SPRING IN TREE, FLOWER AND SONG

Diarmuid Breatnach

As we have been shown this year, if we did not already know, Spring comes in its own time. Roughly around the calendar yes, but not exactly. It’s not like the clothing merchants, who withdrew the gloves in March and left people like me, who regularly lose them, with frozen hands unable to buy cheap replacements while the models stood in windows in shorts and bikinis.

But spring wild flowers are already out and have been for weeks, though the city is not a great place to see them. However in gardens, parks, canal banks and on empty sites, the dandelion, much disregarded as a decorative flower has been flaunting its bright yellow flower for weeks and will continue to do so for quite a while yet.

Some variety of Speedwell and Cat’s Ear (Photo D.Breatnach)

Furze (Aiteann) in bloom (photo: D.Breatnach)

In early April I spent a few days in Wicklow by the Dartry river. In a very short walk to Ashford I encountered eight types of wild flowers in bloom, including furze (or gorse), daisies,

Fumitory maybe (pink), mystery white flower on stalk and Groundsel on a bit of waste ground.
(photo: D.Breatnach)

The humble daisy (Nóinín) looking splendid on some waste ground.  (Photo: D.Breatnach)

groundsel, cat’s ear, speedwell, and of course dandelion. On a longer walk heading away from the river I came upon primrose, lesser celandine and wild or barren strawberry (not knowing how to tell the two apart at this time of year). And a mystery plant also (see photo). Swathes of wild garlic (creamh), grew both sides of the country road; I had long thought this plant a foreign import but it seems I was wrong. It certainly spreads when established however, as witnessed by this Wicklow road and wooded areas of Dalkey Hill where I have also seen large patches of it. My father transplanted some to our garden but rarely used it in cooking – or if he did, not often enough, for it soon took over large areas of the smallish garden.

Wild Garlic (Creamh).
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Blue Tits even upside down on bird feeder (note that the tree is the Cherry Laurel, an invasive tree species).   (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

At a Wicklow hotel garden’s bird feeder, blue tit, chaffinch and some other species flicked in to take a snack and flicked out again, making it very difficult to photograph them but which of course did not bother them at all.

Returning through Ashford (Áth na Fuinseoige) I came across one of our

Chaffinch (Rí rua) picking up some of the spillage from the feeder on the ground. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

feathered anglers, the smaller grey heron. Patience personified, this species stands in the water waiting for the appropriate moment to strike, apparently not feeling the cold. But perhaps this one did feel it, for it stood on the bank.

Grey Heron (Corr réisc) on the Vartry riverbank.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Gael reckoned the start of Spring with the feast of St. Brigid (and probably the Goddess Brig before her), February 1st, when the ewes come into milk, with their expected birth of lambs. As Brigid/ Brig was associated with butter in some traditions it is possible that some early butter was made from sheep’s milk, though that is not recorded in records, as far as I know. The lambs and many other animals born in Spring had no choice regarding when to appear – that had been decided in the Autumn or Summer of the year before when their mothers mated. Birds, on the other hand, who are more vulnerable, mate in the Spring itself.

In Dublin city until perhaps a week ago, there was very little sign of Spring apart from the lengthening of the day. The blind wandering poet Antoine Ó Raifteirí (1779-1835), writing in the month of January, was already anticipating spring in one of his better-known poems:

Anois teacht an Earraigh beidh an lá dúl chun síneadh, 


Is tar éis na féil’ Bríde ardóigh mé mo sheol;


Ó chur mé ‘mo cheann é, ní stopfaidh mé choíche 


Go seasfaidh mé síos i lár Chondae Mhaigh Eo.

He’s thinking of heading home to County Mayo, he feels Spring coming but will wait until Bridget’s feast day to “hoist his sail” and since it’s in his head now won’t stop till he gets there. We might have been anticipating Spring ourselves in January this year and into February — though cold and wet enough — but if so we were in for a shock towards the end of the month and into March with “snow dumps”.

The birds have to set up their territory even so and in fact the robin (Spideog) was marking its territory in song sporadically through December and January, often enough even at night in the city and particularly near street or train station lighting. The polygamous wren (Dreoilín), if not already at it followed in February. The seagulls at their nesting sites on roofs were calling and mating in mid-March but may have been delayed a little by the snow; however they are hardy birds. Some blackbird males have been singing since March and now are all in full throaty song. In March also we heard the high-pitched “peeps” of those acrobats, the tits as they foraged for invertebrates through the branches of tree and bush and at the end of April, also the bursts of chaffinch song which remind us often of caged canaries — and why not, when the canaries are often taught that very bird’s song to sing.

The Lesser Celandine, I think (Grán arcáin)
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

January was the time to hear adult foxes in the city, the somewhat frightening scream of the vixen and the two or three-times bark in quick succession of the dog fox. This month the cubs, born a month earlier, will venture out of their den and may be heard sometimes by night at play too, though this is more likely in the months to come.

The mystery plant with flower or hood bud (going by the leaves, not ‘Lords and Ladies’).
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Primrose (Sabhaircín) leaf, bud and flower.(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Wild (or perhaps Barren) Strawberry (Sú talún or bréige) in blossom.  (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The trees and ground plants apparently respond more to length and angle of sunlight to tell them it is time to grow from seed or to burst open into bud and some of them are doing so now in late April, for example the birch (Beith). Others delay and the ash trees (source of our camáin or hurley sticks and much else) are still in their black hard bud stage in late April and the oak waits along too. Trees that flower tend to do so first and put out leaf later, as the blackthorn (Draighneán donn) did in February with its little white blossoms which will develop into sloes (airne) later in the year. In March hawthorn (Sceach geal), willow (Sail, from which we get “The Sally Gardens”) and elder (Ceireachán), all of which may be seen in gardens or parks (and the elder growing even on empty sites) were already green-misting in tiny leaf and are now well advanced. The “candles” of the horse chestnut (Crann Cnó capaill), to be seen in parks and in some leafy suburb streets, are however forming alongside the tree’s large leaves right now at the end of April (Aibreán) and the rowan (Caorthann) and sycamore (Seiceamar) of the whirling seeds are also in stages of leaf.

Slender Speedwell perhaps (there are a number of different species). (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Spring is really coming for us but for many plants, mammals and birds, it is already here.

end

PS: When checking The Tree Council of Ireland for tree species names in Irish, I was shocked to find that they do not supply them. Nor reference the huge number of places across the land whose names in English are corruptions of the original Irish place names derived from the names of trees.

Links for more information:

Identifying wildflowers by month through the year: http://www.irishwildflowers.ie/this-month/april.html

Wildflower information, photo and names in Irish, English and Latin: http://www.wildflowersofireland.net/plant_detail.php?id_flower=220

Song of the Chaffinch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVyW9t5wX3U

Native trees in leaf throughout the year: http://www.thegardenshop.ie/native-trees

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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

Reflections on the Irish Language I a) – for adult learners

REFLECTIONS ON THE IRISH LANGUAGE

I

Diarmuid Breatnach

A) FOR ADULT LEARNERS

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

TO BE OR …. SOMETHING ELSE

Much of what happens in English requires the use of the verb “to be”, which is a highly irregular verb so that the past tense singular was and plural were do not resemble each other much and resemble the infinitive to be or present tense for different persons (am, is, are) not at all. However the child learning to speak English as a mother or environmental tongue, i.e the language spoken around her outside the home, will in time get over the difficulty.

But when the adult English-speaker comes to learn Gaeilge (Irish), she will encounter in that language no equivalent usage to that of the verb “to be” in English. Instead, she will find the verbs “Tá” and “Is”. Furthermore, the verb “tá” will have other uses too.

Stock adult education class photo (Source: Internet)

For example, “I am a man” will be “Is fear mé” but “I am tired” will be “Tá mé tuirseach”. And “Tá”, with a set of prepositional pronouns, is used also to correspond to the verb “Have” in English: for example “Tá rothar agam” = “I have a bike”. And furthermore, when feelings are conveyed, “Tá” is used too but with another set of prepositional pronouns: “Tá fearg orm” = “I am angry” (lit. “I have anger on me”). Physical feelings too, eg: “I am thirsty” will be “Tá tart orm” (literally, “I have a thirst on me”, a phrase that appears in English spoken in Ireland even by people who have not spoken Irish in generations).

Now, before the complainer about Gaeilge can throw up his or hands in exasperation and exclaim “You see?”, let us examine another European language.

Castilian (Spanish) has exactly the same division between the verbs estar and ser: Estoy cansado (“I am tired”) but soy un hombre (“I am a man”). And furthermore, the use of another verb, tener (“to have”), to correspond to the use of the verb “to be” in English. As an example of the latter, tengo sed (literally “I have thirst”) = “I am thirsty”.  Further, the verb “to make” in Castilian, hacer, will be used to describe the weather, as in “Hace frio” (lit. “It makes cold”) = “It is cold”.

Castilian is I believe the mostly widely-spoken European language after English but also the language with the most speakers in the world after Mandarin Chinese. Well over 400 million people speak Castilian as their first language and it has official status in 21 states spanning three continents.1

Not many people are going around whining about Castilian/ Spanish being difficult to learn (or if there are, they’re being ignored) so clearly, this problem of the different verbs in use in one language to an equivalent use of only one verb in English is not such a big problem at all.

So, if some people don’t want to learn Gaeilge, they need to find a different excuse; otherwise, as they say in coarse English (but not i nGaeilge or in Castellano) – suck it up!

DRUMMING UP THE PAST

Diarmuid Breatnach

I got a phone call today – my drum has been found.  I was astonished.

Three or four years ago, my drum went into hiding. No, I don’t mean “I went into hiding in my drum” – I’m not talking Cockney rhyming slang or Romany. I mean a real drum, a music-rhythm drum. It’s a dholak — looks like a smallish bongo in shape but both ends are played and it is South Asian in origin. It was bought for me many years ago from a London charity shop.

Why did my dholak go into hiding? I am not sure. Drums are sensitive; sensitive to vibrations. Yes of course, they are about vibration, that’s how they are made to produce sound. But more than that – they also pick up vibration. The skin or membrane, stretched tight, can pick up vibrations of machines, wind or even speech, which resonate inside the hollow instrument. Perhaps I was giving off bad vibrations. Or more likely not supplying enough vibrations at all.

Dholak

A dholak, very similar to mine. (Photo source: Internet)

It is true that I had stopped playing her and taking her to music session. I knew I wasn’t a great player but I thought I was OK – most of the time. Percussion gave me something to do at a session, to be part of it when I wasn’t singing. Then something happened that shattered the veneer of confidence. And there was a session I used to go to where I played it but I stopped going there; I can’t even remember why now.

The percussion illness began years ago in London. It was an infection that spread from my tapping feet to my tapping fingers and to rapping on wooden tables; there were nights I got carried away and came home with sore and skinned knuckles.

The infection spread and I took to playing the violin cases of tolerant musicians at London sessions. Or occasionally an accordion case. And then the dholak arrived. I played her indoors for months before I dared bring her to a session.

Musicians’ eyes widened when they saw me bring out a drum more than two feet high from a sports bag. They were apprehensive, for sure. Musicians playing Irish music (not all of them are Irish) have learned – or been taught – to be wary of percussionists. Percussion usually descends on an Irish session in the shape of a bodhrán (from the Irish, literally “a deafener”) and though the instrument can be played very well and sensitively, too often it is not. When played badly it is out of time with the music or a monotonous boom-boom-boom trying to kill the music … and nearly always too loudly.

There is a joke about the banjo which can be even more easily applied to the bodhrán: “You can tell from a fair distance when a man with banjo is approaching – but there is f.a. you can do about it.”

Even the bodhrán has a dubious history in traditional Irish music and it was really a classically-trained Irish musician, the great Seán Ó Riada, who gained the instrument popularity by working it into his suites — his compositions and arrangements. Norman observers in the 12th Century, describing Irish music, mentioned only a kind of drum, some kind of whistle (flute) and the harp (of which there were two, the small and the large). Not even the uileann pipes were mentioned! Over the years, the wooden whistle came in or was developed domestically (replaced for a while by the metal one, mass-produced in Manchester!), also the concert flute from Europe, the violin from Austria-Hungary perhaps, the accordion from Germany and Italy, the banjo from African slaves and their descendants in the USA, the mandolin from Italy, the bouzouki introduced from Greece in the 1960s, the guitar originally from Iberia but probably through English and US folk music, also in the 1960s.

The uileann pipes, despite the Norman observers, have been around for a while too but difficult to say when exactly it came in, some sources say not till the 1700s – certainly later than the marching war pipe depicted in Elizabethan-period drawings and woodcuts.

St Michans Irish Music Instruments carving

Instruments in Irish traditional music — a panel carving in St. Michan’s Church, Dublin. (Photo source: Internet)

In Irish music, it is normally the guitarist who plays rhythm and many musicians think that with a guitarist, you don’t need a percussionist. If indeed you ever do – Séamus Ennis, once asked what was the best way to play the bodhrán, famously (or infamously) replied: “With a penknife”.

Whatever else could be said about my playing of the dholak, good or bad, at least I never played it too loudly.

Traditional Irish music sessions in London, at least in those years, tended to be more tolerant and inclusive than I experienced in Ireland on visits home or since. So they let me get on with it and we got on ok – me, the dholak and the musicians. And the ‘audience’ seemed ok with us all too.

When I came home to Dublin, to work and to live, after decades in London, she came with me. There was a session in Rathmines I attended regularly and I took the drum there, played it some to accompany the trad music instruments and sang a few songs. At that particular session one heard a variety of types of song and could sometimes see dancing: set-dancing, freestyle sean-nós and there was an elderly couple who did what I took to be a schottische. There was a bodhrán player or two there most times and when they were, I mostly laid off the dholak until they took a break, went to the toilet or out for a smoke.

Usually, the session would start around 9.30pm and go on till 1.00am or even later. Many a time on my way home from that session, a song or a tune would be running through my head, non-stop. Sometimes I even composed a tune, or thought I did — but had forgotten it by next day.

Walking the 4.5 km.s after a session to catch the night bus from D’Olier Street (and a half-hour wait if I missed one) grew tiresome, which might have been the reason I stopped going. Maybe my bike wasn’t working at that time. The truth is, I don’t know why but I did stop going. There was a Sunday session I was going to for a while but I dropped out of that too, for other reasons. The result was that I stopped playing the dholak, even at home.

Maybe she missed the tapping of my fingers on her skin. Perhaps she missed the vibrations of Irish traditional music. And grew to resent the silence. Maybe she planned to leave me.

If so, the occasion came when a large group of Basque musicians were visiting Dublin and I had organised a musical pub-crawl for them (kantu-poteo), as well as a concert for them to perform. I brought the dholak in case there should be an informal session at the end of the evening but there wasn’t and, in amongst all the leave-taking and so on, I forgot about her.

A few days later I looked for the dholak at home and realised I must have left it behind. To the management of the hall I went rushing — but it could not be found. So, someone had stolen her. Or she had gone off with someone she thought would appreciate her more than I had.

I was upset – of course I was – but there was nothing to be done about it. Of course, if I ever should see someone with her, while on my travels ….!

The years went by and I reconciled myself to my loss. I had already mostly stopped going to traditional sessions and was concentrating on singing. For a while I was singing at a different gathering as often as twice a week. Then that too tailed off. Some sessions were a distance away around Dublin bay and finished after public transport did. One was on a Sunday and I was often tired. But the truth is, although I always enjoyed a singing session, I was losing some of the drive, the urge that had me attending regularly.

And then, this morning, from the manager of the hall where I had lost the dholak about four years ago, I got a phone call. She had been found!

Overjoyed as I am, I can’t help wondering what it means, that she turns up now. Of course, it could mean nothing. Just a lucky happenstance that it turned up, was found among stuff stored away, probably by someone searching for something else or having a clear-out.

The cops and private detectives with starring roles in the novels I sometimes read don’t believe in coincidence and happenstance. Much as I hate to take part of my world view from cops, nor do I.

It means something. But what?

end

Information on Irish musical instruments:

https://www.musicalpubcrawl.com/instruments/

TODAY THE FRENCH LANDED TO HELP THE IRISH THROW OFF THE ENGLISH YOKE.

Diarmuid Breatnach

On the 22nd of August 1798, almost 1,100 troops under the command of General Humbert landed at Cill Chuimín Strand, Bádh Cill Ala (Killala Bay), Co. Mayo.

Painting said to be depicting French landing at Kilalla

 The events are covered in six songs that I know of: Na Franncaigh Bhána; An Spailpín Fánach (Mayo version); Mise ‘gus Tusa agus Hielan Aindí; The West’s Awake by Thomas Davis; Men of the West and its Irish translation, Fir an Iarthair.

 Some of the songs, especially the traditional ones from this area, are in Irish, which was the commonly-spoken language of the area (unlike parts of Dublin, Wexford and Antrim, where most of the songs from the period were in English).

The French troops on this occasion — unlike the numbers sent by Napoleon in 1796 but which failed to land at Bantry Bay due to stormy conditions — were insufficient to change the overall insurrectionary situation and though they and the Irish fought bravely, the Rising in the West failed.  Most of the French who surrendered were treated as prisoners of war but the Irish who rose were butchered or taken prisoner and hanged.  Matthew Tone and Bartholomew Teeling, both Irish but holding commissions as officers in the French Army, were taken to Dublin, tried and hung.  Their bodies are reputed to lie in Croppies’ Acre.

Portrait of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert

Nevertheless the Rising is remembered with pride and General Humbert’s memory held in affection.  Sixteen years later he fought the English again at the Battle of New Orleans, taking place between December 14, 1814 and January 18, 1815, this time as a private soldier in the American Army — and successfully.  He had settled in New Orleans already and remained there after the war, working as a schoolteacher until his final days.

There is a French military former officer character in Mel Gibson’s film The Patriot (2000), Major Jean Villeneuve (played by Tcheky Karyo).  A film commentary on line says his character was suggested by the Marquis de Lafayette, of the French military and Baron Von Steubon, a Prussian mercenary (http://www.patriotresource.com/thepatriot/characters/villeneuve.html.).

But might the character not have been suggested by Humbert?  Anyone who knew his story would be eager to put him in the film, one would think.  In the film, he fights in his French officer’s uniform at the final battle (unnamed but probably based that on at Cowpens); Humbert, though he fought at the rank of private, also fought in his Napoleonic Officer’s Army uniform at the Battle of New Orleans.

Still photo from the film, with Tchéky Karyo to the right in the role of the French Major Villeneuve. His character could have been based in part on that of Jean Joseph Amable Humbert.

Robert Roda of New Hampshire is listed as the writer of the screenplay.  New Hampshire is not known as an Irish-American stronghold and Roda does not sound like an Irish name.  But then, it is not only Irish and French people who are interested in Irish and French history.

 

End

 

 

THE SHAMROCK AND THE COLOUR GREEN – NATIVE OR FOREIGN IMPORTS INTO IRISH ICONOGRAPHY?

Diarmuid Breatnach

We are long accustomed to the association of these two symbols with Irish ethnicity and nationalism, the shamrock and the colour green, but historically can they be shown to be authentically Irish?

Shamrock closeup
(Photo sourced at Internet)

 

The shamrock symbol has been used by a number of products and services, including Aer Lingus, formerly the Irish national airline and now a subsidiary of the International Airways Group1. Both as a plant and a living symbol it is now being sold on the streets and in shops in preparation for the celebration of the male patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick on March 17th. St. Patrick himself was a foreign import, albeit one seized unwillingly by Irish raiders. The son of a Romanised Celt it seems and probably from Wales, Patricius was kept as slave labour herding pigs until his escape but he returned as a Christian missionary and became one of the founders of the Celtic Christian Church in Ireland. 

We may view this as an amazing feat in itself – Ireland was one of the few European countries which went from the old multi-gods religion to the monotheism of Judeo-Christianity in a largely peaceful transition. However the Celtic Church at least tolerated and many would say condoned many of the laws and customs of the old culture, including marriage of priests, the right to divorce by men or women and a higher status for women than was common in an increasingly feudal Europe.

The word “shamrock” is an Anglic corruption of the Irish seamróg, itself a contraction of seamair óg, meaning a sprig of young clover. The Irish shamrock is usually the species Trifolium dubium (lesser clover; Irish: seamair bhuí), with yellow flowers or the white-flowered Trifolium repens (white clover; Irish: seamair bhán).

Children at schools influenced by the Catholic clergy in Ireland (which was and still is the vast majority of the schools within the Irish state) were taught that St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the existence of the Christian Holy Trinity of the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost, i.e. how there may be three different aspects in one entity, as in the three leaves on the one stem of the shamrock.

A charming story but clearly without any foundation whatsoever – not only is it not mentioned in what is believed by historians to be Patrick’s autobiography but the story only emerged much later. However, the crucial evidence against the veracity of the story is that neither the Gaels nor the Celts in general2 had any need to be convinced of trinities of gods: in Ireland we already had the Morrigan, a female trinity of Badhb, Macha and Anand and of course the Celts had the ubiquitous triskele symbol (surviving as the national symbol of Manx), to illustrate a trinity, religious or otherwise.

The first clear association of the shamrock with St. Patrick in Ireland comes in an account by an English traveller to occupied Ireland, Thomas Dineley, who described in 1681 Irish people on St. Patrick’s Day wearing green on their clothes, including the shamrock. But the first account of St. Patrick’s use of the shamrock is not seen until 1726, when it appears in a work by Caleb Threlkeld, a botanist.

But what of the colour green? Surely that at least is authentically Irish? Well, it certainly has a longer pedigree. Dineley’s account in 1681 associates wearing green with the celebration of the feast day of St. Patrick’s, one of the three patron saints of Ireland3 (yet another trinity?). But the Catholic Confederacy of 1642-1652, an alliance of Gaelic chieftains with Norman-Irish aristocracy against the Reformation being imposed upon them, also flew a green flag, with a gold harp upon it.

The symbol of Ulster was the Red Hand from an ancient Irish myth of arrival but what was the backround? Both the O’Neills and O’Donnells, dominant clans of Ulster, have designs in red and blue against a white background. Only Leinster province has a design in green and yellow.

BLUE?

The colour of an old design for Meath is blue. There is an old heraldic design for Ireland of three crowns on a blue background and although this was the arms granted by Richard II of England to Robert de Vere as Lord of Ireland in 13864, over two centuries after the Norman invasion, it may have drawn on the colour of an existing Irish flag or design.

The Wikipedia page on the Coat of arms of Ireland, although commenting that heraldry is a feudal practice suggests an older inspiration:

The colour of the field is sometimes called ‘St. Patrick’s blue’, a name applied to shades of blue associated with Ireland. In current designs, used by the UK and Irish states (sic), the field is invariably a deep blue. The use of blue in the arms has been associated with Gormfhlaith, a Gaelic mythological personification of Ireland. The word Gormfhlaith is a compound of the Irish words gorm (“blue”) and flaith (“sovereign”); it is noted in early Irish texts as the name of several queens closely connected with dynastic politics in the 10th and 11th century Ireland. The National Library of Ireland, in describing the blue background of the arms, notes that in early Irish mythology the sovereignty of Ireland (Irish: Flaitheas Éireann) was represented by a woman often dressed in a blue robe.”

The designers of the Cumann na mBan flag may have been aware of the ancient claim of the colour blue when they made that the background colour of their own flag.  Markievicz and Hobson would even more likely have been aware of it as well as the blue with an orange, golden or silver sunburst, alleged flag of the legendary band of warriors na Fianna, when they made that the flag of the Republican Youth organisation they founded, Na Fianna Éireann.

THE GREEN FLAG

But what about the United Irishmen’s flag of green, with a golden harp? When talking about the United Irishmen we need to remember from where they received their ideological influences. These were mostly from radical and republican thinkers and agitators in Britain, the USA and France. The United Irishmen organisation was founded by Anglicans and Presbyterians, mostly colonists and settlers or their descendants and most of their leadership in the uprisings of 1798 and 18035 came from from among that section of Irish society. That goes a long way to explaining why most of the revolutionary texts of the time are in the English language, in a country where the majority even then still spoke Irish and with a rich literary and oral tradition in the Irish language.

United Irishmen harp motif with motto.
(Photo sourced at Internet)

There is a historical trend among colonists to feel disadvantaged with regard to their compatriots back in “the mother country”, to resent levels of taxation, to complain of inadequate representation and of corrupt or inefficient government. This occurred in English-speaking America and led to the American Revolution and the creation of the United States. It also occurred in the other America, where the Spanish-speaking colones developed conflicts with the Spanish Kingdom and eventually rose in rebellion against it across South and Central America, eventually gaining independence for a number of states.

A similar process was taking place in Ireland, where the disaffected who belonged to the established church, the Anglican or Church of Ireland, understood that to create a strong autonomous nation, even as part of the English-ruled unity of nations, they would need to bring into government the greater majority, the Presbyterians6 and even the overwhelming majority, the Catholics (i.e the native Irish).

Henry Grattan attempted this by trying to get the excluded denominations admitted to the Irish Parliament but Crown bribery, sectarianism or fear of having to return lands grabbed by their grandparents or others, combined to have a majority vote the proposals down. That ensured that the organisers of the United Irishmen would realise that no progress to their objectives was possible without revolution.

Irish nationalists among the descendants of colonists often adopted Irish symbols and some other Irish identifiers as a sign of difference from the English. There was some interest in the Irish language but it does not appear to have been widely studied by most Irish Republicans of the time as witnessed by the incorrect appellation of “Erin” for Ireland – any Irish-speaker would know that Éire is the nominative form for the country and ‘Éireann’ is employed in the genitive and dative cases. United Irishmen were involved in organising the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792, while folk-song collectors and antiquarians dug among the people and archives for survivals of an older Irish culture.

The Harp, an ancient Irish musical instrument employed also to accompany poetry recitation was employed as a symbol by the Unitedmen — often with the motto “ ‘Tis new-strung and shall be heard”. In addition, the English had long recognised the instrument as a symbol for Ireland, albeit under the Crown.

THE COLOUR GREEN

But where did the colour green come from to be associated with Irish nationalism? This question could do with more research than I have the time or other facilities to devote to it but one may comment what green is not: it is neither the Red of Royal England nor the Blue of Royal France. Nor is it the red with a white salterre of the Order of St. Patrick, another colonial creation and clearly of Royal and colonial origin and patronage, created at the time of a bubbling of the nationalist pot in Ireland and only sixteen years before the 1798 Uprising.

Interestingly, the Irish Brigade (1688–1791) of the French Army did include the colour green in its flag design, four quarters alternately green and red, with a crown in each. And the standard of Napoleon’s La Légion Irlandaise in 1841is described as of “emerald green”.

Regimental colours of one of the irish Regiments of the French Royal Amy, De Berwick, until 1791. (Photo sourced at Flags of Ireland — see Further Reading for link)

 

William Drennan (1754–5 February 1820), United Irishman, is credited with first use of the description “Emerald Isle” in his poem When Erin First Rose and it was much later re-used in the ballad Bold Robert Emmet. John Sheils, a Drogheda Presbyterian and United Irishman, employed the harp, the colour green, St. Patrick, Erin (sic) and the shamrock all in his song The Rights of Man, which he composed some years prior to the 1798 Rising. The “three-leaved plant” which is “three in one” is used in Sheils’ song

to prove its unity in that community

that holds with impunity to the Rights of Man”

The trinity there is clearly the political one desired by the Unitedmen of Protestant (Anglican), Catholic and Dissenter (Presbyterian and other sects).

Green was widely worn by people with United Irish sympathies and particularly during repression by Orange militia, people wearing green were targeted. However, if one wanted to wear a suspect nationalist colour, how safer than to do so than on the feast day of the alleged founder of Christianity in Ireland and acknowledged by Protestant, Sects and Catholics alike?

From the United Irishmen onwards, green has been unarguably associated with Irish nationalism and Irish Republicanism, in the flags of the Fenians, the Irish Volunteers and even of the Irish Citizen Army, also part of the tricolour flag awarded by Parisian revolutionary women to the Young Irelanders which is now the national flag of the Irish state. Green was also the colour of the St. Patrick’s Battalion that fought for Mexico against the invasion by the USA (1846-’48) and of ceremonial uniforms of some Irish formations during the American Civil War and the main colour of some of their regimental flags, also of the flags of the Fenian veterans of that war invading Canada in 1866.

Flag of the Irish Brigade (later the Fighting 69th) in the Union Army, American Civil War.
(Photo sourced at Internet)

Does it matter whether green is authentically an ancient Irish colour or not? Would Irish Republicanism or nationalism be de-legitimised if it could be proven the colour they are using was of dubious origin or of comparatively recent political significance for Ireland? I don’t think so. But it is good to be aware of the different origins of symbols and to question and even challenge what is handed to us as unquestionably authentic.

However, enough people have now fought under the green in eight uprisings in Ireland and struggles abroad; enough people have laid down their lives under the colour and indeed, once it became a symbol of Irishness, enough Irish have been persecuted, prosecuted and even executed for wearing it, to ensure that “wherever green is worn” can be Irish. And in that representation, the shamrock too, which of course happens to be green, and could be passed off as a devotional symbol to suspicious authorities and murderously insecure and sectarian minorities of colonial origin, has its place.

Painting depicting the Battle of Ridgeway, Fenian invasion of Canada, 1866. (Photo sourced at Wikipedia)

The Wearing o’ the Green

(by John Keegan “Leo” Casey (1846 – March 17, 1870). Keegan, known as the Poet of the Fenians, was an Irish poet, orator and republican who was famous for authorship of this song, apparently written when he was 15 and also as the writer of the song “The Rising of the Moon” (to the same air), also as one of the central figures in the Fenian Rising of 1867. He was imprisoned by the English and by a huge irony died on St. Patrick’s Day in 1870 at the age of 24).

O Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news that’s goin’ round?

The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground!

No more Saint Patrick’s Day we’ll keep, his colour can’t be seen

For there’s a cruel law ag’in the Wearin’ o’ the Green.”

I met with Napper Tandy7, and he took me by the hand

And he said, “How’s poor old Ireland, and how does she stand?”

“She’s the most distressful country that ever yet was seen

For they’re hanging men and women there for the Wearin’ o’ the Green.”

So if the colour we must wear be England’s cruel red

Let it remind us of the blood that Irishmen have shed

And pull the shamrock from your hat, and throw it on the sod

But never fear, ’twill take root there, though underfoot ’tis trod.

When laws can stop the blades of grass from growin’ as they grow

And when the leaves in summer-time their colour dare not show

Then I will change the colour too I wear in my caubeen

But till that day, please God, I’ll stick to the Wearin’ o’ the Green.

But if, at last, her colours should be torn from Ireland’s heart

Her sons, with shame and sorrow, from the dear old soil will part;

I’ve heard whispers of a Country that lies far beyond the sea,

Where rich and poor stand equal, in the light of Freedom’s day!

O Erin! must we leave you driven by the tyrant’s hand!

Must we ask a Mother’s blessing, in a strange but happy land,

Where the cruel Cross of England’s thralldom’s never to be seen:

But where, thank God! we’ll live and die, still Wearing of the Green!

End.

John ‘Leo’ Keegan Casey monument, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin (Photo sourced at Wikipedia)

FURTHER READING

An undated interesting article about the origins of Irish national symbols (also giving a list of additional reading) http://www.gov.ie/en/essays/symbols.html

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

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

Reference to colour green in the standard of Napoleon’s Irish unit La Légion Irlandaise http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/enlisting-for-my-enemy-s-enemy-1.1779145

and in some uniforms and flags of Irish formations in the Union Army in the American Civil War https://www.abebooks.com/book-search/title/new-yorks-fighting-sixty-ninth-regimental/author/john-mahon/ and

https://www.amazon.com/Rising-Moon-Peter-Berresford-Ellis/dp/0312006764

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

About Leo Casey http://www.irishidentity.com/extras/gaels/stories/leocasey.htm

FOOTNOTES

1A consortium of Iberia, Vueling and ironically, British Airways.

2Nor indeed other cultures such as the Hindi or the classical Greeks

3Sts. Patrick, Bridget and Columcille

4It continued in use until 1541

5 And even many of the leaders, journalists and poets of the Young Irelanders and of the Fenians.

6And other “Dissenters” such as Unitarians, Methodists, Society of Friends (Quakers) etc.

7Napper Tandy was a United Irishman who lived in Dublin; his home is mentioned in the most common versions of the well-known Dublin song, The Spanish Lady.

A VERBAL HANGING IN DUBLIN’S THOMAS STREET

Clive Sulish

While eastbound drivers in Thomas Street on Friday 3rd March gawped, traffic slowed in the westbound lane to allow az small procession pushing a gallows, trundling along on wheels. There were surprisingly few witty comments, even the notoriously quick Dubliners too surprised to come up with a witty bon mot (or even a focal maith).

Diarmuid Breatnach outside St. Catherine’s Church, Thomas Street.
(Photo: /////)

The procession stopped at the Robert Emmet plaque, in the railing wall of the former Protestant St. Catherine’s Church, approximate place of execution of Robert Emmet on 20th December 1803.

Elayne Harrington, aka Temperamental MiscElaynous performing her piece outside St. Catherine’s Church, Thomas Street.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Despite continuous rain a small crowd had gathered on the pavement in front of the monument and the gallows, with a small platform less than a foot high, was placed facing them. Dublin artist Elayne Harrington, also known as the well-established street poet/ rapper artist from Finglas, Temperamental MiscElayneous, stood on the platform to announce that the event was to honour Robert Emmet and was a project as part of the Liberties Street Project, a continuation of the IPIP (In Public In Particular) program at the National College of Art and Design, Thomas Street, Dublin 8.

Harrington thanked people for attending despite the weather and, after outlining the program for the event, announced Diarmuid Breatnach, who took up position with the gallows and hanging noose just behind him.

Breatnach is best known as a co-founder of the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign, maintaining a campaign table with a petition and leaflets on the market street for a few hours every Saturday but is also known as an acapella singer, particularly in Dublin traditional-folk circles.

Section of the crowd at the event outside St. Catherine’s Church, Thomas Street.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

After thanking MiscElayneous for the invitation and the crowd for attendance, Breatnach proceeded to reiterate that the event was taking place very near the spot where, at the age of 25, Robert Emmet had been hung and then decapitated by the British colonial administration in 1803.

Harrington reminded him to stand on the low platform which Breatnach did, drawing a laugh from the crowd when he indicated the hanging noose and commented: “Me Ma always said I’d end up like this.”

Breatnach asked the audience to imagine the scene of the execution in 1803 and referred them to a painting of the scene available on the Internet, showing a huge crowd, with people looking out of windows in nearby buildings and mounted redcoats keeping the crowd back from the gallows. Many of in the crowd would have been supporters but the better-known would not have been there – they were in jail or in hiding.

The execution was carried out there, Breatnach said, because the whole Thomas Street and Liberties was known as a revolutionary area, which Breatnach went on to describe (see video below).

Elayne Harrington, aka Temperamental MiscElaynous performing her piece outside Stl Catherine’s Church, Thomas Street.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Executions, said Breatnach, have been carried out down through the ages on Irish people resisting invasion, colonialism and imperialism and fighting for social justice. The gallows have become an enduring image in Irish history and a number of songs (Breatnach mentioned ten from the 19th century up to the present) refer to it.

The state we have now, said Breatnach, set up in 1922, preferred shooting, which was the method by which it eliminated its opponents at the time, 81 of them in official executions. Hanging remained however in this state but the last execution was in 1954.

Breatnach stated that we are often taught history as a dead subject, something in the past to which we are largely unrelated but he believed history to be a living thing, in the stones of walls and streets, in the air and in the words people have left us. And in our songs.

Breatnach selected three songs that mentioned Robert Emmet: The Three Flowers, written early last Century by Norman G. Reddin (two verses); Bold Robert Emmet perhaps by Tom Maguire around 1916 but certainly published in 1934; and Anne Devlin in recent decades by Pete St. John. Breatnach sang the three songs one after the other with MiscElayneous accompanying on her bodhrán.

Diarmuid Breatnach outside St. Catherine’s Church, Thomas Street, talking about the radical revolutionary history of the area.
(Photo: ////)

During the applause which greeted the end of Breatnach’s performance, Elayne Harrington replaced him on the stage, thanked him and introduced herself as Temperamental Miscellaneous and spoke about her contribution, which was to be an extract of Emmet’s famous speech from the dock in the Green Street Courthouse, but re-worked into more modern Dublin idiom. Harrington then launched into a spirited rendition of her piece (see video below for the full performance).

No matter what words I utter, it’ll fail to change your mind and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’ve made me a bed and I’ll lie in it. ………….

There’s plenty I could tell why my reputation should be kept clean from the utter lies and slander which’ve been lashed upon it. ……………

I wouldn’t dream that I could impress upon a court as trapped in its own self and corrupted, a fair impression of my character. …………………….

If merely dying was the case, after being deemed in the wrong and you in the right I’d take it on the chin and I wouldn’t breathe a word but that same law that not only wants to get rid of me also aims at filthying my name and sullying the memory of me. ……………..

In the hope that my memory won’t fade and that it might retain its honour among my brothers and sisters, I’ll stand up for myself and my integrity and weaken those charges against me. ……………

…. our cloths are entwined, mine and the martyred heroes of the gallows and battlefield, consecrated by sacrifice … for protection and guardianship of their homestead and their righteousness. ………..

This is what I hope: for my memory and name to serve those who live on by it being a source of empowerment …. witness the malignant malicious government that gains its false riches through sin alone, that treats a people as wolves to be domesticated and blooded to the taste of their fellows, to dance to their tune and to the death knell ……………..

Concluding the event, Harrington thanked the attendance and invited them to place small pots of growing flowers she had provided in front of the monument, which they did.

Stablising the scaffold outside St. Catherine’s Church, Thomas Street.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

WHY THE EVENT?

What had led Elayne Harrington to choose this act as part of her course?

“I was interested in Robert Emmet and his uprising ever since I heard a Dublin tour guide dismiss Robert Emmet while briefly mentioning his uprising”, explained the rapper from Finglas.

“I came to think that although Emmet failed in his objective, he had attempted a brave and good thing and his speech was really impressive. His uprising attempt took place in the area where my college is and he was executed just down the road, so that’s how I came to think of this event.

“I’m thankful to my course tutor and fellow students for supporting me in this act and to another tutor who helped me with the construction of the gallows. I am grateful to Diarmuid Breatnach also, who has been very supportive and contributed to the performance and I was really glad that my Da was able to be here and help today too.”

Why did Harrington call this “the first of the verbal execution series”?

“I see this as an event that can be brought to other places – like the gallows I built, it is transportable” she says with a grin but then turns serious. “The performances can be adapted also to other occasions of which Irish history is full.”

We’ll be watching this space!

Elayne Harrington and section of audience outside St. Catherine’s Church, Thomas Street, looking eastward (in the direction of Dublin Castle, ten minute’s walk away).
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

VIDEO OF EVENT

(complete event outside St. Catherine’s)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJmb553yKf8