Sure in this country you’d be known as Micheál Luas

by Kieran Healy on February 4, 2011

Via Tyler Cowen comes a Michael Lewis thumbsucker about Ireland. Lewis is a great writer, but I do wonder whether he should have listened to his driver a bit less:

When I went looking for some Irish person to drive me around, the result was a fellow I will call Ian McRory (he asked me not to use his real name in this article), who is Irish, and a driver, but pretty clearly a lot of other things, too. Ian has what appears to be a military-grade navigational system, for instance, and surprising knowledge about abstruse and secretive matters. “I do some personal security, and things of that nature,” he says … and leaves it at that. Later, when I mention the name of a formerly rich Irish property developer, he says, casually, as if it were all in a day’s work, that he had let himself into the fellow’s vacation house and snapped photographs of the interior, “for a man I know who is thinking of buying it.” Ian turns out to have a good feel for what I, or anyone else, might find interesting in rural Ireland. He will say, for example, “Over there, that’s a pretty typical fairy ring,” and then explain, interestingly, that these circles of stones or mushrooms that occur in Irish fields are believed by local farmers to house mythical creatures. “Irish people actually believe in fairies?,” I ask, straining but failing to catch a glimpse of the typical fairy ring to which Ian has just pointed. “I mean, if you walked right up and asked him to his face, ‘Do you believe in fairies?’ most guys will deny it,” he replies. “But if you ask him to dig out the fairy ring on his property, he won’t do it. To my way of thinking, that’s believing.” And it is. It’s a tactical belief, a belief that exists because the upside to disbelief is too small, like the former Irish belief that Irish land prices would rise forever.

On the other hand, maybe it’s just as well that Ian McRory — real name, Paddy O’Whackery, or perhaps Liam Mac an Bréagadóir — was on hand to provide the legally required Leprechaun quota for the article, or Lewis would have been unable to get it published. Ian’s dark hints of connections to the Provos, or possibly Dublin gangland, is a nice touch, as are his “The thing about Irish people” musings later in the article.

{ 94 comments }

1

Zamfir 02.04.11 at 3:35 pm

Doesn’t everyone have a military-grade navigation system these days?

2

Richard J 02.04.11 at 3:39 pm

This precisely the point that the crack bored office workers of the D^2 comments thread have been trying to figure out for the past two days, Zamfir.

3

Ray 02.04.11 at 3:40 pm

it was very frustrating to read, because I kept being brought up short
Fianna Fáil (pronounced “Feena Foil”) – no, it isn’t
Bloom and Canning argued that a major cause of the Irish boom was a dramatic increase in the ratio of working-age to non-working-age Irish brought about by a crash in the Irish birthrate. This had been driven mainly by Ireland’s decision, in 1979, to legalize birth control – and you thought Freakabortionomics was bad?
[Morgan Kelly] sent his piece to the small-circulation Irish Times. – WTF?
the Dáil (pronounced “Doyle”) – no, it isn’t
…and so on

4

Kevin Donoghue 02.04.11 at 3:54 pm

Not a great article, but Colm McCarthy’s account of the financial regulator’s appearance on TV made it worthwhile:

“What happened was that everyone in Ireland had the idea that somewhere in Ireland there was a little wise old man who was in charge of the money, and this was the first time they’d ever seen this little man,” says McCarthy. “And then they saw him and said, Who the fuck was that??? Is that the fucking guy who is in charge of the money??? That’s when everyone panicked.”

5

P O'Neill 02.04.11 at 4:01 pm

Ahern famously responded to a question about it on national radio by saying, “Sitting on the sidelines, cribbing and moaning is a lost opportunity. I don’t know how people who engage in that don’t commit suicide.”

Didn’t say it on national radio.

Said it to an Irish Congress of Trades Unions conference.

The audience laughed. Which is an insight into how co-opted the unions were.

6

dsquared 02.04.11 at 4:08 pm

circles of stones or mushrooms that occur in Irish fields

This is still bugging me. “Stones or mushrooms”? If it’s in your field and you’ve got the job of ploughing or mowing it, then it’s pretty darn important whether it’s a circle of stones or a circle of mushrooms.

7

Kieran Healy 02.04.11 at 4:11 pm

It’s probably because Pleistocene Irish were so poor, evolution had equipped us not to distinguish between stones or mushrooms, as depending on the season either was equally likely to appear on the dinner table and you should just shut yer gob, offer it up for your sins, and eat it whichever it was.

8

marcel 02.04.11 at 4:15 pm

Kieran: presumably you read it so we don’t have to. Does Luas make Irish men look as silly as he did Icelandic men?

9

Ray 02.04.11 at 4:18 pm

It was obviously a ring of Psilocybe Semilanceata

10

Kieran Healy 02.04.11 at 4:19 pm

@8: See above re: Fairies. But Ian Óg Owan has the last laugh, I think.

11

dsquared 02.04.11 at 4:19 pm

I think if I’d been the driver I would have tried to get away with “Just call me Bernard O’Langer”.

12

dsquared 02.04.11 at 4:26 pm

Don’t miss the Q&A backgrounder for more shamroguery:

In earlier drafts of your piece, you had a character called the King of the Travelers. Tell me about him.

When I was driving around Ireland, I passed a house that was so unlike any house I had seen. I asked what it was, and my cryptic driver knew a lot more about it than he should of.

He said, “That belongs of the King of the Travelers. He was the bare-knuckle boxing champion of Ireland.”

The Travelers define themselves almost in opposition to one of the central Irish traits: an obsession with home ownership. They don’t own any homes; they move around in crappy recreational vehicles.

Like Brad Pitt’s character in Snatch, who has an obsession with caravans?

I went to some of the sites where the caravans are parked, and I didn’t see anyone that looked like Brad Pitt. It’s almost a satirical comment on Ireland that the Travelers don’t own homes. The Irish got in such trouble with their home-ownership fetish, but the King had this great white mansion. It looked like it could have been in the American South, built right after the Civil War. Sort of an emulation of what people imagined had been in the South after the Civil War.

My driver, who ends up knowing the guy, says, “Yeah, he owns that house but he doesn’t live in it. He just uses it to keep all of his stolen possessions.”

I said, “Well, we have to go talk to this guy.”

He said, “No, no, no, you don’t talk to him. They won’t take kindly to you visiting.”

But I asked him to turn around and we went back to the house and pulled off on the side of the road in front of the house. I started to get out of the car and, out of a trailer in the back of the house, came the man himself with a baseball bat in one hand and his fist balled up, and he was coming to beat the crap out of us. And I thought, Maybe I should try to put in a call first.

I think the editor who cut that bit out deserves either a medal or a kicking, or perhaps both.

13

Roger Ailes 02.04.11 at 4:26 pm

“They’re always after me lucky charms,” McRory added darkly.

14

Richard J 02.04.11 at 4:29 pm

A few days after I’d arrived the students followed suit, but their protest was less public anger than theater, and perhaps an excuse to skip school. (DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING, read one of the students’ signs.)

I still find it startling this managed to sail past any fact-checker.

15

Zamfir 02.04.11 at 4:30 pm

I wanted to congratulate D^2 on that pitch-perfect parody, and then I clicked the link.

16

skidmarx 02.04.11 at 4:47 pm

Fianna Fáil (pronounced “Feena Foil”) – no, it isn’t
I heard it pronounced “Fail” on Channel 5 News in England the other night, which as a general election was just being called was partially appropriate.

@Ray – I see that wikipedia does give liberty caps as one of the species that grow in rings, instead suggesting that it “grows solitarily or in groups on the ground”( it also claims that they are found in the Netherlands, though I’d always been under the impression that their mushroom industry had arisen because they didn’t have their own, with a possible explanation the lack of hills of their own). I’m sure I’ve seen them grow in spirals rather than concentric rings.
And if you’re going to extract the urine, best to start with the reindeer.

17

marcel 02.04.11 at 4:48 pm

Kieran @ 10:

1) Is belief in fairies (the supernatural kind) any sillier than the subject of this? It’s not clear that this puts Irish men in an especially silly light, unlike the idiotic behavior that Luas emphasized as characteristic if XY Icenlanders.

2) Who is Ian Óg Owan? I cannot find it in article nor in teh google (nor even in teh bing, which I guess we can safely presume returns a superset of google’s results). Or is it really a “what”?

18

Vance Maverick 02.04.11 at 4:53 pm

Ian turns out to have a good feel for what I, or anyone else, might find interesting in rural Ireland.

This reads like a very thinly veiled confession by Lewis that he knows this material is nonsense.

19

chris 02.04.11 at 5:03 pm

I do wonder whether he should have listened to his driver a bit less

You don’t think that he’s inventing his driver, a la Friedman? It’s a tired narrative device, but it provides at least implausible deniability.

Yeah, he owns that house but he doesn’t live in it. He just uses it to keep all of his stolen possessions.

If he doesn’t live there, why does he just happen to be there when they visit, without an appointment, in the middle of some random day? Sounds quite a bit like he *does* live there. Or doesn’t exist, and the writer didn’t think through the contradiction of finding someone at home when visiting a home he doesn’t live in.

20

ajay 02.04.11 at 5:09 pm

I heard it pronounced “Fail” on Channel 5 News in England the other night, which as a general election was just being called was partially appropriate

Given that the great Irish national legend, or at least one of the great Irish national legends, is all about the deeds of the Fianna, the party could legitimately be renamed Epic Fail.

21

guthrie 02.04.11 at 5:16 pm

When I was in Ireland last year visiting a friend, they derived much amusement from my pronunciation of fiana fail. It did sound like they said feen foil to me, but maybe I’m just too Scottish to known what they are saying over there.

22

Kevin Donoghue 02.04.11 at 5:38 pm

You can click here for the pronunciation.

23

Ray 02.04.11 at 5:58 pm

‘Fail’ and ‘Dail’ are usually pronounced to rhyme with ‘awl’
Not exactly, and the further out of Dublin you get the more interesting pronunciation becomes, but better than ‘oil’.

24

dsquared 02.04.11 at 6:08 pm

IME, there is just basically no point in attempting proper pronunciation of Irish Gaelic.

1) it is the most cursedly non-phonetic language in the world. Welsh gets all the ribbing for words with lots of consonants, but when you remember that we use letter-combinations for sounds that Nordic languages bring in Unicode for, and that “y” is a full vowel, it’s pretty phonetic from then on in. Irish is full of names that are spelled “Gioaoaiaoamnh” and pronounced “Chris”.

2) for a small country, it has the most amazing variability in accents, so even if you spend years learning to pronounce words exactly like the guy who taught you Irish, ten minutes later you are going to meet someone who comes from a town ten miles down the road and he will go “hahahaha you aren’t even trying to pronounce that properly”.

3) it is in some way a totally different sound set – every Irish person I’ve ever spoken to on the subject claims that the words “Doyle”, “Doyle” and well, “Doyle” are three completely different vowel sounds.

There’s basically no way you can win; it’s not like French. All you can do is try not to be too studiedly ignorant and use English names for things as much as possible (always “Irish Prime Minister” if you can, “Irish Parliament” unless the context is confusing, and don’t even dream of having a go at “Teachta Dála” – “Feeyanna Foil” and “Feener Gale” are both wrong but unavoidable).

25

dsquared 02.04.11 at 6:10 pm

(I’d add that the problem identified in 1 is almost certainly the result of trying to solve the problem identified in 3 without going outside the normal Roman character set, by a committee of people from different parts of Ireland and thus subject to the problem identified in 2)

26

bryan 02.04.11 at 6:28 pm

“If he doesn’t live there, why does he just happen to be there when they visit”

I asked my friend the tin-dancer about that, he’s a very handy man who has abstruse knowledge of the very sort I need, and he informed me that Irish people of the fictional persuasion often wish not to be found in their place of legal residence due to various confleries as per their financial status, and as a consequence thereof will spend inordinate amounts of time in places that they do not live. If you disturb them there they will beat upon you, looking ruddy and smelling of beer-sweat.

27

marcel 02.04.11 at 6:30 pm

dsquared @ 24: Your description of Irish vowels and dipthongs reminds me of my adolescent experience with Dutch. Also my adult experience of Philadelphian, via my wife, whose accent must have softened through years of absence. She insists that “Barry”, “berry” and “bury” all sound different (not in any of the places I lived while growing up), as do “Mary”, “marry” and “merry”. She (and her sisters) are the only people I know who pronounce these words differently.

Also, you seem to be leaning more toward lists these days than footnotes on footnotes. Why the switch? I do like the way you immediately follow up by weaving them together in a different order: it’s reminiscent of the footnotes on footnotes.

28

P O'Neill 02.04.11 at 7:17 pm

In the spirit of D^2 contribution, non-Irish commenters are asked to attempt their pronunciation of

Caoimhghín

noting that one commenter has the Anglicised version of that name.

29

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 02.04.11 at 7:20 pm

Possibly the most egregious error:

A political investigative blog called Guido Fawkes

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Paul Staines, Political Investigator.

30

dsquared 02.04.11 at 7:23 pm

And finally, if you are ever backed up against a wall and can’t avoid “Taoiseach”, as a native English speaker you need to go for the absurdly incorrect “Tayshuck”, just to make it abundantly clear that you are not doing the joke about an Irish tea-shop.

31

Nigel 02.04.11 at 7:26 pm

DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING signs are actually ubiquitous at Irish protest rallies. They’re practically mandatory.

Also, there is, or sometimes is, or are, Kings of the Travellers. Bare knuckle fighting is involved.

32

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 02.04.11 at 7:33 pm

Also, this is patently bollocks:

“Back in October 2008, after the government threatened to means-test for medical care, the old people marched in the streets of Dublin. A few days after I’d arrived the students followed suit, but their protest was less public anger than theater, and perhaps an excuse to skip school. (DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING, read one of the students’ signs.) I’d tapped two students as they stumbled away from the event to ask why they had all painted yellow streaks on their faces. They looked at each other for a beat. “Dunno!” one finally said and burst out laughing. Other than that … silence. It’s more than two years since the Irish government foisted the losses of the Irish banks on the Irish people, and in that time there have been only two conspicuous acts of social unrest. In May 2009, at A.I.B.’s first shareholder meeting after the collapse, a senior citizen hurled rotten eggs at the bank’s executives. And early one morning in September 2010, a 41-year-old property developer from Galway named Joe McNamara, who had painted his cement mixer with anti-banker slogans, climbed inside the cab, drove through Dublin, and, after cutting the brake lines, stalled the machine up against the gates of the Parliament.”

Just from my own recollection there were massive protests in February 2009 over the pension levy; this “meek, quiescent Irish” schtick your man Lewis has here seems a bit overdone.

33

Nigel 02.04.11 at 7:40 pm

Re: stones or mushrooms. I’m vaguely remembering something about soil composition affected by prehistoric building or farming techniques or outhouse placement causing mushrooms to sprout in a vaguely circular fashion every year. Pastureland, obviously. So sometimes there are stone structures, or natural rock formations, or sometimes there are tree rings, and sometimes mushrooms sprout there once a year, and they’re all fairy forts. People who wouldn’t necessarily believe in fairies might believe in luck, and it’s a rare life that doesn’t have enough bad luck in it that can’t be attributed to fecking around with fairy forts should you be foolish enough to do such a thing. I vividly remember the closure of the Ferinka industrial estate being attributed to a demolished fairy fort, and it is my firm hope that that our present catastrophe will be forever linked to the motorway they built at Tara, if only because it encapsulates so much about what’s wrong in this thoroughly fucked-up country.

34

dsquared 02.04.11 at 7:46 pm

I’m vaguely remembering something about soil composition affected by prehistoric building or farming techniques or outhouse placement causing mushrooms to sprout in a vaguely circular fashion every year.

Mushrooms are round, and they propagate by dropping spores vertically down around their circumference. That’s what causes fairy rings.

35

Nigel 02.04.11 at 7:50 pm

God, those fairies are amazing.

36

yabonn 02.04.11 at 7:56 pm

a Michael Lewis thumbsucker about Ireland

In Ireland’s case, the author (mostly) understand the local language.

So it’s a best case article about Exotic Foreigners.

37

zamfir 02.04.11 at 8:12 pm

Yabonn, it can also give overconfidence in your understanding. The apparent mistake about ‘down with this sort of thing’ is a good example. I can easily imagine myself seeing such a sign, and confidently drawing the same conclusion that the writer was only there 4lolz.

38

roac 02.04.11 at 8:23 pm

dsquared @ 24: In Wild Wales, George Borrow tells how he assiduously learned Welsh, launched himself into the countryside, and within 30 seconds of first opening his mouth, he had the entire population of the village doubled over and gasping for breath. He was either speaking South Welsh in North Wales or the other way around, I forget which.

39

roac 02.04.11 at 8:28 pm

Mushrooms are round, and they propagate by dropping spores vertically down around their circumference. That’s what causes fairy rings.

Not exactly. I’m not a mycologist, but I believe the deal is this: All the mushrooms in the ring are actually extensions of a single organism, an icebergish proportion of which is underground. It keeps expanding outward as it uses up nutrients, and putting up the mushrooms (I think the technical term is “fruiting bodies”) around its periphery.

One of my all-time favorite bumper stickers, BTW, said MYCOLOGISTS HAVE MORE FUNGI.

40

Mise 02.04.11 at 8:36 pm

Iontach beagáinín gaeilge a fheiscint ar an mbord, fiú cúpla focail amháin, go háirithe i gcomhthéacs an paddwhackery sin…

But seriously – “do Irish people believe in fairies?” – “No, but get this! They believe Americans and English people will actually fall for it when they say they do believe in fairies!”

We were just saying today how the acceptability of paddywhackery by foreigners seems to be directly linked to the current levels of destitution in Ireland – there’s certainly been a resurgence of recent months …

Pity because it is a decent article besides…

41

rea 02.04.11 at 8:43 pm

God, those fairies are amazing

Aren’t we, though? Although over here in this country, we think it more polite to call us “gays.”

42

Walt 02.04.11 at 10:22 pm

The thing that you all are missing is that Lewis is writing for an American audience. We all know about the Blarney Stone, so we’re familiar with the fact that the Irish are compulsive liars. It’s the same way that we know that so-called moderate Muslims are faking it, because we know about taqiyya.

43

Chris E 02.04.11 at 10:29 pm

The saddest thing about reading this piece was realising his story on Greece was probably also all bollocks.

44

Junius Ponds 02.04.11 at 10:59 pm

Not to mention his piece about Iceland.

Why did he leave the native Greek fairies or elves or imps or whatever out of the Greece piece, but include them in the other two? Greece’s fairies are the ones we’re most familiar with in the Western tradition, like naiads, dryads, etc. Seems inexplicable.

45

Chris E 02.04.11 at 11:11 pm

Actually, it’s something far worse. It’s half truths strung together by Lewis’ need to find a coherent thread to tie everything together and thus preserve his reputation as a financial journo.

46

Antoni Jaume 02.04.11 at 11:14 pm

Caoimhghín

I tested “Kevin Donoghue 02.04.11 at 5:38 pm” link, and the answer was cromagnon, to be exact the nearest term they have. Now they don’t pronounce cromagnon the way I do.

47

Bloix 02.05.11 at 12:41 am

But isn’t the thrust of the story absolutely true? That for no earthly reason a corrupt political class sold out their country and guaranteed the failed private loans of idiots and thieves with taxpayer money, thereby bankrupting an entire nation for a generation to come? That a people who claim to prize independence above life itself have quietly surrendered their sovereignty to German bankers and Belgian bureaucrats? That they have agreed to spend the rest of their lives working as indentured servants to foreign bondholders? That instead of rising up in revolt, they go on paying their taxes while their children board planes for New York and London as the country empties out as surely as it did in the days of the Famine? Isn’t the truth even more incredible than leprechauns?

48

nick s 02.05.11 at 1:55 am

The bit about Achill at the end is fun, at least: I remember being there in mid-spring during the early 2000s, and it was windy, freezing, bleakly beautiful, but pretty much devoid of visitors.

DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING signs are actually ubiquitous at Irish protest rallies.

Thus.

Isn’t the truth even more incredible than leprechauns?

Not really. It’s a matter of degree (a multiplier of 103, say), not kind.

49

nick s 02.05.11 at 1:56 am

Or even “a multiplier of 10^3”, which worked in preview, damn it.

50

Tom M 02.05.11 at 4:02 am

We went to Achill Island in July of, I think, 1982, during a week of temperatures in the 80s (F) and bright sunshine. We visited the beach and the people sunbathing were beet red. It was a painful evening for a lot of them.

51

Mrs Tilton 02.05.11 at 9:11 am

Antoni @46,

the answer was cromagnon

Actually, Caoimhghín is pronounced “Yu Ming”.

52

John Murnane 02.05.11 at 11:44 am

Down With This Sort Of Thing

For those who don’t know, this is a Father Ted reference. It’s not necessarily unique to Ireland but we are very fond of ridicule as a weapon to really annoy the powerful. Bear in mind that Dermot Morgan’s (Father Ted himself) satirical radio show “Scrap Saturday” was cancelled due to political pressure. Our politicians and financially powerful may be able to take a punch but they sure as hell can’t take a joke.

53

John 02.05.11 at 12:11 pm

I think DOWN WTH THIS SORT OF THING and its corollary CAREFUL NOW! come from the wonderful Father Ted.

54

mollymooly 02.05.11 at 5:01 pm

#3 @Ray: “Fianna Fáil (pronounced “Feena Foil”) – no, it isn’t”

gimme a break. Considering the variability of both Gaelic and Anglophone accents, that’s a perfectly serviceable approximation.

“Great Potato Famine” OTOH…

55

Jamie 02.05.11 at 5:44 pm

Kieran, or somebody, no CT thread on the Six Nations?

56

JJ 02.05.11 at 6:01 pm

Did you hear the one about the Irish economist who emigrated to the US? He doubled the national IQ of both countries! ;-)

57

Bob Sharak 02.05.11 at 8:15 pm

OK, “Paddy O’Whackery” made me laugh out loud. Good one. Now I have to read the article.

Might I suggest that for comedic value, Liam Mac an Cáis would have been funnier than Liam Mac an Bréagadóir.

58

Martin Bento 02.06.11 at 4:01 am

Well, OK, so he didn’t actually go to Ireland, but he did have a bar of Irish Spring in his hand, which is just like taking a bath in Ireland, and since taking a bath is about all the people of Ireland are doing right now….

Not to say anything about what was in the other hand.

59

Gene O'Grady 02.06.11 at 4:45 am

The only time I was ever in Ireland (1972, I think it was a very different place) my brother and I were waiting to take a train from Galway (I think, some place in the West at any rate) to Dublin and some taxi driver who had a job bringing a patient from a hospital in Dublin back home offered us a ride to Dublin for some absurdly low price. So now I can say I’ve taken a cab ride across the width of a whole country.

More to the point, after he got a bit of a sense of what we were like, or what we would find entertaining, in addition to his rather interesting fund of local knowledge he filled us in with the sort of stuff that Friedman and this Lewis person seem to build theses on. But it was obvious to both of us that it was all a show for the visitors, and not only would it have been foolish to use it for an analysis of Irish opinion, but it was never clear that the guy believed any of it himself.

60

nick s 02.06.11 at 7:35 pm

61

Alex 02.06.11 at 9:20 pm

So when is Micheal Luas going to do a 20,000 turd crap for Vanity Fair about New Yorkers and how their local banking sector fucked up, and how they believe in fairies? After all, believing in fairies gets into all his other work on the subject.

62

Paddy Matthews 02.07.11 at 12:22 am

dsquared:

IME, there is just basically no point in attempting proper pronunciation of Irish Gaelic.

1) it is the most cursedly non-phonetic language in the world.

It’s not that illogical, once you know the rules:

a) first get your consonants (h always forms part of the preceding consonant),

b) then figure out whether they’re broad or narrow (velarised vs. palatalised) which you’ll know from the vowel letter immediately following or preceding (a,o,or u, vs. e or i),

c) then know which vowel is stressed (the one in the first syllable in northern Irish, the long vowel in Munster Irish), and that the other vowels are then reduced either in length or to schwas,

d) know the pronunciation of a few common vowel groups that represent diphthongs – /aoi/ is always “ee”, /ao/ is “ay” or “ee” depending on dialect, /abha/ and /amha/ are “ow-eh”, /eo/ is a long “o”, /adh/ at the end of a word is a schwa or “oo” depending on dialect, /igh/ at the end of a word is “ee”,

e) know the conventions for the aspirated consonants – /bh/ or /mh/ are “w” (broad) or “v” (narrow), /ch/ is “kh”, /dh/ or /gh/ are a Dutch “g” (broad) or “y” (narrow), /fh/ is silent, /ph/ is “f”, /sh/ and /th/ are “h”,

f) know that the eclipsed consonants – /mb/, /gc/, /nd/, /bhf/, /bp/, /dt/ – are pronounced as if the second letter didn’t exist, apart from /ng/ which is pronounced as it would be written in English,

g) palatalised /d/ is roughly “j”, palatalised /t/ is roughly “ch”, palatalised /s/ is roughly “sh”, palatalised /n/ is “ñ”, palatalised /l/ is a Spanish “ll”,

There are a couple of other rules as to when vowels should be pronounced long when followed by particular consonants (/m/, /rr/, /ll/, /nn/, /rd/, etc.) but by comparison with English or French, the pronunciation is generally regular with a few exceptions.

So, with Caoimhghín, or as it’s written in modern Irish, Caoimhín:

from rule a) your consonants are a broad /c/ (always hard in Irish), a narrow /mh/ (a “v”), and a narrow /n/ (a “ñ”),

from rule d) both /aoi/ and /í/ represent an English “ee”,

which gives you “KEE-vien” or “kie-VEEN” (the “ie” is a shortened “ee” sound) depending on dialect, with a slight “w” sound after the “k”.

Simples ;-)

63

Paddy Matthews 02.07.11 at 12:39 am

chris:

If he doesn’t live there, why does he just happen to be there when they visit, without an appointment, in the middle of some random day?

He might, perhaps, live in a caravan in the grounds of the house.

(Owing to a geographical reference elsewhere in the Lewis article, I think I may actually know the house being referred to…)

64

sg 02.07.11 at 12:59 am

dsquared, have you seen “My big fat gypsy wedding”? It has an interview with a great big barrel-chested ex bare-knuckle-boxing Traveler who lives in a big white house (I think it might be a mobile home). That’s in the midlands. My father claims that the manager of his trailer trash park (who also lives in a big white house) is a Traveler, though he could just be saying that because the manager is a bit dodgy, and my father thinks anyone dodgy is foreign or Irish. Such beliefs have certainly helped my father succeed in this world, which is why he lives in a trailer in Devon.

I don’t recommend watching “my big fat gypsy wedding,” or speaking to my father. But they seem to be about as reliable as sources of information as this Lewis chap.

65

dsquared 02.07.11 at 8:25 am

foreign or Irish

the Irish are also, technically, foreign ;-)

I thought MBFGW was actually quite a good documentary and quite sensitive toward a group of people that it’s really easy to Orientalise.

66

sg 02.07.11 at 8:27 am

it was interesting but I still thought it had a fair bit of condescension and sneering in it, though largely on the basis of their poverty/lack of class, rather than the typical racial stereotyping.

67

ajay 02.07.11 at 9:44 am

62: further to that (and everything I say now is based on Scottish Gaelic, not Irish, so I apologise in advance) Gaelic pronunciation may be difficult but it is at least consistent. Yes, it’s a bit weird that “bh” is pronounced “v” but at least it’s always pronounced “v”. Unlike, say, “gh” in English which is pronounced all sorts of ways. So once you’ve learned the rules, as 62 says, you can happily drop names like Amhuinnsuidhe or Sgurr a’ Choire-Bheithe into the conversation without breaking stride.

There is a terrible, terrible play by Brian Friel called “Translations” (sample line: “The sweet smell! ‘Tis the sweet smell! The potatoes are ruined for sure!”) which is all about the brutal Brits forcibly surveying Ireland and translating or at least amending all the place names. “Bun na Abhann” becomes “Bunowen”, etc.

Scottish Gaelic’s even more consistent because it doesn’t really have dialects to the same degree that Irish seems to have; probably because there aren’t enough speakers to have dialects.

68

Richard J 02.07.11 at 10:06 am

Scottish Gaelic’s even more consistent because it doesn’t really have dialects to the same degree that Irish seems to have

That said, if you pronounce my wife’s name (Gaelic and very easily Googleable) correctly, it’s, um, a boy’s name, thanks to my non-Gaelic speaking father in law having the best stab he could in a bar in Ankara. (long story.)

69

dsquared 02.07.11 at 10:37 am

I should probably add that while Welsh is scrupulously phonetic, this is as much a curse as a blessing, because the pronunciation of words changes a bit depending on word order (it’s physically difficult to say “fy cariad i”, for example), and some mad bastard decided that this would be best handled by having the spelling of the word change accordingly (“fy nghariad”). With the consequence that if you hear an unfamiliar Welsh word, you are going to have a bastard of a time looking it up in a dictionary unless you have memorised the multiplicitous rules on “mutations”.

70

Richard J 02.07.11 at 10:44 am

It’s occurring to me that there’s a very good analogy to be drawn between English/Celtic languages and Windows/Linux here, which, given that it would intertwine nationalism and geekiness, has the possibility of becoming the best bit of troll bait ever.

71

ajay 02.07.11 at 11:28 am

if you pronounce my wife’s name (Gaelic and very easily Googleable) correctly, it’s, um, a boy’s name

“Baoigheaodhb”, pronounced “Bob”.

72

Baoigheaodhb 02.07.11 at 12:16 pm

Ajay @ 67
I love that play! Be fair, the piece of dialogue is in fact, “The sweet smell! Smell it! It’s the sweet smell! Jesus, it’s the potato blight!” – the modern characters are given a late 20th century Northern Irish style of speaking, not the Synge-esque diction you’re forcing in to their mouths (aah!! just like those evil ordnance survey etc etc). You might think the foreshadowing is a bit forced, but the ‘eve of destruction’ atmos is what many critics read in to Chekhov these days, Friel’s favourite playwright IIRC.
As for the ‘brutal Brits’ stuff, it’s hardly Braveheart or Rob Roy – how enlightened exactly was British rule in 1833 Ireland anyway?

73

Richard J 02.07.11 at 12:18 pm

ajay> Having code-named our imminent sprog that, it has identified a very big generation gap. Very few people under 25 get it.

74

Craig 02.07.11 at 2:48 pm

Shouldn’t that be, “De ting about de Irish people?”

75

dsquared 02.07.11 at 2:53 pm

#74: it’s spelled “Oirish”, I think. And pronounced “Steve”.

76

ajay 02.07.11 at 3:22 pm

72: I stand corrected but I don’t think that the actual line is that much of an improvement on my admittedly flawed recollection of it. In my defence, I saw the damn thing about 15 years ago and have not felt the need to reread it.

The great thing about it is that, just when you’re thinking to yourself, “good grief, this play has hit pretty much every Irish cliché except the potato blight”… it mentions the potato blight.

And I should quote Gussie Fink-Nottle on authentic Irish dialogue:

Irishmen don’t talk like that. Have you ever read Synge’s Riders to the Sea? Well, get hold of it and study it, and if you can show me a single character in it who says “Faith and begob”, I’ll give you a shilling. Irishmen are poets. They talk about their souls and mist and so on. They say things like “An evening like this, it makes me wish I was back in County Clare, watchin’ the cows in the tall grass”.

77

ajay 02.07.11 at 3:23 pm

the modern characters are given a late 20th century Northern Irish style of speaking

By which you presumably mean that their words are spoken by actors.

Little bit of PTA humour there.

78

bianca steele 02.07.11 at 4:00 pm

I saw Translations. It had Rufus Sewell! He was really really good. Donal Donnelly was good too.

It also had a lot of Homeric Greek and Irish and maybe some Latin too.

79

bianca steele 02.07.11 at 4:08 pm

Bob @ 72
how enlightened exactly was British rule in 1833 Ireland anyway

It was brutal. The English officer was played by Michael Cumpsty.

80

Baoigheaodhb 02.07.11 at 4:15 pm

76: Isn’t the Fink-Nottle quotation a bit of a cliché in its own right, though? Perhaps not in Wodehouse’s day, but if I had a silver penny for every time someone made a crack (craic?) about lyrical Irish dialogue, I’d be an aggressively drunk leprechaun.

I’d still defend the ‘potato’ line, unpromising though that brief sounds. It’s a rather plain piece of staccato, panicky repetition, which ‘works’ because it communicates her fear of the staple crop failing, perfectly reasonable given the time and the place.

A lot of my friends have made similar criticisms of Friel plays, and it often turns out that they consider the subject matter of Irish rural life a cliché in its own right. Not saying that’s the case with you, Ajay, and to be honest I’d rather **** the pope than watch a new play in that vein. But Friel isn’t one of the chancers, and it’s not his fault that rural Irish people really do go to mass, eat potatoes and gripe about the English.

81

Zamfir 02.07.11 at 4:33 pm

and to be honest I’d rather **** the pope

Assuming I am filling in the blanks correctly, isn’t there a chance that this is actually a somewhat pleasant activity? Not in the top 10 of things to do in your life or so, but something you would be willing to contemplate, if he asks politely and the alternative is something mildly unpleasant?

82

ajay 02.07.11 at 4:36 pm

80.1: well, that’s sort of the joke; Gussie’s saying “no, no, that cliché about how Irish people talk is completely wrong. They actually talk like this completely different cliché”.
It’s like someone saying “no, you fool, Russians don’t all wear big fur hats and greatcoats and talk about capitalist stooges. They all wear leather jackets and have tattoos and talk about the vorovskoy zakon.”

“Crack” is the older version; “craic” is the Irish spelling of an originally English word. Cf. “raidio”.

83

Baoigheaodhb 02.07.11 at 5:11 pm

82: Yeah, I mean the joke itself is a cliché, is it not? I’ve never read any Wodehouse, but I’ve come across, and even made, versions of it many times, albeit rarely as well executed.

The ‘crack’ about ‘craic’ was just a bit o’ craic; ‘raidio’ as everyone knows is actually Ulster-Scots.

84

Mrs Tilton 02.07.11 at 5:17 pm

ajay @67,

Gaelic pronunciation may be difficult but it is at least consistent. Yes, it’s a bit weird that “bh” is pronounced “v” but at least it’s always pronounced “v”.

That is a highly admirable trait in Gàidhlig, then, but the same cannot be said for the language when it spells itself Gaeilge. That “bh” can be a “v” or a “w”, as can “mh”. It is not, however, random. Which it is will depend on what vowel(s) it touches, so there is an element of regularity. Most of the time. Each of “dh” and “gh” can be (again, depending on the adjacent vowel(s)) “y” or a noise that is equal parts French “r”, Dutch “g” and death-rattle; unless instead it is merely telling you to make the preceding vowel long, or to pronounce that “a” as though it were an “oo”. It is bizarre to the native anglophone. But it is not highly irregular as English is; its regularity simply features both ambiguity and degeneracy.

I have recently begun trying to pick up Turkish. It is blissfully regular and phonetic. It’s not Esperanto; there are exceptions and divergences from strict phoneticity (e.g. a tendency to make terminal “r” sound a bit like that difficult Czech “ř”). But they are few and they are not daunting. Word order is vastly different to the English norm, but you can usually approximate correct syntax by taking the English phrase you’d like to make Turkish and imagining that Yoda were saying it (“I want to learn Turkish” is Türkçe öğrenmek istiyorum, literally “Turkish to learn wanting am I”).

85

bianca steele 02.07.11 at 5:24 pm

Actually, Translations–after a second act that’s kind of brutal in its own right, as one by one the characters run off stage left, IIRC to America [1], no word, just kind of leaking off stage left–ends with a poignant scene, with the patriarch who runs the hedge school (Brian Dennehy) sitting alone, with his daughter-in-law (Dana Delany) at his knee, and she recites the same ancient epic (Homer or Virgil? I don’t remember, but I think something about Aeneas) the patriarch’s father (played by Donnelly) had recited in the original earlier in the play. But Delany (who was famous at the time for China Beach) really couldn’t pull it off IMHO, either in terms of language or of charisma (I mean, they can’t all be Rufus Sewell, but still), and I’d guess it’s a rare playgoer in these days who recognizes it was the same text.

[1] Unfortunately, there were sound problems the night I saw the play. The first few minutes of the second act were inaudible from the left side of the theater. All we heard was a buzzing, which I thought was supposed to be rain, though strangely the actors’ lips were moving. It took a while to get it fixed, and Howard Davies came out to apologize. I don’t know if that was why the Irish actors other than the leads were hard to hear. It seemed like they were facing away from me much of the time they were speaking.

86

Baoigheaodhb 02.07.11 at 5:29 pm

81: I’d dine out on it for sure, but pleasant? I have been assured that scheduling according to a cycle can take the pleasure out of things, never mind servicing a vulgar rip-off of a Blackadder joke formula. I’ve also been advised by Plato and Mill that avoiding the unpleasant is not in itself pleasant. Let’s not even speak of the feelings of guilt and shame that might follow that one for someone of my background.

87

ajay 02.07.11 at 5:36 pm

85: IIRC it was Homer, because he’s always going on about Athene of the flashing eyes, which is a tag from the Iliad.

‘raidio’ as everyone knows is actually Ulster-Scots.

No, no: Marconi’s mother was from Wexford.

*chuckle* I remember all the nonsense over translating everything into Ulster Scots; one of the main problems was that they had great difficulty finding anyone who spoke it to serve as an official translator for the assembly. In the end they just translated everything into how they imagined Ian Paisley would say it. (No, not CAPS LOCK ON.)

88

bianca steele 02.07.11 at 5:59 pm

I got it wrong–they filtered off stage right (audience’s left).

89

Myles 02.07.11 at 6:55 pm

It’s occurring to me that there’s a very good analogy to be drawn between English/Celtic languages and Windows/Linux here, which, given that it would intertwine nationalism and geekiness, has the possibility of becoming the best bit of troll bait ever.

Where does French fit in? Apple? (Surely not BeOS, even though its founder was French).

(I’m thinking of Steve Jobs as l’Académie française here…)

90

Paddy Matthews 02.08.11 at 12:11 am

dsquared:

I should probably add that while Welsh is scrupulously phonetic, this is as much a curse as a blessing, because the pronunciation of words changes a bit depending on word order (it’s physically difficult to say “fy cariad i”, for example), and some mad bastard decided that this would be best handled by having the spelling of the word change accordingly (“fy nghariad”). With the consequence that if you hear an unfamiliar Welsh word, you are going to have a bastard of a time looking it up in a dictionary unless you have memorised the multiplicitous rules on “mutations”.

Irish is trying to cope with using the subset of the Latin alphabet available in AD450 to represent distinctions between palatalised and velarised consonants (see Russian), which is why we need all those extra vowels we don’t actually pronounce :-) In addition, like Welsh, it has to deal with two different types of mutations of initial consonants depending on gender, case, preceding preposition, etc.

Welsh goes with the utilitarian approach of strict phonetics and can leave learners puzzled; we go with preserving the initial consonant but adding something to it, so that in “mo choiligh” or “a gcoiligh”, the learner knows that the basic noun must begin with “c”, and is then merely left to figure out that “coiligh” is the plural of “coileach” :-)

91

EWI 02.08.11 at 8:42 pm

@ P O’Neill

Which is an insight into how co-opted the unions were.

At least in my public sector workplace, the local union management are all Fianna Fáilers – no wonder he could say anything he wanted and get an ovation from a hall full of ’em.

92

EWI 02.08.11 at 8:46 pm

@ D^2

Doyle isn’t so bad. “Cahill” can be at least ca-hill, cay-hill and cal is various parts of Leinster.

My best stab at rendering “Caoimghin” is cuiv-een.

93

roac 02.09.11 at 5:43 pm

Anybody interested in Tolkien’s views of Gaelic languages? I didn’t think so, but here you go anyway: He loved Welsh and used it as the basis for one of his two main invented languages. But he disliked Irish, which he considered “mushy.”

94

EWI 02.10.11 at 11:14 pm

@ roac

Well, I consider Welsh to be rather “mumbly”, so I let that one go without much ill-feeling.

Not related to a certain Norwegian ‘Raven’ who used to discuss Tolkien, are you?

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