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. Back earlier, in the 18th and early 20th centuries, “negro” would have been acceptable to most. Nowadays, “coloured” or “negro” would generally be considered either offensive or ignorant and “black” is the word, unless one is to use the Africa-derived word, e.g Afro-American, Afro-Caribbean, etc.

And in a strange reversal, whether in self-mockery or appropriation, many Afro-Americans began in the 1970s and 80s describing themselves with the word “nigger”, a word long associated with racism4.

DISSIDENTS”

          Leaving those examples and dealing with Ireland, a number of organisations advocating Irish independence and unity and denying the legitimacy of the administrations of either side of the partition Border, would happily term themselves and one another “Irish Republicans”. That term came first to exclude the supporters of the Irish Free State, who waged a Civil War against those who would not accept the British terms, including Partition, of the 1921 Treaty. Not much over a decade later, it excluded also the Fianna Fáil party, which had split from Sinn Féin, got elected into government and at different times interned Republicans without trial, executed some and passed emergency-type legislation against them.

Subsequent splits in later years were still all described, along with various versions of the Sinn Féin party, as “Irish Republicans”. After the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by what had been Provisional Sinn Féin and they subsequently became part of the administration of the British colony of the Six Counties, all those Irish Republicans who did not agree with them on that came to be called “dissidents” in the media and in much political discourse.

Those who are called “dissidents” however did not, for the most part, agree with the term. As far as they are concerned, they are sticking to the “official line” or at least the original one and it is the Provisional Sinn Féin (which now terms itself just Sinn Féin) which has diverged from the line and furthermore, departed from the ranks of Irish Republicans.

Let’s do a trawl for definitions similar to what I did with “militant” but this time for “dissident”.

Wiktionary:A person who formally opposes the current political structure, the political group in power, the policies of the political group in power, or current laws.

(Christianity) One who disagrees or dissents; one who separates from the established religion.”

Mirriam-Webster:disagreeing especially with an established religious or political system, organization, or belief

dissident elements in the armed forces”.

Collins:people who disagree with and criticize their government, especially because it is undemocratic.

Dissident people disagree with or criticize their government or a powerful organization they belong to”

Oxford:A person who opposes official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state.

a dissident who had been jailed by a military regime’”.

And one I hadn’t used before, but which caught my eye, Vocabulary.com: If you are a dissident, you are a person who is rebelling against a government. Dissidents can do their work peacefully or with violence.

Dissident is closely related to the word, dissent, which means objecting. People who are dissidents show their dissent5. Catholic priests who advocate allowing women into the priesthood could be called dissidents, as could the Puritans who left England to live in colonial America. As an adjective, a dissident member of a group is one who disagrees with the majority of members.”

Since it is not a religious movement, one who separates from the established religion” would seem non-applicable (though when one sees how many Republicans cling to certain practices like non-recognition of the court trying them, or refusal to stand in elections, it is tempting to think of those prohibitions as religious dogma rather than tactics for particular times and place).

Most Irish Republicans would consider themselves as in opposition to the “established (political) order” of the country, i.e Ireland partitioned, with one part run by an anti-Republican Irish ruling class and the other by a colonial ruling class. They would consider the relevant governments as “authoritarian” and “undemocratic”, certainly in their treatment of Irish Republicans by harassment, intimidation, detention, subjecting them to special emergency-type legislation, non-jury courts and prison.

In that sense of “dissident”6, the Sinn Party in its various encarnations has until recently always been a party of dissidents, first against a foreign monarchy subjecting Ireland without an Irish king (the party founded by Arthur Griffiths), then to a Republican party campaigning against British rule (the coalition that was the reformed post-Rising party 1918-1921), after that a party against the Irish Free State Government and the colonial administration of the Six Counties, subsequently a Republican socialist party opposing the same forces, then after a split, a Republican party with similar objectives but supporting an armed resistance to the the British occupation. To that can be added the existence of the Republican Sinn Féin party from a split and at least one other group of similar construction for a time but with more socialist emphasis.

Clearly (formerly Provisional) Sinn Féin can no longer legitimately describe itself as dissident, should it want to, as it is now party to that repressive colonial government to which it was previously vehemently opposed and also now straining to become part of a coalition in government of the Irish state.

Many people who left the SF party did so precisely because they opposed those policies and actions7 and on most terms could legitimately claim to be “dissidents” – if they wished to. Not just dissidents recently within the party but dissidents against the State and British colonialism.

Clearly then descriptions such as rebelling against a government” and disagree with and criticize their government, especially because it is undemocratic” are not going to be the problem and formally opposes the current political structure, the political group in power, the policies of the political group in power, or current laws” seems just tailor-made for Irish Republicans.

The objection to the appellation of “dissident” then must surely be based on either a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word or a concept of some kind of historical Irish Republican authority. If the latter, then the SF party can been seen as having gone against that authority and those Irish Republicans not following the SF path as being the true and loyal followers, faithful to that historical authority. This would be an entirely understandable attitude – but is it helpful? Aren’t the most important things the aims that Irish Republicans have and how they conduct themselves in working towards them, rather than whether they are called “dissidents” or not? After all, there is nothing fundamentally pejorative in the term.

There is no doubt that “dissidents” is a handy catch-all term to describe Republicans who belong to a number of political groups or who are independent activists (the latter of which Ireland and especially Dublin has a great many) but is it conferring some kind of implicit legitimacy on the collaborationist and now constitutionalist Sinn Féin party? And if so, legitimacy in the eyes of whom? Remember how one time there was an “Official Sinn Féin” (and IRA) and the “Provisional Sinn Féin (and IRA) who split from them? It was the latter that went on to gain dominance in the Republican movement while the “Official” organisation split again and shrank to a tiny remnant.

If I were to count myself among the ranks of Irish Republicans8, would I object to the term of “dissident”? I don’t think so.

End.

SOURCES AND REFERENCES

Meaning of “militant”:

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/militant

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/militant

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/militant

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

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/militant

Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tramp!_Tramp!_Tramp!

Meaning of “dissident”:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dissident

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/dissident

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/dissident

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/dissident

https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/dissident

FOOTNOTES

1Coincidentally, the word “gay” is employed in its older sense in the lyrics of the song. A lot of interesting information is contained in the Wikipedia page on this song (see link in Sources and References).

2This was an organisation run by the entryist British Trotskyist organisation which later became the Socialist Party (like its great rival, the Socialist Workers Party, it too has an offshoot in Ireland).

3Through Latin into French and from there into English. However, the word may have been of an older root, possibly Celtic: “ ‘Míle’, word in Irish, meaning ‘a warrior, a champion, a hero’” given p.23 in How the Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy (2007).

4The term is not accepted equally among black people: I recall a black workmate of mine telling me that he had punched another black man who had referred to him as “nigger”.

5Actually, as Wiktionary tells us, it means more correctly “not in agreement” and comes from the Latin word for “to sit apart”

6Lest it be thought that I dissent from this opinion, let me put on record that this is one of the things about which I entirely agree with Irish Republicans. I suspect however that this definition is generally only used by media and mainstream commentators to describe regimes other than the ‘western democracies’.

7Some people had left that party already by that time, some because they perceived its direction and some because they objected to procedures within the party, especially those they considered undemocratic. Others left over time due to decisions to contest elections in the Irish state or to take their seats in the parliaments if elected, or because of rapprochement with the colonial police, over alleged harassment, party promotions or personal reasons.

8“Irish Republican” is a specific political designation and does not describe me, although I am Irish and I do aspire to a Republic of social equality. I am a revolutionary and a socialist as well as being anti-imperialism; I am many other things as well but that will do as a basic platform on which to seek others of like mind. In the course of struggles I do of course join in a front of one or the other of those tendencies but always with an eye to the full objective. Or so I try, at least.

SEX AND THE NOVEL DETECTIVE

Diarmuid Breatnach

Most modern criminal detectives have sex – I know this from reading, thankfully not from personal experience.

 

          The older set, Holmes, Inspector Maigret, Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple – they didn’t. Holmes was into a barely-concealed opium habit and Wolfe had an obsession with orchids; Poirot was obsessive-compulsive and probably fetish-obsessed with his patent-leather shoes. Miss Marple, who first appeared in a novel published in 1930, reflected her times even when the times passed her (Nemesis was published as late as 1971) and as to a suggestion of sex: “Good God! What kind of a degenerate are you? A woman detective having sex? And a pensioner?”

In modern times we might reflect that “of course there was her live-in maid … and that succession of young women she trained as maids ….”

Not only did they not have sex on paper, they were all single except for Maigret, so there was an absence of potential sexual activity to distract one. Maigret of course was French so like many middle-class men of his time would have had not only a wife but a mistress too but …. we don’t talk about that.

Yet sex is one of the most basic driving instincts – it governs procreation of species and, working in tandem with natural selection, rules on evolution of all species. How come it was left out?

The characters reflect their times and their class, of course, as well as what was expected of their class, sometimes with a little added taste of the unexpected – but not in sex. Yes, we know that DH Lawrence’s sexually-explicity (and trans-class) Lady Chatterly’s Lover was published two years before Agatha Christie Miss Marple’s first appearance in a novel, in Murder at the Vicarage (1930) – but Lawrence was published in Italy. Sniff! — those Continentals! A year later Chatterly was published again in France and – interestingly – in Australia. But all that publishing was done privately. In 1960, when an unexpurgated edition was finally published in the “United Kingdom”1, Penguin, the publishers, were subjected to a famous obscenity trial but, when they won, sold three million copies. It was still banned in the Irish State, of course but we weren’t alone – the USA, Canada, Australia, India and Japan all banned it too.

Romantic and gothic novels of the time didn’t have sex either, except in the mention of a child born out of wedlock, though the suggestion of or even history of rape was there at times. Sexual feelings of the heroine (and sometimes of the hero) were conveyed through descriptions of a blushing cheek, longing looks, palpitating heart and breast (but no mention of nipples!), feeling faint in the head …. all above-board and more importantly, all above the waist (though still allowing the reader’s imagination to eroticise, of course).

The most important point to grasp here I think is that something being published does not necessarily reflect the dominant social mores – it is its acceptance by society and its popularity that tells us most. There has always been material around that transgressed socially-dominant sexual standards but those standards were still dominant – and the material may even have worked as a pressure-release valve, as for example with the huge numbers of sex-workers, female and male, that walked the streets or entertained in special houses in sexually-repressed Victorian Britain, particularly in London.

The 1960s brought about a huge jump in tolerance of explicit sexuality, partly fueled by a decade of expanding consumerism and a push for more of the same and partly by the rise of the youth and student movement and its challenge to hierarchical values and control.

THE NEW DETECTIVES

          But for decades already, the new criminal detectives had arrived – or at least their advance skirmishers. One of the most influential, beating the later pack of the 1960s by a good three decades, Dashiel Hammett was hugely influential with the creation of what became known as the “hard-boiled” genre of detective stories and also in the “talking detective” style, in which the central character is also the narrator.

Hammett, a left-wing activist who got blacklisted as well as a popular crime fiction writer, had been employed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency2 and wrote many published stories but only five novels, all between 1929 and 1934 (even though he lived to 1961): Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key and the The Thin Man3.

Paperback cover for a Dashiel Hammmett novel, Red Harvest (pub. 1952), this one showing the dangerous gun-toting males (detectives? gangsters?) but also typically the heterosexual male erotic object of the female, dressed in bodily-revealing attire.
(Source: Internet)

Raymond Chandler, who acknowledged his debt to Hammett, had The Big Sleep published in 1939, based on a couple of short stories (he’d been writing those for decades). He banged them out pretty regularly after that: Farewell My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1941), The Lady in the Lake (1942); then a break until The Little Sister (1949), another gap until The Long Goodbye (1953) and Playback in 1958, a year before he died.4 at the age of 71.

Cover for Raymond Chandller’s paperback novel, The Big Sleep (pub. 1939), this one showing only part of the presumed detective, the ‘femme fatale’ prominently portrayed, holding a gun but dressed in bodily-revealing attire and ‘already’ in bed.
(Source: Internet)

The gap in the 1940s is easily explained by the film scripts for Double Indemnity along with And Now Tomorrow (both 1944), The Unseen (1945), The Blue Dahlia (1946). Strangers On A Train was produced in 1951.

James M. Cain (1892-1977) published The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1934 and, as well as short stories, another fourteen novels during his lifetime. Among those was Double Indemnity which, like Postman etc, was made into a film.

Mickey Spillane published his first novel, I, the Jury in 1947 and went on to publish another twelve before he died in 20065.

Cover for a Mickey Spillane novel, Kiss Me Deadly (pub. 1952), this one showing the iconic ‘femme fatale’, holding a gun but dressed in bodily-revealing attire.
(Source: Internet)

The new private detectives novels between the 1920s and the 1960s introduced detectives who had or were tempted by hetero sex but, however graphically the allure might be described, the sex was never described in detail. These novels also featured the femme fatale, the attractive and sexy woman who was also dangerous – capable of murder and treacherous. The detective was more likely to have the sex-interest woman jailed or even killed, or walk out on her, than claim her as the prize. And yes, the detectives in this genre were all male.

These novels featured violence – not just the violence to the homicide victim but regular knockouts with a pistol butt across the head, graphic physical fights with fists and feet (and even teeth!), shootouts … the detective characters not only suffered violence but engaged in it too (particularly Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer).

During the 1940s and ’50s the novels were paperbacks, low-priced, produced on cheap paper to a size that could fit into a man’s jacket or coat pocket (and some handbags or, in the USA, “purses”). This form of private detective and some other kind of publishing came to be called “pulp fiction”, from cheap magazines of short stories, i.e destined to be turned back into paper pulp soon after reading).6

The covers (or “jackets”) of “pulp fiction” novels were often lurid, portraying violence and heterosexual sex. Women dressed in revealing deshabille, often with seductive expression and posture, tended to share the cover with a “hunky” type of man, with a gun visible in the hand of either. Sometimes a dead body, male or female, lay on the ground too.

This kind of writing was baptised “Noir”, i.e “black”, mainly reflecting the dark sides of the detective’s character and especially of his clients and of surrounding society, cynical, corrupt, characters often morally-flawed, doomed, dogged by ill-luck and bad choices.7 Production in film of that writing came to be called “film noir”, the content reflected in low-light shots in black & white filming, which later transferred (with some difficulty) even to colour film. But still, the sex was never graphic in the writing and was more pruriently hinted at than witnessed by the reader.

Film ‘Noir’: Still photo from opening sequence of the film production (1941) of Chandler’s novel The Maltese Falcon. Typically, the ‘hard-boiled’ private detective is in his pokey office and the heterosexual male’s ‘sex interest’ has already arrived to ask for his help.  (Image sourced: Internet)

The writing could be elegant in descriptions and it could also be tight; dialogue was very important, with the detective and his adversaries dueling in verbal repartee, which the detective usually won in the verbal category but for which he often paid physically.

Of course, some cities in the United States had seen a lot of violence in reality, in particular during the ill-fated years of alcohol Prohibition (1920-1933) and the attendant rise of crime syndicates seeded in the working class immigrant communities of Irish, Jews, Italians, Sicilians …. Reading about such events as arrests, trials and mobster shoot-outs in newspaper reports provided also an audience for the material in the form of short stories, novels and later films. That audience grew during the succeeding decades and is still a wide one today, with a diversification of sub-genres and detectives in countries other than the USA or Britain, usually also in translation from their native languages.

But … back to sex and the detective. As the years rolled on past the 1960s towards the end of that millennium, the sexual activity of the private detectives became not only implicit but often explicit (with the possible exception of the Nordic detective novels). And we now had some female protagonists too: police detectives, uniformed police officers, private detectives and forensic pathologists. And if none of the main characters were ever gay, lesbian, transgender or transvestite, such characters did appear, usually treated more gently than in the past and at times actual second-line “good guy” actors in the stories.

It appeared that all previous sexual taboos in the detective story – all legal ones at any rate – had been broken.

Well, not all. Not masturbation.

Not even modern private detectives masturbate. Which is truly remarkable, when one considers, according to all research, how common that activity is in the non-detective population.

End.

REFERENCES & SOURCES:

 

For dates of authors’ birth and deaths, also of bibliography, Wikipedia entries on the authors.

Also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulp_magazine

Other:

Particularly for the footnote on Rebel Frontier: https://subjectguides.library.american.edu/dashiellhammett

FOOTNOTES

1I somehow doubt it would have got far in the Six Counties (“Northern Ireland”)

2 See Rebel frontier [electronic resource (video)] : organized labor vs. the Anaconda Copper Company / Network Ireland Television. New York, N.Y. : Films Media Group, [2006], c2004.1 streaming video file (66 min.) : Martin Sheen – impersonating the voice of author Dashiell Hammett – narrates this compelling docudrama on immigrant labor and anti-war politics in 1917. As a young employee of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Hammett spied for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company in Butte, Montana, during the height of labour struggles there. AU STREAMING MEDIA http://digital.films.com/PortalViewVideo.aspx?xtid=35494.

3 The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key and the The Thin Man were made into films.

4All based on earlier short stories, except the last, which was based on an unpublished screenplay.

5A number of others, based on previously-unpublished material or short stories, were published posthumously.

6Even after the pulp fiction heyday ended in the 1950s, paperback novels are still being produced in roughly the same size, albeit with somewhat better quality paper pages and covers.

7“Noir” also came to be a literary descriptive term and is often used to describe a certain kind of writing today.

Dublin Taxi Drivers give Special Needs Children a special Day Out

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

Motorbike cops zoom up to junctions at noon in Dublin today, lights flashing and hold traffic up to clear the way for what is coming.  But who or what is it that is coming?  “Must be some nasty capitalist diplomatic representative from abroad”, we think.  “Or maybe one of our own Gombeen Government politicians,” we add as an afterthought.  And usually we’d be right — but not this time.

(All photos source: D.Breatnach).

It’s the annual Taxi-Drivers’ Day Out for Special Needs Children.

A quick search failed to find anything on Google about it other than a post from a Journal.ie report dated last year.  From that I learned that this is an annual event, first organised in those far-off days of unfunded un-NGO-organised community events — 1960 to be precise.

The report from last year quoted a figure of 400 taxi-drivers signed up for the day but the organiser was appealing for more drivers still.  The report stated that the previous year (2016), 1,000 children had been taken on the day out.

The following three paragraphs are from the Journal’s pre-event report last year.

‘On the day, children are picked up from hospitals, care homes or private homes by their own personal taxi driver for the day. From there, they are taken to Parnell Square where all taxis gather for a speech by the Lord Mayor and some music from the Garda Band and DJs.

‘The taxis are then escorted through the city by gardaí to the racecourse where they are treated to music, games, face-painting and finger food.

‘“Our aim is to treat the special needs children of the city to a fun day out and put smiles on faces. That’s exactly what you get when they arrive in Parnell Square and they’re meeting and greeting the mascots and characters,” Matthews (the organiser) said.

 

These photos were taken from outside Liberty Hall, where I was awaiting a group in order to start a history tour.

PS: Good to see the cops were not masked, wielding batons and pepper-spray canisters or carrying machine-guns and battering-ram.

End.

Link: http://www.thejournal.ie/dublin-taxi-drivers-special-childrens-outing-3519742-Jul2017/

THANK YOU YOUR HOLINESS

YOUR HOLINESS,

Thank you so much for visiting our island (well, the independent part). It was a wonderful experience and its effect upon us, the faithful, was at one and the same time energising and calming. And for sure we needed that, needed it so badly.

These past few years have seen this state sinking into greater and greater godliness, between different lifestyles on the one hand and the terrible revelations of what went on in some of the religious charitable institutions on the other.

Pope Francis
(Photo sourced: Internet)

Years ago we lost the battle on condoms and the Pill but our Church survived that. And to be honest, if some of the priesthood were going to engage in immorality then it would have been better if they had indeed used condoms, God help me for saying that – but certainly in the case of a certain Galway bishop it would have been useful …. for the Greater Good, of course.

But then legal divorce, and we survived that too. It seemed hardly had we managed to coexist with those travesties than we had marriage between homosexuals legislation, now flaunting their sinful ways not only publicly – but legally married! And now, worst of all by far, abortion legalised! Well, up to three months of pregnancy but we all know, the faithful and the sinful, that once that door is wedged open ….!

Of course the abuse in the institutions run by religious orders was shocking, both in its content and extent. But people want to throw the baby out with the dirty bathwater! Or the dirty laundry water, perhaps. And knowing what people are like and the enemies the Church had and has, of course it was necessary to cover it up. The first duty of any institution is to survive and therefore to protect itself. Why do people find that so hard to understand? Have we not seen political parties and governments doing the same for years? Why do people find it so strange?

So anyway, we badly needed some comforting, some reassurance and it was wonderful that in our hour of need, Your Holiness came. How wonderful to see the gold-and-white Papal Colours fluttering on flagpoles, on bunting festooned! To see so many youngsters bussed in to Dublin from other parts of Ireland, their faces aglow with the excitement (and not just because of a day out in other adolescent company, or in the excitement of youth overnight “camps”, as the cynics have commented). So what if they were somewhat incoherent or illogical when interviewed about their reasons for attendance! The brilliance of the Holy See is enough to bring incoherence to anyone!

And I understand, Your Holiness, understand perfectly why it was necessary to say Your Holiness had not known about the Magdalene Laundries. How could the mass of ordinary people be expected to understand the balancing act of the Holy See, between Perfect Good and Necessary Evil? To balance things in favour of the Greater Good? What a field day the media vultures would have had if Your Holiness had tried to explain the intricacies to them! And the unbelieving hyenas too would have gathered to the feast on our dying bodies, to crunch the bones of our faith.

Sure where else would the Irish priests, bishops and nuns have had their laundry done? Not to mention Áras an Uachtaráin, Guinness, Clery’s, the Gaity Theatre, Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, the Bank of Ireland, the Departments of Defence, Agriculture and Fisheries, CIÉ, Clontarf Golf Club and several leading hotels! In the end there was altogether too much dirty laundry washed in public really.

A Magdalene Laundry (Photo sourced: Internet)

Considering that the story involved the whole Irish church and was publicly recorded going as far as the US, and a film about it went right around the world, I thought it was very brave of Your Holiness to deny all knowledge. Only by the grace of God surely could Your Holiness have kept a straight face. I could not have managed it for a second myself but sure I am but a humble sinner.

Of course Your Holiness’ visit did not take place in the same society as we had in 1979, when your predecessor-but-one His Holiness John Paul the 2nd visited Ireland. One in ten boys born in 1980 were named John Paul in his honour. All the same, we can look forward to a crop of baby boys named Francis this year and next, though it’s unlikely to be anything like one in ten this time. We’d be lucky to reach one in thirty, if you’ll forgive my gloominess.

Still, even Francis — and we’ve had a crop of them over the years anyway, named after the two Saints of that name and maybe even after Frank Sinatra or – God help us – Frank Zappa! Yes, believe it or not, some parents were capable of doing that in the Sixties, Seventies and even the Eighties.

I was going to say, even Francis would be a mile more likely than your Holiness’ original names. I don’t imagine that many male Irish children born this year will be baptised “Jorge Mario”. I shudder to think of the damage done to that first name in Ireland. Horhay, would be the best attempt, I’d guess but for sure there would be Horjays, Georgeays and Georgies. Your Holiness doubts this? Your Holiness has yet to hear mothers calling a “Sor-tchah” in for their tea, instead of the actual centuries-old Irish name, “Sorcha”. Or to hear of a male or female child being proudly introduced as “Sheersheh” instead of “Saoirse”, which means “freedom” — but not the freedom to mangle Irish words, God help us!

Without wishing to be in the least insulting to Your Holiness but with a name like Mario ….. well, not many Irish or migrants are going to want to sound as though their children are Italian – except of course in the Irish-Italian community. Then also, how many would want their child’s name to remind people of a popular 1980s video game, perhaps imagining all kinds of things about the parents, what they were doing when the mother conceived, etc …. And Princess Toadstool! I ask you! Pagan erotic symbolism for sure!

Forgive me, Holy Father, I have digressed.

Anyway, I hope the visit did not tire Your Holiness out too much and hope the ten thousand or so oppositional marchers did not even impinge on Your Holiness’ consciousness. To us however that showing was worrying – a couple of decades ago, only a score would have dared and they would not even have been allowed on the street!

There are signs that soon we will face a battle over the Church’s control of the primary and secondary educational institutions in Ireland. The Godless have the bit between their teeth now and it seems they will shy at no obstacle. Sorry, that’s a riding metaphor; does Your Holiness ride?

It seems we are in danger of losing the gain for which the Holy Mother Church has been striving since the mid-1800s, and which even that Protestant fornicator Parnell championed for us. If we lost control of the schools, Catholic baptisms and marriage ceremonies would cease to be required to get on the premium enrollment lists. Then religious sacraments would be confined to the truly religious and Holy Communion and Confirmation would slowly disappear out of the schools. Losing Education would mean losing most of the population of this state and already the Godless are circling. I shudder to think of it.

Poster with principles of Education Bill being promoted in Ireland
(Photo sourced: Internet)

Would it be wrong of us to pray for a religious spectacle, Holy Father? Some kind of miraculous apparition, such as with the young wans at Lourdes or at Fatima? It does seem as though only a miracle might save the Church here in the long run.

Yours in faith and humble obedience,

Pious O’Madaun.

FOREIGNERS!

Diarmuid Breatnach

I’m sick of seeing foreigners everywhere. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not racist or anything …. but they’re just everywhere. And as for Muslims building mosques! Here, in Ireland!

What’s wrong with that? We’ve got hundreds, maybe thousands of churches in Ireland.

Yeah, but we’re a Catholic country.

Do you object to Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist and Unitarian churches too?

Er … no, they’re Christian religions. Muslim is completely different. We’re a Christian country – always have been.

Actually, no.

What do you mean?

We were pagans once. Before Christian missionaries came in.

OK, before St. Patrick. And yes, I do know he was a foreigner. But since then, we’ve been a Christian country, right?

Yes, I grant you that.

That’s what we need to go back to – Christian Gaelic Ireland.

An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?

No, I don’t speak it. No need to be smart. That’s another thing that was taken from us!

They teach it at school, though.

Not very well. And they force it, which turns people off.

They force maths on people too. And other subjects.

Yes …. well. Anyway, this is getting away from the subject. I was talking about … Getting back to the old Christian Ireland. The Ireland we fought against the British for. Which so many people died for.

James Connolly Monument, across from Liberty Hall, Beresford Place.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Like James Connolly, Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke ….

Yes, exactly!

James Connolly was born in Scotland, Tom Clarke in England.

Well I knew about Connolly, but Clarke … are you sure?

Yep, Isle of Wight, SE England.

OK …. but …. they were still Irish, weren’t they …. like our soccer team?

Yes, I agree with you there.  And about Constance Markievicz ….

Listen, don’t try that one on me! She married a Polish count – but she was Irish.

She was born in England too.

Was she? Well ok, but of Irish stock too.

Gore-Booth – not exactly a Gaelic name, is it?

Look, let’s go back to Pearse – he was Irish through and through. He wrote in Irish – articles, stories and poems, didn’t he?

He most certainly did.

Well then!

His father was English, though.

What? You’re codding me!

No, seriously. James Pearse was English. And had married previously in England.

Now you’re telling me Patrick Pearse’s father was a BIGAMIST?

No, no, calm down. She died – he was a widower. Thomas Davis’ father was Welsh, by the way.

Thomas Davis Statue monument and fountain, Dame Street, Dublin, Irealand
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Who wrote A Nation Once Again? That Thomas Davis?

Yes. And The West’s Awake.

OK, OK but Thomas himself was born in Ireland, wasn’t he?

Yes. Eamon Bulfin wasn’t though.

Bulfin? Who was he?

He hoisted the tricolour up on the GPO on Easter Monday 1916.

Did he? Was he born in England too?

No – in Argentina.

WHAT?

Yep. And De Valera’s da was apparently Cuban. Dev was born in the USA.

OK, OK, OK – but they were all part-Irish or wholly Irish …. in blood, I mean. Part of what they call the Irish diaspora.

True. But Erskine Childers wasn’t.  Totally English.

Ah now you’re trying to wind me up. He was President of Ireland – of course he was born here.

That Erskine Childers was but his Da wasn’t.

OK, so what?

Well, he’s the one who brought the Mausers into Howth. In his yacht. And he was murdered by the Free Staters in the Civil War.

That was him?

The Irish tricolour flag — presented to the ‘Young Irelanders’ by Parisian revolutionary women in 1848. (Image source: Internet)

Yeah, and part of the crew were two women – one born in England and one in the USA. By the way, the Tricolour that Bulfin hoisted on the GPO? You know what it signifies?

Yes. Peace between the original Irish, the Catholics and the descendants of the planters, the Protestants.

OK. Well, that’s not originally Irish either.

What? The Tricolour? Not Irish?

Not originally, no.

Where is it from then? Please don’t say England!

No – Paris. During the Paris uprising of 1848, French female revolutionaries presented it to an Irish Republican delegation.

So the Irish flag before that was …. just Green?

Well, Green yes, often with a harp in gold ….

Yes, Green, forever green, always the Irish colour …

Well, I hate to tell you this but …………..

End.

 

 

 

REFLECTIONS ON THE IRISH LANGUAGE 1 b) FOR ADULT LEARNERS

I B

Diarmuid Breatnach

Among the many spurious difficulties about learning Irish quoted by people there are some genuine ones.

A PRONOUNCEMENT

A problem with learning Irish, according to some people, is the spelling of Irish words. When this difficulty is expressed by English-speakers, I am tempted to ask them to pronounce the English word “Ghoti”. It was a word invented by George Bernard Shaw and unless they are familiar with it, they will be unable to pronounce it correctly. Shaw took the “f”-sound from “gh” in words like “enough”; the “i” sound from the “o” in “women” and the “sh” sound from the “ti” in words like “mention” — hence the correct pronunciation is “fish”. Shaw invented the word to illustrate how illogical – or at least unpredictable – is the pronunciation of many English words. Perhaps he was replying to someone who was accusing the Irish language, an Ghaeilge, of having a similar problem; I don’t know but would like to think so.

In fact, the vowel sounds in Irish can be entirely predicted from the written word with the exception of the “A”, which has something of a narrow range of possible pronunciations and some vowel combinations. In English, combinations of vowels produce different sounds to that of each individual letter also and with a greater variety and less predictability than is the case in Irish: take the different pronunciations of the ‘a’ in ‘cat’, in ‘day’, ‘rain’, ‘contraindicated’ (true, the latter is a compound word).

Where a long vowel is indicated in Irish by an accent, the “síne fada” (“sign of length”, unlike in Castilian, for example, where the accent indicates only where the stress falls in the word), the sound to make when reading it is unmistakeable.

To illustrate, the á will produce a sound like “aw” in English (as in “law”); the ó a sound like “oe” in “toe”; ú like “oo” in “loot”; í like “ee” as in “fee” and é like “ay” as in “bay”. These will not vary, no matter where they appear in the word.

But hang on”, the observant complainer may protest, “you mean to tell me that é is pronounced “ay”, like the letter “A” in English? And that í is pronounced “ee”, like the letter “E” in English also? Why is Irish so contrary?”

Well,” I may reply, “I’m very glad you asked me that. Because in many other languages, the letter “I” is also pronounced like “ee” in English and the letter “A” — which in English is pronounced “ay” as you pointed out — in many other languages, probably most, is pronounced “ah”. In this case, my friend, it is the English language which is being contrary!

Furthermore, English has made a broad vowel into a slender one.”

Huh?”

Yes, they don’t commonly teach about broad and slender vowels in the schools now, yet the difference between them affects not just Irish pronunciation but also English, Castilian, Italian and other languages. Why is it, for example, that the “G” in “Gerry” is pronounced differently from the same letter in “Gary”? Why is that the “C” in “Cede” and “Citrus” is pronounced differently from the same letter in “Cat, Cot” and “Cut”? The answer has everything to do with broad and slender vowels.

In Irish, a, o and u are broad vowels and i and e are slender (the same in English except that y can also be a slender vowel, e.g in words like only, why etc). The most notable effect of the different pronunciations effected in Irish by whether a vowel is slender or not is with the letter S, viz: Sorcha, Saidhbhín, Súil but Sinéad, Seán.

Now, the problem with the pronunciation of the name of the vowel “a” in English is that “ay” is a slender vowel sound while the letter itself is a broad vowel. In Irish that letter is pronounced “ah” as it is in many other languages around the world (perhaps all). When we speak the vowels, our mouths make a horizontal shape for slender vowels and tend towards a vertical one for broad (try it and see). Which shape does “ay” make? Yes, horizontal, the shape of a slender vowel!

Ok,” says the complainer, “but what about the consonants? You can’t tell me that reading them and pronouncing them is not complicated!”

Actually, the complainer here does have a point. It is over-emphasised, perhaps, but the point does have some validity.

The pronunciation of the consonants in Irish is pretty straight-forward, with the variations in the “S” according to slender or broad vowels either side (discussed above) and to some extent the same effect on the “D” and “T”. And the double “L” and “N” in Irish followed by a slender vowel have the same pronunciation as the “ll” and the “ň” in Castilian respectively, which is to say they are like “n’y” and “l’y”, for example “bainne” (“milk”) is pronounced “ban-yeh” and “sailleach” (“fatty”) is pronounced “sal-yach”.

A learner can soon get used to these peculiarities in Irish or in other languages. But what about all the consonants followed by a “h”?

Irish does not have all the consonant letters that English has – we don’t have the J, K, Q, V, W, X Y or Z. We don’t really have a H either, come to that, as we’ll see in a moment. The sound of Q in English can be reproduced in Irish as “cua” or “cui” in Irish and we can make the sounds of some of those ‘missing’ letters by employing an effect on consonants called lenition, in Irish “séimhiú” (softening). During the last two centuries, this was shown by a dot on top of the consonant to be lenited but is now indicated by a H after the consonant in question. All the other ‘missing’ consonant sounds with the exception of the Z are available in this way – not only those but in fact another two not available in English: the Irish “ch” and “gh”.

Lenited consonant at the beginning of a word

Consonant sound equivalent in English

B

Bh + i, e

V

Bh + a,o,u

W

C

Ch

Ch as in “loch”

D

Dh + i, e

Y (not as a vowel)

Dh + a,o,u

Gh (sound not available in English)

F

Fh

Mute (no sound)

G

Gh

Gh (sound not available in English)

L

Cannot be lenited

M

Mh + i, e

V

Mh + a,o,u

W*

N

Cannot be lenited

P

Ph

F

R

Cannot be lenited

S

Sh

H

T

Th

H

* In some Irish dialects the Mh will be pronounced as “V” whether followed by a slender or broad vowel.

Ok, so the lenited consonants do introduce some complication to reading-pronunciation but hardly an insuperable one. To balance that, we have the more reasonable vowel letter A pronunciation than does English (i.e as a broad vowel instead of a slender one) and the ability to read the pronunciation of vowels off a text. Also, to compare with English, some sounds in English are shown by combining consonants, such as ‘tch in ‘catch’, ‘ph’ as in ‘pharmacy’, ‘sh’ in ‘shake’ and ‘th’ in ‘think’.

And what about the ‘ch’ combination in English – it’s not pronounced the same in the words ‘chant’ and ‘character’ or ‘chaos’. Add to that the ‘h’ in ‘rhetoric’ or ‘rhythm’ seems to have no role in pronunciation at all and that the ‘w’ will be heard at the beginning of a word and may or not be heard in the middle (compare ‘award’ with ‘lower’). The ‘w’ will not be heard at all at the end of a word but instead governs the pronunciation of the vowel before it (‘raw’, ‘row’, ‘few’)!

This governing of the pronunciation of the vowel before it also happens with ‘gh’ in ‘dough’ or ‘rough’ – but note that in each of those cases the pronunciations of the ‘gh’ are completely different! In order to indicate the sound of the Irish ‘ch’ in loan words, English uses “gh” yet again, as in ‘lough’ and ‘bragh’ (in “Erin (sic) go bragh”) and “Drogheda”. Confusing, isn’t it?

Although pleading the feature of the pronunciation of consonants as a difficulty in learning the Irish language does have some validity it is overdone – particularly when the complainant is an English-speaker. It seems to me that the difficulty is magnified by those who do not wish to go to the trouble of learning the language but want to have a good excuse for not doing so.

A chríoch