It’s that most wonderful time of the year with the usual outpourings of peace and goodwill to all (wo)men – no more so than those noble elected representatives of the Irish houses of parliament. Yesterday saw some choice usage of the terms ‘harpies’ and ‘hemorrhoids’ within the Irish Senate, something which met with an uproarious reception. The Irish houses of parliament are no stranger to ‘unparliamentary language’, but the real juicy stuff is perhaps not that well known. And so, for the season that’s in it, I hereby present: Unparliamentary Language (Irish Style) – Part One: Sweet Fuck All – a whistle stop tour of the use of strong language(s) within the official records of the Houses of the Oireachtas – i.e Dáil Éireann (Lower Parliament) and Seanad Éireann (The Senate).
Note: Ceann Comhairle, Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Cathaoirleach are official Irish titles for ‘speaker/deputy speaker’ i.e. the chairperson.
First up, a wonderful and gingerly tentative use of the mild term ‘feck’, which was not uttered as an insult, but rather within a particularly interesting report to a committee concerning the extent to which the people behind a new postcode system were going to in order to avoid any rude words:
For the day that’s in it, here’s a little something on a ‘verbal ejaculation’ attributed to St. Patrick – the fifth century Romano-British* missionary who was later elevated to the rank of patron saint of Ireland. It is to be found in several early medieval hagiographical texts concerning the saint’s activities, and is, allegedly, a corrupted version of a sweary expression he used. Intriguingly, it may actually represent a kernel of truth as the ‘ejaculation’ would appear to be an original Brittonic phrase that was subsequently passed down/corrupted through the medium of Old Irish (Brittonic would have been Patrick’s native language). If so, then there is something refreshingly subversive and endearing in the idea that Old Irish tradition would be interested in, let alone preserve, an ancient earthy expression from the very mouth of its patron saint.
Patrick is said to have uttered the expression at people who were seriously pissing him off. Its earliest appearance is in a 7th century hagiographical text:
A few years back, I was visiting with friends who had several boys, the youngest of which was aged three at the time. While I was there, it was decided that Daddy would bring the youngest to work with him for the day. Daddy’s work was a local garage/farm machinery depot, where all sorts of vehicles were bought/sold/brought for fixing. As you might imagine, for a three year old boy – tractors, wheels, tools, hoists, platforms, hammers, mechanics, the works – this equated to three year old heaven.
Off they went for the morning, returning home to his Mammy for lunch. ‘Well’, she said, ‘how did you get on in Daddy’s work?’ ‘Grand’, says the three year old, before rushing out to the back garden to his plastic toy tractor. They watched as he methodically turned it upside down, mimicking the view underneath he had no doubt seen in the garage. He examined it closely, stood back, spat on the ground, gave it a kick and said, in an exasperated voice, “Well, fuck it anyway…’tis bolloxed…”
When I was a child, we had a version of the ‘ip dip rhyme‘ in the school playground. Whenever we needed to divide into groups or isolate someone as the starting ‘it’ for a particular game, we’d gather in a circle with one foot forward. Our version (1980s Ireland) involved someone going around counting each foot whist chanting ‘Ip dip, dog shit, out goes smelly’. Whichever foot was landed on for ‘smelly’ was out, and the counting began again, usually in the opposite direction. It would go on until the last person with a foot in – was ‘(sh)it’.