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The speech from 'An Béal Bocht'

irish literature

Chapter 4 of An Béal Bocht describes the Feis (festival) which has been organised with the goal of raising money to fund an Irish College and bring some much needed money into Corca Dorca. This chapter is perhaps the funniest in the whole book.

Although the Feis is the brainwave of one of the main characters An Seanduine Liath (the Old Grey Fellow) it is highjacked by the bigwigs and monied classes who self-righteously take over the running of the Feis. The outsiders arrive into Corca Dorcha on the morning of the Feis in their fancy cars, and proceed to appoint each other onto an organising committee.

And then the speeches start.

First up is the self-appointed Uachtarán (President), who has taken on the title of An Nóinín Gaelach (the Gaelic Daisy) in his efforts to appear more Gaelic than he actually is.


An Nóinín Gaelach / The Gaelic Daisy

In the ancient Gaelic kingdoms there was a tradition that the chief of a clan would be called by the clan name, preceded by the definite article. For example, the Gaelic chief Hugh O'Neill became known as The O'Neill after becoming the head of that clan in 1595. Some members of the Gaelic Revival adopted this practice in the late 19th and early 20th century, including the 1916 patriot, Michael O'Rahilly, who referred to himself as The O'Rahilly. 

In An Béal Bocht Ó Nualláin exaggerates and ridicules this practice of adopting a psuedo-Gaelic title in an attempt to appear more Gaelic. Ó Nualláin gives a long list of the absurd and ridiculous titles of some of those who attended the Feis. Here are a few examples:

An Nóinín Gaelach / The Gaelic Daisy

An Circín Donn / The Small Brown Hen

An Capall Dána / The Naughty Horse

An Chiaróg Eile / The Other Beetle

An Préachán Péacach / The Preening Crow

An-Fear-Is-Fearr-in-Éirinn / The Best Man in Ireland

The narrator, Bónapárt, is suitably impressed with these grand titles:

"Bhí bua eile acu nach raibh againne riamh anall ó chailleamar an fíorGhaelachas: bhíodar go léir gan ainmneacha gan sloinnte, ach teidil bhreátha glactha acu agus féin-bhaistithe orthu ón spéir."

"They had another advantage that we did not have ever since we lost our true Gaelic ways: they were without names or surnames, but instead had fine titles, self-bestowed on them from the skies."


A Ghaela! Gaels!

By exaggerating the speeches Ó Nualláin is having a pop at anyone who takes the language so seriously that they speak of little else. The speeches at the Feis become a competition to see who can appear the most Gaelic. An Nóinín Gaelach boasts of never having spoken a word of anything but Irish:

"Níor labhair mise, ach a oiread libh féin, aon fhocal ach Gaeilge ón lá a rugadh mé..."

"I have never, the same as yourselves, spoken a word of anything but Irish since the day I was born..."

Not only that...

"agus, rud eile, is faoin nGaeilge féin a bhí gach abairt dá ndúras riamh."

"and, another thing, every sentence I ever spoke was about Irish itself."

Ó Nualláin uses the speeches to ridicule the notion that one must be hell-bent on the use of the language to be truly Gaelic/Irish. He is clearly rejecting any notion that someone who does not speak Irish cannot be truly Irish. Ó Nualláin is against any attempt to exclude based on grounds of linguistic purity.

An Nóinín Gaelach continues:

"Má táimid fíorGhaelach, ní foláir dúinn a bheith ag plé cheist na Gaeilge agus ceist an Ghaelachais le chéile i gcónaí. Ní haon mhaitheas Gaeilge a bheith againn má bhíonn ár gcomhrá sa teanga sin ar nithe neamh-Ghaelacha."

"If we are truly Gaelic, we must discuss the question of Irish and the question of Gaelicism together at all times. It is no use speaking Irish if our conversation in Irish is about things which are not related to Irish."


Tóin Ghaelach / A Gaelic backside

Finally, An Nóinín Gaelach, sits down on his Gaelic backside to great applause, and it is the turn of The Piscín Priaclach (The Anxious Kitten) to deliver himself of a long-winded, but very Gaelic, speech. The Anxious Kitten's speech was followed by another eight fiery Gaelic speeches.

'Thit a lán de na Gaeil i laige le hocras agus le tréan éisteachta, agus fuair fear amháin bás Gaelach i lár na cruinnithe.'

'A lot of the Gaels fainted with the hunger and effort of listening, and one man died a Gaelic death in the middle of the meeting.'

With quite some understatement the main character, Bónapárt, comments:

"Sea, bhí lá mór cainte againn i gCorca Dorcha an lá sin."

"Yes, we had a fine day of speeches in Corcadoragha that day."


Learning Irish Through Literature

I hope that you enjoyed this blaiseadh beag (small taste) of the speeches in An Béal Bocht. Check out this earlier blog post for another short extract from An Béal Bocht, and some more background information on the book and its author. You can listen to the entire speech of An Nóinín Gaelach, along with other extracts from this great novel, by registering for the online course Learning Irish Through Literature. This course allows learners of Irish to access great works of literature in the Irish language. Improve your level of Irish while simultaneously enjoying these great works! You can read more about the course here. All About Irish also offer other online courses to learners of all levels: read about the Beginner Irish course here; and Intermediate level Irish courses here. If you've any questions at all you can contact me here.

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