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.

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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

THE SPECTRE OF THE BROWNIE

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

                  We knew about gays but we didn’t call them that. That was in our primary school days. Our mammies or das or others had warned us boys about them. We were never to accept sweets from strangers. They were men, older, probably shabby, hanging around in public toilets (when we had public toilets in streets). They would try to see your mickey, try to touch it (they were only interested in boys, which went to show how totally deviant they were).  They’d give you sweets or even money.  Just for that?  It was enough!  We thought no further but when we had to use those public urinals, kept as far away as we could from any men (a habit we continued into adulthood) and tried to cover our mickies with our hands and sometimes got some of the urine on them as a result.

Old-style urinal formerly on Ormonde Quay, Dublin, photographed in 1969. One of the types of places where the “Brownies” supposedly lurked.
(Image source: Internet)

Locked underground toilet in Kevin Street, Dublin, one of many such now all closed or demolished.
(Image source: Aoife Barry, the Journal)

We didn’t call them “gays” then but there were other names in our vernacular dictionaries: brownies, dirty men, homos ….. They were always predators and always male. Girls didn’t have to worry, apparently – those dirty men would not be tempted at all. It was the normal men girls had to worry about.

Was there such a thing as female homos? But if they wanted to play with your mickies that would be normal wouldn’t it? And nice even if sinful. Ah, chance would be a fine thing! But girls or women doing it with one another? How? And sure, what for?

Did we know any homos? Well, we were kind of getting to hear about poor Oscar Wilde. He would have been our fifth national Nobel prizewinner for literature and the fourth from our capital city. If not for …. well …. Poor man, he was misguided. And duped. But a lovely writer.

Oscar Wilde quotations, part of his monument in Merrion Square, Dublin. (Image source: D.Breatnach)

Head sculpture of a youthful Alexander the Great, from the Hellenistic period. (Image source: Internet)

Our elders, well a great many of them, knew that many famous men had been homosexual – but they didn’t tell us. We knew quite a bit about the military exploits of Alexander, the Macedonian but nobody told us he was homosexual. If we’d known, we’d have asked ourselves whether he went to conquer the world in order to hang around public toilets in foreign lands, waiting to touch boy’s mickies. William of Orange was a homo too but then we had enough reason to hate him already. Wait – William …. Willy …. willies ….. nah, coincidence!

There was another William they might have known about, King William Rufus (1087 – 1110), son of William the Conqueror, openly homosexual. And probably assassinated by order of his brother, King Henry II, not for being gay but to get the kingdom. Well, what would you expect of the English! OK, Norman-English. Whatever.

Mícheál Mac Liamóir as Iago in Orson Well’s production of Shakespeare’s “Othello”. (Image source: Internet)

They surely knew, educated adults and anyone around the theatre, that Mícheál Mac Liamóir was “a practicing homosexual”. An Englishman who became Irish, including a fluent speaker and writer in the Irish language, he lived with his lover Hilton Edwards in Harcourt Terrace. Edwards was another Englishman converted to Ireland. But sure they were English, so our elders only sniffed and turned a blind eye, grateful for the culture of the Abbey and Gate theatres, the formation of An Taidhbhearc and fame on English language stage and screen.

We knew Roger Casement could not be homosexual (even though he was a Protestant) because he was an Irish patriot. The English would do anything to tarnish his reputation and they had forged “the black diaries” to say disgusting things about him1, before they hanged him, not for homosexuality but for “treason” to the Crown. That’s the English Crown, of course. The one on top of the Arms of the Union, with the Lion and the Unicorn below, and below them the shield bearing the Thistle of Scotland, the Rose of England and the Harp of Ireland. You can see the design on the front page of the London Times, or on the roofs of the Bank of Ireland and Customs House buildings in Dublin.

Roger Casement, projected by British espionage service as a homosexual in order to undermine the campaign for clemency on charge of treason.
(Image sourced: Internet)

But did we know any homosexuals personally? Perhaps some did. There was a lad at school who liked to knit and listen to opera and whose manner was quite feminine. Probably he was/ is, we thought years later but at the time he was just a boy who was like a girl. There was another one, son of a famous actor, a bit of a bully with a gang around him. He turned out to be gay but I at least never suspected.  Then there was a certain barber who seemed quite effeminate but would do his best to cut your hair to any fashionable style which you required.

As we came into our teens, our vision broadened a little and we came upon more sinister knowledge. There were now rumours of homosexual Christian Brothers and priests. Seeing as these two groups, along with the Jesuits, directly controlled most of secondary education in the Irish state, nearly all of us Catholics were going to pass into their hands at some point. Hopefully their educational hands only. They didn’t have to hang around public toilets. They’d have us for six or seven hours a day, five days a week. Not to speak of the residential schools (too many people didn’t).

We knew in general and we knew of specific instances, by rumour or by experience. We resolved not to be victims ourselves and the strong succeeded. The weak? Well ….. Sauve qu’il peut, as they say (or I think they do) in France.

And we didn’t talk of it to our elders. Why? Well ….. hard to say. Would they have believed us? Did we have proof? Would it only have showed how dirty our minds were?

In my teens, a youth selling newspapers in Dún Laoghaire told me of a brawny sailor who one evening wanted to entice him into an alley away from company in order “not to embarrass the girls”. So, homosexuality was not confined to the creepy men hanging around toilets, or to the effeminate and arty, or to the clergy and Catholic brotherhoods. Burly sailors? Dear God!

And now a disturbing but exciting knowledge also came to us. We learned that there were indeed homosexual women – they were called ‘Lesbians’. And almost unbelievably, if you managed to get hold of a copy of the Kinsey Reports (or reviews of them), lesbianism appeared to be even more common than male homosexuality! Disturbing in a number of ways …. women preferring to have sex with women than with men? For some of us, it was difficult enough already to get physically intimate with a girl without some of them preferring other women! Then, a second thought, disturbing in a different way: imagine seeing them together … doing it! Double female nakedness!

As we grew older, we came to know gay men personally. Of course we did. Some of us, the better ones, acknowledged them our equals, did not avoid the subject nor deny them our company. Some of us, while accepting their company, avoided any mention of their preferences; we treated them as heterosexuals, knowing they were not. And some of us avoided them or worse, inflicted violence on them. We found out that some indeed did hang out around toilets but not to feel the mickies of little boys but to make assignations with adult males. Where else could they meet? It was illegal and religiously prohibited too.

Then came gay liberation agitation in the 1970s. Decriminalisation in 1993. And finally, equal rights to wed in 2015. Incredibly almost, that same Ireland of our childhood voted by majority in every county but one in the Irish State of the Twenty-Six Counties, that gays should have the right to marry people of their own gender.  In May 2015, Ireland became the first state to legalise on a national level same-sex marriage by popular vote.  The New York Times hailed the victory as putting Ireland at “the vanguard of social change”.

A badge in the Irish language calling for a vote in favour of the right to same-sex marriage in the Irish state referendum of 2015.
(Image source: D.Breatnach)

We have come a long way, in that respect at least.  But oh, the victims of intolerance strewn along each side of the route of our progress!

Generations in Ireland will grow now, hopefully, without the spectre of the Brownie.

End

Footnotes:

Roger Casement (1864-1916) was an Irish patriot and Protestant, also a poet and an enthusiast for Irish culture. In 1916, in preparation for the Easter Rising in Ireland, he came in a German submarine to assist in the unloading of German armament, including 20,000 rifles. The German boat, disguised as a Norwegian, was discovered and its captain scuttled it outside of Cork. The IRA Volunteers who went to meet the boat and Casement at its rearranged landing place, of which they had just learned, drowned as their car went off the road into the sea.

Casement was apprehended after landing. He was tried for treason in wartime and a substantial campaign arose to save his life. He had earned fame and a knighthood (CMG) a decade earlier through exposing ill-treatment of indigenous people in the African Congo under Belgian Royal control and in Putamayo in Perú by rubber-exploitation commercial interests.

Extracts from the “Black Diaries” were circulated by the British espionage service to undermine popular support for clemency for Casement. Those Diaries (as opposed to his other diaries of his travels abroad)gave details of his  allegedly sexual interludes with men abroad and the extracts circulated substantially undermined the campaign for clemency. Casement was hanged in Pentonville Prison on 3rd August 1916, the last of the 1916 executions, the only one not by firing squad or to take place in Ireland.

The authenticity of the “Black Diaries” continues to be the subject of controversy. Although Wikipedia notes that a handwriting expert concluded by comparison with his other diaries that the entries were genuinely Casement’s, he is the only handwriting expert to have been permitted to examine the original, nor have samples been subjected to modern forensic testing. And the British espionage service did have a reputation for forging documents.

PUBLIC HOUSING FOR ALL — CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED IN DUBLIN

Diarmuid Breatnach

The Campaign for Public Housing was launched Saturday (28th October) at a large packed meeting room in the Unite trade union building in Dublin.

Section of crowded room at campaign launch meeting in Unite trade union hall.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The demands of the campaign were announced as both long-term (in the form of a new system of universal public housing) and short-term (in dealing with the reality of the current housing crisis), as follows:

  • A new system of Universally Accessible Public Housing, based upon a cost rental model where the collective rent of tenants would fund the construction and procurement of large volumes of new public housing.

  • A tenants Bill of Rights to protect tenants in the private rental sector. This bill would control rents and provide real security of tenure.

  • A complete Ban on Economic Evictions by banks and private landlords.

  • A referendum to insert an unambiguous and legally enforceable Right to Public Housing into the constitution.

Standing room only remaining at campaign launch meeting in Unite trade union hall.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The political forces represented at the public meeting table were Éirigí (Brian Leeson), the Workers’ Party (Éilís Ryan), the Communist Party (chairing the meeting) and an individual who might be described as an independent left Republican activist (Cieran Perry). Both Perry and Ryan serve as elected councillors on Dublin City Council.

The Éirigí organisation is considerably reduced from the numbers of activists it had when it was first formed, largely by “dissidents” who left the Sinn Féin party soon after the Good Friday Agreement. The Workers’ Party is very small, having arrived at its current space through a series of splits from the original Sinn Féin (which became Official Sinn Féin after their dissidents formed the Provisionals back in 1970). The Communist Party of Ireland is also very small but owns a Dublin bookshop which also operates as a small theatre and meeting place for broader left anti-imperialist events.

At first glance, the political composition of the table may strike the observer as unimpressive in representation of numbers. However, such active forces have impacted significantly on the Irish political scene over the years and these in particular bring a wealth of political experience to the table. In addition, the audience contained a broad spectrum of left trade union and community activists, republicans, anarchists, socialists and participants who became active in recent campaigns.

According to a press statement released by the Campaign for Public Housing on 26th October, its supporters includes:
Peter McVerry (in a personal capacity, it was said at the launch)
Inner City Helping Homeless
Éirigí
The Workers’ Party
The Communist Party of Ireland
North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Community
Cllr. Cieran Perry
D8HAC Altogether Now
Dundrum Housing Action
1916 Societies
Catherine Connolly TD
Clare Daly TD
Mick Wallace TD
(and Joan Collins TD, it was announced at the campaign launch).

THE STATE FUNDING SPECULATORS TO BUY MORE PROPERTY

Speaking while using an electronic visual presentation on a large screen at the campaign public launch meeting, Leeson presented figures drawn from statistics produced by property and housing agencies and government departments to illustrate a history of public housing in the Irish State since its creation. Though hardly impressive in the numbers of public dwellings built, the figures showed a significant initiative in that direction under the early Fianna Fáil government years, when De Valera was at its head.

Brian Leeson during his presentation,
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the ratio of public housing to private housing built was around one to one. In those years, private landlords notwithstanding, private housing was usually occupied by the owner. From the 1980s onwards, the ratio shifted to 10-1 in favour of private dwellings and huge numbers of these were no longer lived in by their owners and the ratio is much higher now. In effect, dwellings had become a commodity in which large-scale speculation was taking place, driving the rents and mortgages higher and higher, forcing people into debt for life or evictions and also into high-rent and unsuitable accommodation.

The figures also showed a state funding of the private property sector to the tune of eight billions (€8,000,000,000) – funds which the banks and other property speculators used to purchase more land and property, intensifying the housing crisis.

PUBLIC — NOT SOCIAL — HOUSING

Ryan concentrated her presentation on the need to call for public housing as a rational and necessary response, as one might consider for example public education or health service. Only public housing can solve the housing crisis, she maintained and so it is not only of moral importance but of urgent practical need. Turning to the cost of house building, Ryan pointed to the industry’s figures seen in the earlier presentation, showing that good-quality houses can be built much cheaper even under existing conditions. She was at pains to outline the differences between social and public housing: social housing is often aimed at low-income families and may be provided through a range of private or semi-private schemes. Public housing is state-funded with the rents going back to the state to reinvest in further housing provision and should be mixed in order to avoid ghettoisation.

Éilis Ryan during her presentation. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Referring to the importance that Irish people tend to give to the state’s Constitution, Ryan stated that part of the objectives of the campaign was to insert a clause that guaranteed every person a good quality, affordable-according-to-income housing unit for life.

STOP THE SALE OF PUBLIC LAND!

“We have very little power as Councillors,” said Perry “but one thing we do have power on is the veto on selling public land.” He went on to speak of how Dublin City Council had sold Council land to private developers despite his and some other Councillors’ efforts. However, social and political pressure had forced the ratio of public housing on the Devanney Gardens site up to 30% despite the wishes of some political parties but that still meant that 70% went to private speculators.

Cieran Perry during his presentation.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Perry called for support for a demonstration outside City Hall on Monday November 6th at 5.30 pm in support of a motion put forward by himself and some other councillors to prevent the sale of any Council land.

Currently Dublin City Council own 120 hectares of land – enough to build 12,000 good quality homes. “There are 20,000 people on Dublin’s housing waiting lists, and many more average income households who will never be able to afford private rent or mortgage. So why are we allowing private developers to make money off our land?”

Turning to the question of the campaign itself, Perry promised it would be democratic, transparent and not become dominated by any political party or personality and urged all to become involved, to leave their contact details on the clipboard sheets at the door and to encourage others to come on board.

QUESTIONS

The questions and contributions were overwhelmingly of an intelligent kind and included areas such as hidden homelessness by emigration, housing waiting lists and disqualification; the privatisation of education and health services despite their public appearance; the need for the campaign to include direct action; the relationship between this campaign and other housing campaigns in Ireland; the need for quality monitoring by other than the contractor if the Council is to be the builder; the shortage of building workers at the moment; changes in the court systems to facilitate evictions; the involvement in a number of evictions of a firm led by an ex-British soldier using Loyalist ex-paramilitaries; the expected opposition from the EU to bans on the sale of public land; the hidden homelessness of one partner in a relationship breakup, etc.

Those leaving the meeting seemed fairly happy with the launch though inevitably some discussion took place on what tactics the campaign might employ and whether the organisation would degenerate into electoralism, or whether it would be manipulated for politically sectional interest. Political and community activists in Dublin have a long history and such discussion would be normal among all but the most naive. But the overall mood perceived by this reporter was decidedly positive.

End

LINKS:

Contact campaign: https://www.facebook.com/CampaignForPublicHousing/

campaign4publichousing@gmail.com

Picket City Hall to demand no selling of public land: https://www.facebook.com/events/2562340743904927/?acontext=%7B%22ref%22%3A%223%22%2C%22ref_newsfeed_story_type%22%3A%22regular%22%2C%22action_history%22%3A%22null%22%7D